The Ohio General Assembly makes many of its decisions regarding Ohio’s environment based, in part, on testimony from the public. Public testimony becomes part of the official record for an issue and can send a strong message to decision-makers and the media about the public’s position on a matter.
The Ohio General Assembly website—www.legislature.ohio.gov—can provide legislative schedules so that you know when a committee is meeting or when a voting session is coming up. Every committee chairperson has an email distribution list that you can request to join so that you receive direct communication from a committee chair’s office regarding committee agendas, hearings on key bills you care about, and how to submit testimony. Testimony on bills is organized typically by proponent, opponent, and interested party. It is standard practice to require testimony to be submitted 24 hours in advance of a committee hearing.
Introduce yourself. Begin your testimony by offering your name and your profession (if appropriate). If you are representing an organization, briefly describe your group. Only one member of an organization should officially testify on behalf of the group. If others in the group wish to testify, they should do so as individuals.
Summarize. Before describing your position in detail, briefly describe the points that you will be making to give listeners an idea of what your testimony will cover.
Back it up. Provide brief, logical arguments as to why you are supporting a certain position on an issue. If you can tell a story about how the issue will affect you, your community, or your family, be sure to include that information. Also, try to include a few specific facts from reputable sources to back up your position.
Be courteous. After introducing yourself, thank your audience for the opportunity to submit testimony on the issue. Make sure that your testimony is polite, logical, and articulate throughout, and avoid personal attacks on individual lawmakers or confrontational language. Let the strength of your testimony come from the facts and your personal perspective that you present.
Although you can usually just submit written testimony on an issue, if you are able to deliver your testimony in person, it is recommended that you do so and present your statement orally. Oral testimony is far more powerful and persuasive than a written statement. Before you attend a public hearing, prepare by doing the following:
Confirm the details. Verify the date, time, and location of the meeting beforehand. Also find out which portion of the meeting will be dedicated to public comment and what time you must arrive if you want to speak. Ask about the time limit for testimony and practice to be sure that you will not be cut off.
Submit testimony on time with a witness slip. At the Statehouse, it is customary to require testimony be submitted 24 hours in advance, along with a witness form that will ask for your name, address, affiliation (if any), and position on the bill you wish to speak about. However, at local or regulatory hearings, the rules vary, and you may have to wait and sign up at the door or you may be required to sign up in advance. Be sure to investigate the specific rules in advance of the hearing to ensure you are able to share your testimony.
Rehearse your delivery. Practice your testimony out loud until it is smooth and fits within the time allotment. Consider what questions legislators might ask, and be prepared to answer them.
Point out alternatives. If you are opposing a bill or a plan, do not simply say why it is a bad idea. Whenever possible, try to include alternatives to bad proposals. This will help your testimony to be more positive and will to show that you understand the issue and are reasonable.
Bring visuals. If you can, bring visual aids such as pictures, maps, etc., to strengthen your testimony.
Gather support. Check with friends, family members, and co-workers to see who can attend the hearing to support you. Make sure that the people you bring can be identified visually as supporting your position (for example, everyone can wear green buttons that say something like “Support SB ___”).
Relax and breathe. If you are nervous when you get up to speak, you do not have to start right away. Look at your notes and take a couple deep breaths before beginning.
Speak clearly and pause for emphasis. If you are nervous, you may speak more quickly than normal, which may cause you to stumble or confuse your audience. Make an effort to slow your speech, use short sentences, and pause for emphasis when you make key points.
Make eye contact. As you speak, be sure to look up from your notes as often as possible to make eye contact with whomever you are directing your comments.
Tell the truth. If a legislator asks you a question that you do not know how to answer, DO NOT make something up. Instead, say that you do not know and either offer to follow up or defer to another witness who may be able to answer. If you offer to follow up after the hearing, provide a response to the chairperson’s office for their records after the meeting.
Listen. Before and after you have testified, be sure to pay attention to what people are saying who hold a different position than you, as well as how the sponsor of the legislation describes what the bill will do. This will help you anticipate questions you may receive while testifying. You can look up archived committee hearings through www.ohiochannel.org and also watch live committee hearings in progress.