19. Have a successful hearing

This is show time! You need to be at the top of your game to simultaneously persuade undecided policymakers, satisfy friends and allies, and be quotable for reporters. You’re trying to accomplish two things: showing that you have the right policy and that your solution enjoys broad support. Before the committee hearing, know exactly how you’re going to do it.


  • Learn who is on the committee and what their position is on your policy, especially the committee chair.
  • Learn that committee’s procedures ahead of time. Some have rules or customs about the order they call witnesses based on a sign in sheet, some sharply limit the length of testimony, some may make you wait for hours while other bills are heard first (so find the closest restrooms!)
  • Learn if committee procedures allow you to organize a panel combining your testimony with those of your policy experts and/or people who are affected. If allowed, that’s usually the most effective way to testify.
  • Figure out which policymakers on the committee are the most favorable to your cause and provide them with friendly questions to ask your side as well as hostile probing questions to ask the other side.

Carry with you:

  • Copies of your written testimony to pass out to the committee and the media. If the committee prefers to receive copies of your testimony ahead of time, provide it the way they want it.
  • Copies of any charts, graphs or reports that prove the facts underlying your argument.
  • A copy of the proposal itself, the fiscal note (if any), and any amendments.

Be prepared to:

  • Deliver your testimony without reading it. You don’t have to memorize it, just work from notes and deliver the same content but in a conversational voice.
  • Project one or more images on a screen (where this is allowed). It can be a very effective way to make your point.
  • Answer all possible questions and attacks. This includes having in your hands copies of any backup materials that prove you’re right and your opponents are wrong. Note that in some committees, you don’t answer the questioner directly but wait for the Chair to recognize you by name. This is often a necessary formality when a hearing is being audiotaped as it would otherwise be difficult to know who is speaking.

When you testify, dress for success. Although plenty of people appear in casual clothing, it is more respectful and persuasive to dress professionally.

When you speak, begin formally. E.g., “Thank you Mister Chairman/Madam Chair for the opportunity to testify today.” Then introduce yourself and your panel (if any). If you’re a constituent of one of the policymakers present, say so. State your position clearly: “I’m here in support of/opposition to Proposed Ordinance 321.” Explain any external credibility you bring to the matter: “I’m a psychologist who specializes in…” or “I’ve led our community’s neighborhood watch program for XX years…”

Keep your testimony to 3-5 minutes or shorter depending on the traditions of the committee. Give no more than three reasons for your position. People who are directly affected by the policy in question should tell their stories rather than spouting facts and figures.

Answer questions clearly and concisely and never interrupt a legislator while he or she is speaking.

After you finish testifying, sit back down and don’t leave the hearing until the discussion of your proposal is completely finished. You want to know what others—especially committee members—have to say about it.

When the hearing is over, walk over and talk to any news reporters present. If it’s practical, also talk to friendly committee members to get their impressions of how best to follow up. If a persuadable legislator asked a question, follow up immediately or within a few days to make sure his or her concerns are completely addressed.