State Government Affairs
Attack of the Special Sessions
August 5, 2021 | David Shonerd
It’s hard to believe many of us in the government affairs industry have been working remotely for over a year now without traveling or conducting in-person meetings and often facing capitol buildings and legislative offices that are closed to the public. As a result, many of us have dealt with remote legislative testimony at one point or another during the 2020 or 2021 legislative sessions. Many of the classic tips that apply to “in-person” public speaking will apply here, but there is an added layer of uncertainty given the remote environment and the wide variety of ways states and committees conduct their remote business. To mitigate the unpredictability there are several things you can do before, during, and after your testimony to ensure your message still gets delivered.
The best thing you can do as you prepare for remote testimony is to get familiar with the environment you will be asked to speak in. If you can minimize your “unknowns,” you’ll feel more comfortable and speak more confidently and persuasively. For example, here are a few things to look into as you begin your prep work:
Check the sign-up deadline and be sure to submit your name in time. Most states require you to submit your name, organization, and position several days before the committee hearing or meeting. Check the requirements, such as date and time you must submit by, and if you need to create an online account with that particular state legislature, so you don’t inadvertently miss the deadline.
Research how the particular committee or body handles remote testimony. States conduct their business in a variety of ways. Some have an open Zoom meeting where you’ll be placed in a waiting room until your time to speak. In other states, you may only submit your phone number and the committee will simply call you without warning when it’s your turn on the agenda. If you know what to expect in terms of official procedure, you’ll feel more prepared. Further complicating things, you may need to have a second link handy to actually watch the hearing proceedings (some states have one location to watch the proceedings and view the agenda and another where you will access the testimony platform).
Know how long you have to speak, then write your draft and practice (including preparing for possible questions you may receive). The committee or meeting will generally advertise how much time witnesses will be permitted to speak. Sometimes this will vary based on if you are considered “public testimony” and signed up yourself or if you were invited to speak by the bill sponsor. Know this in advance, and once you have your remarks down on paper, practice them with a timer. Rather than just reading them to yourself, it can be helpful to record yourself on the audio and video equipment you plan to use (see next tip) to ensure you’re coming across how you want to via this particular medium. Practice will make delivery when the actual day comes that much easier and will help you keep your messaging concise and to the point, which is vital due to short attention spans and distractions in a remote environment. It’s also helpful to jot down some questions you think you may be asked and prepare answers for those as well.
Pre-check your audio and video equipment (and do some test runs). Most software and conferencing tools will have a “preview” option for you to test out before you actually begin testifying. Log in early so that you can check your background and lighting, that your microphone and camera are working, and that you have easy access to your notes and any agendas or other reference materials you may need. If you will be sharing slides, be sure you know how that particular software works too.
Testimony day can be filled with unexpected surprises. Remember to stay flexible and demonstrate ease when there are timing delays, schedule updates, and unexpected distractions.
“Arrive early” to get set up. Even when working remotely, you can still begin setting up for testimony early to make sure you have everything you need. Sit down at your desk 30 minutes early to bring up any links you need, clear out extra browser tabs so you don’t get distracted, and bring up or print any notes or reference materials you’ll need. Do a last-minute camera, microphone, and background check. Inform any housemates or family members that you’ll be delivering live testimony and to refrain from entering the room or knocking on the door. If you live in an apartment building, you may also want to put a note on your door that says not to knock until a certain period of time
You shouldn’t rely on this particular testimony as the only way to get your message across. The committee may run out of time and never get to you on the agenda, or you may have a technical issue that doesn’t allow you to speak. You should have a back-up plan that ensures your message gets delivered to the right people and is submitted to the record.
Email your corresponding written testimony to key legislators. As noted above, we recommend also submitting written testimony along with your oral testimony and emailing your written testimony to key lawmakers on the committee or in the legislature directly the week of your oral testimony. Key legislators may include committee chairs, the bill sponsor, and others with which you want to have a position on record. Just like your testimony, your follow-up should be concise and should reiterate your position.
Legislative testimony is just one piece of your broader advocacy toolkit. MultiState can help you find opportunities to share your organization’s message and make sure you’re fully prepared when the time comes. Read more about our Strategic Government Relations solution or contact us here.