State Voting and Election Laws
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Key Takeaways:

  • Many of the classic tips that apply to “in-person” public speaking will apply to remote testimony, but there is an added layer of uncertainty given the remote environment and the wide variety of ways various 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.
  • 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.
  • Don’t just rely on your testimony as the only way to get your message across. You should have a back-up plan that ensures your message gets delivered to the right people, and is submitted to the record. Remember to follow up and engage with key stakeholders.

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.

Before: Research, Plan, and Practice 

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. 

  • Check your internet connection and make sure your technology is fully charged. If you share a workspace with others because you’re working from home, ask others using the same internet connection if they can refrain from streaming audio or video or being on their own video calls while you testify, if possible. Additionally, ensure any equipment you plan to use is either fully charged or plugged into power. 
  • Prepare an alternative backup plan. If you’ll be testifying via computer, have your phone ready to use to testify in the event of a technological issue. For example, if your internet connection becomes slow for a reason you can’t control, you can have your smartphone ready with links to access the testimony platform so you can quickly transition if necessary. 
  • Submit written testimony in addition to signing up for oral testimony. To ensure your organization’s position is submitted to the official record, you should also submit written testimony. Most states give you the opportunity to submit both at the same time. In the event that you are unable to orally testify, submitting a written statement ensures your message is still delivered.

During: Expect the Unexpected

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 

  • Be sure your contingency plans are ready to go. You often do not have control of timing/schedule of your testimony, so it is always a good idea to set up multiple contingency plans. For example, if you are using a laptop, make sure your cell phone is ready (but make sure it's on silent!) in case you have technical issues with your computer and need to pivot to using the phone instead. 
  • Position yourself for success. Print your notes or have them easily accessible on your computer (perhaps on a second screen). Position your notes in a place where you can easily refer to them and look directly into your camera. While on camera, turn off your “self-view” option in settings if you can. This will avoid unintentionally looking at yourself instead of the members you are speaking with. To avoid a “hot mic” incident, training yourself to function as if your camera and mic are always on. Feel free to take time to refer to your notes during the question and answer period. If you receive questions from lawmakers on the panel, it’s okay to refer to your notes while you answer. However, you’ll want to make sure your notes are easily accessible so you can find what you need quickly. 

After: Follow Up and Engage with Key Stakeholders

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.

    • If necessary, correct the record. If there was a point raised during another witnesses’ testimony, or during the question and answer period, that mischaracterizes key evidence or arguments, you may want to consider including a note about this (respectfully) in your follow-up correspondence with key lawmakers. You can also send additional information to any legislator that you think is important or helpful based on the meeting proceedings.
    • Thank any committee members that were particularly helpful during proceedings. If committee members raised key points or asked helpful questions during your legislation’s portion of the agenda, send them a quick note thanking them and offering your time if they’d like to discuss the issue further. This is a great time to build valuable relationships.
    • Share your testimony with other important non-legislative stakeholders, such as members or on social media. Share your good work! If you are a membership organization that reports government affairs activities to members, share a copy of your testimony with them. If you use social media as part of your advocacy toolkit, amplify your message by sharing your written testimony or oral testimony video on social media.

    Need Help Preparing for Testimony or Finding Opportunities to Share Your Message with Lawmakers?

    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