Your advocacy efforts are an important factor in helping to shape public policy. You might, however, be reluctant to advocate on pending legislation for fear of doing something wrong — or because you get nervous around public officials. It is completely normal to feel uneasy around elected officials, as they can often appear to be larger than life. Just remember, though, that legislators are people just like you — people who want to improve life in their communities.
Meeting with your legislators face-to-face is the most effective way to get your message across — and the best time to meet with them is when the legislature is not in session and they are in their home district offices. The legislative session is a busy time for them, so it is probable they will not be available to take your call or meet with you in person. If a legislator is unavailable to meet with you, you can meet with their staff. Having staff members on your side can be important, as they are required to be knowledgeable about many different issues and legislators rely on the opinions of their professional staff.
Letters, phone calls and emails are also good ways to contact your legislators — especially if made at the right time, with a sincere and heartfelt message. Following are some tips on contacting your legislator in person, in writing or by phone.
A personal visit is the most effective means of communicating with a legislator as it provides you with the opportunity to build a relationship with your elected official.
Public testimony is an effective way to help policymakers understand how an issue, policy or situation affects people across the state, presents difficulties or addresses needs. Public testimony also gives you the opportunity to show your support for what is being considered by the legislature.
Public speaking can be somewhat scary, especially for people who do not do it all of the time. But with some preparation, giving public testimony can be simple.
Most committees will limit the time witnesses have, so expect to have three minutes. Decide what you want to say in advance, and practice, practice, practice!
Practicing what you are going to say out loud in front of a mirror can help you become comfortable with your testimony and the words you want to use.
If you practice in front of your friends or family you will feel less nervous when you speak to a larger group. This will also give you an opportunity to get feedback on how to improve your message.
It is also a good idea to prepare two versions of your testimony — one that summarizes your message in 3 minutes — and a longer, written version that you can give to the legislators. If you take written testimony, call the committee office to find out how many copies you will need. If you do not have time to type up your testimony or make copies, you should still testify.
There will be a sign-up sheet at the hearing. Speakers are taken in order of first come-first served. Legislators, state agency staff and invited speakers are allowed to testify first.
If you do not wish to speak, you have the option of filling out a testimony card to state your position on an issue. You can also submit written testimony in lieu of speaking.