10 Tips for Crafting and Delivering Effective Legislative Testimony

Posted By: Mary Alice Scott Advocacy + Government,

On February 15, MANP hosted our annual Nonprofit Day at the State House event. Over 120 nonprofit advocates, legislators, and staff members joined us for a fabulous day of networking, learning, and advocacy skill-building, including a panel on "Crafting and Delivering Effective Legislative Testimony."

Below you'll find the panelists' 10 excellent tips! 

The panel was moderated by Joann Bautista, Maine Deputy Secretary of State, who has worked as the Advocacy Director at Preble Street and Special Projects Director at the ACLU. It also included Victoria Morales, Executive Director of Quality Housing Coalition, who was in the Maine House of Representatives from 2018-2022, and Brian Langley, Executive Director of Bridge Academy Maine (and owner of Union River Lobster Pot in Ellsworth), who was in the Maine legislature from 2008-2018. A big thanks to all three experts for sharing their time and expertise with our members!

*** REMEMBER! Nonprofit staff are allowed to lobby (e.g. provide testimony) the Maine State Legislature, but WITH limitations, such as # hours per month and they can never be partisan. Here's a great resource to learn specific advocacy rules for Maine nonprofits. ***

TOP 10 TIPS for Crafting and Delivering Effective Legislative Testimony

  1. Who should testify? EVERYONE... not just the experts or lobbyists! While it can feel intimidating to testify on a bill, the legislature needs to hear from a diverse array of voices in order to effectively make decisions (especially if you're outside of the Portland area). 

  2. Find the bills you care about. You can subscribe to each committee's "Interested Parties" list to get updates on Public Hearings and Work Sessions to help you keep track. You may want to file these in a separate folder (or even direct to a separate e-mail) so they don't overwhelm your inbox.

  3. Join a coalition! MANP has a great resource page of coalitions for many issue areas. By working together, you can save time researching key bills and staying up-to-date during a fast-paced legislative session.

  4. Make sure your printed testimony is easy to read (for yourself and legislators). Legislators must review a lot of information, sometimes flipping through many pages of testimony on the same issue. To call attention to your points, organize testimony into sections, using bullet points and highlighting in BOLD a few, succinct, key messages. Also, when testifying in person, bring extra copies (20) to hand out to legislators, including one double-spaced copy for yourself so you can easily add notes in the margins while listening to others speak. NOTE: Your written and spoken testimonies do not need to be the same!

  5. Nervous about speaking up? Focus on why you're testifying. You're sharing information and a point of view that impacts many people, and you believe you can help make things better. You're there to deliver a message that is bigger than you are. It's American democracy in action! Take a deep breath. Relax and have fun. You can do it!

  6. Communicating with the committee: In your written testimony, at the start, address it to the individual committee chairs by name and the committee as a whole. When speaking, it can help to focus your attention on the committee chair, rather than trying to make eye contact with each of the legislators behind the horseshoe. And, if you are able to contact a committee member in advance, you can suggest that they ask a question: This way you get a little more time to make your argument.

  7. Utilize technology! If you can't make it to Augusta, you can submit testimony online. Use that link to submit written testimony or to sign up to testify live via Zoom. Click the "I would like to testify electronically over Zoom" button, if you want to give yourself the option to testify via Zoom. You can always change your mind later, but this way you'll get an email link to the Zoom meeting instead and the option to testify. (NOTE: If you only watch the live stream of the hearing, you will NOT be able to testify live.) And... if you prefer not to use ZOOM and can't travel to Augusta, record a short (one minute) message and put it on YouTube. Then, include the link to the YouTube video in your written testimony!

  8. Use data to support your message. Make sure to contextualize the data, and use footnotes so legislators can read your references. Comparing data or policies in Maine to other states in New England is particularly helpful or states with similar demographics. Relying on data from California and New York, for instance, is often considered less relevant to Maine communities.

  9. Be authentic and honest. Legislators are considering public policy that will affect real Maine people just like you, so speak in your voice. Legislators can ask questions after your spoken testimony. If you don't know the answer, simply say, "Thanks for that question. I don't know, but I'll get back to you." Then, make sure that you follow up later by email directly to that legislator.

  10. After testifying, it's not over. Follow the bill until the end. You never know what could happen, and advocacy can be useful at every step of the process.