Saturday, October 20, 2007


Tips for testifiers (2)

by Larry Geller

This is part 2. Read the post below first, I think. Don't miss the part below on written testimony. I hope this helps to make testimony more effective.

I'll mention again that on Oahu we have plenty of chances to give testimony, so I want to just suggest some things. They are only suggestions.

On giving testimony, I'd like to enlarge on what Henry suggested in the previous post.

On giving testimony--

You are giving testimony for the legislators, but also for the press who are lurking in the room. They will inevitably pounce on and report what is most sensational, and often also what is well-stated. You can keep a few extra copies of your testimony to give to the press if they approach you, it's helpful to them. If they don't approach you, you can ask if they want a copy anyway. Don't hesitate to approach press people and offer your copy to them.

But keep in mind that if something unusual happens, it's that event that will make the front pages instead of the substance of the testimony. TV cameras are particularly hungry for the loud, noisy or confrontational. This is not to suggest that everything should be quite and bland. These are the dynamics of TV reporting. If there is a sensational moment, it will be taken, usually out of context, and splashed on screens all over the state.

Photo ops are good. Holding banners outside is good. Photographers need something to aim the cameras at, you can provide that if you like. Kids, kupuna, good. It doesn't matter if the photographers are reading this article too, they need to help sell newspapers and their job is to document what happens in photos. It helps them if there is something they can take a picture of.

It's best to avoid reading testimony. Maybe glance at the script or what you have prepared if necessary, but then look up, make eye contact with the chair or others, and ad lib what you have just glanced at. No worries about not getting everything. It's "speed dating" and what you want is to make a favorable impression, if not a relationship, that leaves them understanding what you have said.

Sympathetic, individual, gripping arguments work best, particularly after others have made the fundamental points over and over. For example, "my business would be destroyed if coqui frogs (substitute as appropriate) invaded the quiet valley where our vacation rental is located. The sound would echo off the hills behind us and we would be out of business. So we ask legislators on Oahu to understand what we are trying to do here and not allow invasive species to be carried in. Completing an EA before the ferry sails would help protect us. Exempting the ferry puts us at risk."

The idea in this hypothetical example was to personalize it, speak reasonably, and link it to the larger issue if possible. It can't always be done, but simply repeating that there needs to be an EA is less powerful.

Of course, everyone should say something from their own heart and not be intimidated by this or any other suggestion.

On written testimony--

The practice has been that oral testimony is given in the order the written is received, then they call those who haven't sent anything in. So sending testimony in early gets you on the list early. These hearings may be different, if they are using a sign-in sheet. They may go by the order on the sign-in sheet.

Usually hearing notices say how many copies are to be prepared if you want to just print and bring them. These hearing notices don't have that. It may be because committee members have no intention of reading anything, we don't know. But there are instructions for faxing or emailing. And they have to be sent in advance (24 hours? check the notice). If emailing, send earlier if possible, they get swamped if many people email.

Make sure your emailed or faxed testimony has the date/time/place/committee on the top!! Or it could go to the wrong hearing. You can address it to the chairs/vice chairs and members of the committee, naming only the chairs/vice chairs if you like. It's on the meeting notice waiting to be copied and pasted.

Be sure to send something in if you can (if not, by all means come for oral testimony anyway).

You can send something in, and your oral testimony can be different or a summary. They are planning on allowing only two minutes per person anyway. Don't worry about the written being perfect. Just send something in before the deadline, then figure out what you will say to them later. It could be the same, or you can pick a piece from it, or it can be different. Doesn't matter.

The written testimony can be much longer than two minutes, but make all your points on the first page (they may never flip to the second) and if possible, right near the top. In other words, main points or summarize at the top, fill out the details afterwards. They may also never read more than just the first paragraph or two. Facts of life at our legislature.


P.S. I think graphs or charts are good if they are clear and persuasive. If you have any, of course.



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