How to Testify

Legislative advocacy is communicating with legislators, either on behalf of an organization or school, or as an individual to share support or opposition to an issue.  FOCUS often organizes and supports DC public charter schools, staff, and students to testify before the DC Council Committee of the Whole and Council committees on various issues or pieces of legislation. This guide will help public charter school advocates understand the basics of testifying before Council.

Step 1: Request to Testify

FOCUS will send an email to charter school leaders calling for volunteers to testify, however, those who want to testify must sign up individually. FOCUS will always include the Hearing Announcement in the request to testify. The following information will be included in the Hearing Announcement:

  • Date, time, and room number of the hearing
  • Name, email address, and telephone number of the individual with whom a school leader must contact to sign up to testify
  • Deadline that a school leader must contact the above individual to be placed on the list of witnesses.

It is critical for the volunteer to respond to the designated individual and sign up to testify by the deadline stated in the Hearing Announcement.

Step 2: Prepare Testimony

Components to Include in Testimony

  1. Recognize the Chair/Good Manners. It is always good to recognize the Chair of the Committee of the Whole or Committee, as well as other Councilmembers who are present. Speak respectfully, even if you disagree with the government action. Never criticize individuals or elected officials by name. Stay positive.
  2. Introduce Yourself. Your testimony should start with a simple introduction that includes your name, title, the organization you represent, and the mission of that organization.  This lets the Council know how you have experience with the issue being discussed.
  3. State the Bill Name and Bill Number. State the name of the bill, legislation, or issue of which you are going to offer testimony. Often hearings are combined and it is important for the Councilmembers to know which issue you are speaking about.
  4. State the Issue. The main body of your testimony should include how the issue or legislation directly or indirectly affects your organization, and the positive or negative effects that the issue or legislation will have on your organization.
  5. Credit. Remember to praise staff members, agencies, or other individuals with whom you have worked to ensure that the Councilmembers understand your commitment to the process.
  6. State the Action You Believe Council Should Take. Be clear and concise when asking the Council to take action on a piece of legislation or issue: “We ask that the Council approve/oppose/reexamine the legislation,” along with a general statement on your willingness to work on the legislation so that it is something you or your organization can ultimately support.
  7. Practice. You should practice your testimony by reading it out loud and timing how long it takes.  Individuals generally get 3 minutes to testify, while those representing organizations or schools get 5 minutes.

General Tips for Testimony

Remember that your purpose is not just to communicate but to persuade.  Accurate facts and figures are important, but so are real-life anecdotes that illustrate impact and build empathy.  You may not always have enough time to say everything you want, however you may prepare a longer written version of your testimony for the record, while reading a shorter version for the hearing.  FOCUS is always available to provide support in revising testimony. 

Step 3:  Testify

  1. Arrive on Time - Arrive at least 5 to 10 minutes prior to the start of the hearing. You must present a photo ID to enter the John A. Wilson Building.  When there is a long list of witnesses, FOCUS will often be able to contact witnesses who are further down the witness list to tell them to leave for the Wilson Building at a given time so witnesses don’t have to spend the entire day in the hearing room.
  2. Bring Copies. Bring at least 13 copies for circulation to the Councilmembers.
  3. Standard Procedure. The committee chair follows the order of speakers listed on the agenda that is circulated at least 24 hours before the proceeding. A committee chair may schedule government officials first to promote a status report to the public, or government officials may be scheduled at the end of the proceeding so that they may hear and respond to public comments. A committee chair may also have similar organizations testify together. When it is your turn to testify, your name will be called by the committee chair. Often you will be at the witness table with three or four other witnesses. The measure’s co-introducer(s) may speak, and other Councilmembers present may make brief statements.
  4. Question and Answer Period. After all of the witnesses at the table have given their testimony, the committee chair or Councilmembers may ask questions to elicit more information or clarification. Be specific. Never use this time to read more testimony. If you do not know the answer to a question it is perfectly acceptable to say, “I don’t have the answer with me, Councilmember but I am happy to provide the answer to your staff as soon as I can.”
  5. Language translators and sign language interpreters can be provided if you contact the committee at least five business days in advance of the hearing.