How To Speak at a Public Meeting

As you prepare to testify at a public meeting, here are a few important tips:

Know your time limit:

  • In most cases, those who testify at public meetings are allotted a specific amount of time, often 2-5 minutes. Before you begin preparing your remarks, find out how much time you will have to speak. To verify speaking time, contact whoever is hosting the meeting.
  • Remember this formula:  1 minute = 150 words
  • For a 5 minute testimony, your prepared comments should not exceed 750 words.

Come prepared:

  • Write your comments down. Don’t try to improvise on the spot. It’s best to figure out what you want to say in advance.
  • Practice saying your remarks out loud, in front of the mirror or in front of friends and family. The more you practice your remarks, the less nervous you will be at the meeting.
  • Time yourself to make sure your comments fit within the allotted time frame. Edit your comments to make sure you aren’t speaking for too long, or you might get cut off by officials at the meeting.

Make it personal:

  • Use your comments to add a human face to the larger problem. Try to begin several sentences with the word “I” to make sure you are talking about yourself and your specific perspective on the issue. Your testimony will be much more powerful if it includes your personal story, instead of just touting talking points or statistics that someone else put together.
  • Express your personal concerns about the health risks that you and your family/friends face or how your community is threatened.
    • Have you been personally affected by the impacts of air pollution?
    • Do you live near an oil or gas facility or fracking site that emits a lot of pollution?
    • Have you been personally affected by climate change in your area?
    • Do you or a loved-one suffer from asthma or other health issues related to air pollution?
    • Are you a public health professional who serves people suffering from pollution-related illness?
    • Does your faith help shape your perspective on this issue?
    • Do your cherished hobbies play a role in your perspective? (Birding, gardening, hunting, hiking, winter sports, how you spend time with your family, etc.)
    • Note: your comments should be relevant to the issue at hand.

Include a few key facts:

  • Find sample talking points or fact sheets about the issue you are discussing. Pick one or two statistics to frame your personal comments.
  • Don’t worry about highly technical information. Your perspective as a parent who cares is important.
  • Bring copies of your written testimony. Please bring hard copies of your testimony to circulate to the members of the meeting. Your comments can be typed or handwritten. If possible, research the number of members that make up the group and bring copies for each member.

Include your name and contact information:

  • Be sure your testimony includes some form of contact information.
  • Remember that it will become a public document available online, so consider carefully how much information you wish to include.

What else should you bring?

  • You can bring photos or other visuals to the podium to help you tell your story. Some examples of great visuals from past hearings include:
    • Family portraits;
    • Pictures of a place threatened by pollution;
    • Pictures of a child or loved one who inspires you to take action on this issue;
    • Pictures of a lung x-ray showing a pollution-related condition, if relevant;
    • Pictures of a child or loved one who suffers a pollution-related illness.
  • You can bring your child with you to the podium. Many members of Moms Clean Air Force have delivered public testimony holding a baby, or pushing them in strollers, baby car seats, carriers.  Older children are also welcome.
  • Consider bringing other relevant items with you, such as asthma inhalers, medicine bottles for pollution-related illnesses, and healthcare bills.

Have questions or need additional guidance? Contact National Field Manager, Trisha Sheehan at tsheehan@momscleanairforce.org.