Speaking Up at a Public Hearing or Community Workshop

Elected officials need to hear from those most impacted by the housing crisis. They need to hear your story and the stories of your co-workers, neighbors, friends. It’s time employee housing is made a priority in our community. Your input will help shape the way decision makers develop and implement housing and land-use policy.

Effective Public Testimony

Effective speaking is much like effective writing, with the addition of nerves. In the case of public testimony, what a person is delivering is usually a three-minute (sometimes two) talk. It’s good to remember that it’s natural to be nervous, and few people, if any, ever started speaking in public without having a case of nerves to a varying degree.

Even heroes get nervous - In his inaugural address as our first President, George Washington was "so visibly perturbed that his hand trembled and his voice shook so that he could scarcely be understood," according to one writer of that time. If mythic figures get nervous, why shouldn’t the rest of us?

If you feel nervous, don’t try to conquer it – use it, recognizing that the people you’re addressing are humans just like you. Besides, they are being paid to listen to you. It might help to remember that, if you pay taxes, and who doesn't? – the people you’re addressing work for you!

Here are a few tips about preparation and delivery of your comments at a public hearing or community workshop:

Show up, be respectful, be succinct, be clear and tell your own story.

  • Introduction Always begin by addressing your audience by their formal titles – for example, “Good evening, Honorable Mayor and Council Members,” etc. Then introduce yourself
  • Organization Organize your thoughts in advance so your presentation will be lucid, logical and succinct.
  • Be yourself If you can, speak from memory (and the heart). However, most of us can’t speak from memory, especially under stress, so you may wish to write down your points either in outline form or in full text.Make frequent eye contact with each of your target audience (assuming we’re talking about a council, board, or commission) so that each of them will know that they are important to you. And – speak from the heart, even if you’re reading.
  • At the lectern Have your material written, either outline or full text, with 1.5 to 2 row separation so that it will be easier to follow. If necessary, employ a device (pencil, ruler, 3X5 card) to keep track of where you are in your presentation. Try not to speak too fast, too slow, too loud or too low.
  • Tone Be positive, friendly and civil – and natural. Always expect your target audience to be the sort of people you want them to be. Don’t waste time criticizing your opponents during your testimony – it is best not to refer to them at all.
  • Content Share how the housing crisis is affecting you and your family. Ask elected officials or decision makers to take action in making employee housing a priority.
  • Conclusion Summarize the points you made.Provide a written copy of your presentation, preferably in letter form, for the public record.Keep within the established time limit (people sitting for long periods of time bless those who respect time limits). Generally, you will be asked to wrap up your comments if you go beyond the time limit.

Sign up to attend one of Voices for Housing’s Effective Communication workshops. It’s just one hour and are scheduled at times convenient for local employees. Contact Jessica at jessica@coastalhousing.org to sign up.