Give effective public testimony

  • It is our hope that this step-by-step guide will prepare and empower you to share your recovery story in public at a hearing.

Defining Public Testimony

One of the purposes for the Recovery Advocacy Project is to build a visible and effective constituency in demand of “community and public policy based solutions” in response to America’s long-standing addiction crisis.

Public Hearings can be excellent ways for you, as the grassroots advocate, to have an impact on these community and public policy based solutions.

Here are a few examples of where you can provide Public Testimony:

  • Testifying for or against a bill (public policy) having to do with recovery
  • Speaking up at a local town hall or zoning board meeting about recovery.
  • At a Budget Hearing to a Department that allocates dollars for recovery support (Ex. Health and Human Services).

Speaking at public hearings may sound scary if you are new to it. This is normal.

It is our hope that this step-by-step guide will prepare and empower you to share your recovery story in public at a hearing so that you can come to realize what many recovery Advocates before you have come to realize…

That providing public testimony is one of the most rewarding and impactful things you can do as an advocate.

NOTE* Testifying for or against legislation does not mean you need to be an expert on the bill. You are there to share your story and experiences, and how the law may affect you or other people in recovery. There are most likely public policy experts testifying on the specifics of the bill. Your role is as a recovery advocate with a story to share.

Step by Step Guide to Giving Public Testimony

1. Recovery Language Review

There are a few things that you can do beforehand that will help you shape the most impactful testimony.

We encourage all recovery advocates to review recovery language that will help you focus on solutions and also speak while not using language that adds to any negative stigma that already exists about people in recovery.

  1. Review the HOW TO: Effectively Speak Out as a Recovery Advocate prior to shaping your message for your public testimony. This HOW TO piece specifically focuses on recovery language and messaging.
  2. It is important for those that may belong to a 12 step recovery group to review the Advocacy with Anonymity pamphlet. You can speak out for yourself as a person in recovery and others and not break the traditions.
2. Research

Do some research before your testimony. Many public hearings will have guidelines for the public to follow, like time limits or if you can testify with one or more recovery advocates at a time. Many of these rules can be found online (like your states legislature website), or you can contact the organizers of the hearing and ask some questions.

You should be able to find out:


  • If you need to sign up to testify beforehand.
  • If there is a time limit for testimony. (often times it is between 2 to 6 minutes)
  • The names of members of a committee or council that you will be addressing.
  • If you need written copies of your testimony (more on this later)
  • If groups are allowed to testify together.
  • If signs or props are allowed for visuals.
  • What to wear. (Business Casual is a good bet)
  • If the hearing is being recorded or broadcasted anywhere (You can encourage other advocates to watch!)
  • What time to arrive at the hearing.

Here is a quick example of how a State Legislature has taken the time to provide some guidance on their website to the public around testifying. This example is from the state or Oregon, but you may want to Google “ (Your State Name) State Legislature ”to see if you can research on your own.

Review the Oregon State Legislature How to Testify Web Page

  • Work to sign up early. Sometimes public hearings can be short, but if there are a lot of people signed up, the individuals heard early on usually get the most attention from the committee.
  • Some public hearings assign you a timeframe like (afternoon 2-4PM) so it may not be necessary to witness the entire hearing.
  • Many advocates choose to bring a visual to have an impact. For example, families of loss have brought pictures of their loved ones. Please be mindful of the rules and ask beforehand if visuals are allowed.
  • If you are testifying on a bill, it can be helpful to know who the “sponsor”, or “co-sponsors” of the bill are. It can be useful to reference those elected officials if they are on the committee you are testifying to. It can also be helpful to mention if the bill has “bipartisan” support, which, for example means it could be sponsored by both a Republican and a Democrat.
3. Prepare your Recovery Story for Public Testimony by writing it out.

Writing out your testimony before the hearing does a number of things including:

  • Organizing your message.
  • Gives you a framework for your spoken testimony.
  • If there is a time limit you can have a lot more you can leave with the committee members in your written testimony, while you hit the highlights in your spoken testimony.
  • Provides copies to all of the members of the committee you are testifying to.
  • The committee members(and staff) can reference your testimony afterwards.
  • The best testimonies are the ones that are not read off a piece of paper word for word. Use the written testimony to really just hit the bullet points of what you want to say. You can even use a highlighter to be sure you get your main points across.
  • Have your contact information on the written statement in case there are follow up questions or comments.
  • Bring supporting data. You can even reference it in your written testimony. Be careful to not make your testimony too “data heavy”. It is the story that the committees you testify to will most likely remember. You can even ask a local organization in your state if they have anything you can submit.
  • Many Recovery Advocates have also delivered additional supportive testimony from community members that are unable to attend the public hearing in person. Before you attend your event, work to collect a few other hand written statements and submit them with your written testimony.
4. Practice delivering your Public Testimony.

Try to practice your written testimony out loud a few times.  Work to get a sense of the main points you wish to get across. You can also set a timer to see if you stay in the suggested time frame of the testimony.

The more you practice the easier the testimony will be live. Keep working to give your testimony without reading it. It even helps to pretend there is a panel of people listening in front of you.

  • The Recovery Advocacy Project is a network of grassroots Recovery Advocates. If you want someone to take a read of your testimony or have a quick phone call to practice with let us know! Each state has a State Lead(s) you can contact, and a Facebook Group. Go to for more specific state information and join your regional Facebook Group.
  • While it is good to rehearse, it is important to not sound rehearsed! Be sure not to lose the genuineness of your story while practicing over and over.
  • If there is a time limit, rushing will not help. Nothing gets accomplished if you just speed your way through the testimony just to finish. Be sure to take your time and choose the strongest pieces of your testimony. Try speaking slowly when you practice and listen to what is most impactful.
  • Your tone is important. If something is urgent, say it urgently. If something is meaningful to you, be sure that is relayed through your tone.
  • Pauses are effective.

What to bring to the public testimony

  • Enough written copies for yourself and each one of the committee members. You may also want a few more if you get requests from press, or committee staff members.
  • Displays like photos or signs (ask prior to displaying)
  • A group of supporters. (Many recovery Advocates have effectively testifies with a main spokesperson and a large number of supporters standing behind them for visuals.)
  • Stickers or T shirts of your local organization.
  • Business Cards if you have them.
  • Written statements from recovery advocates that are unable to attend with you.
  • Information about the Recovery Advocacy Project if others are inspired by your testimony.

What to expect at the public testimony

If you are new to giving testimony, your best bet is to arrive early and watch a few people give testimony before you. It allows you to get a feel for the committee and the room. This is also a good networking opportunity. Try to pay attention to what organizations are there and feel free to reach out to them if you hear a testimony that inspires you.

Arriving early also allows you to take note of how the committee responds if people go over time. Sometimes there will be someone letting individuals know if they are close to their allotted time.

Here are some things to expect:

  • Sometimes you will get questions from the panel you are testifying to, and sometimes you will not. If you do not know an answer to a question, do not make it up. Let them know you can get back to them about that question and follow up accordingly.
  • Not everyone on the committee will be paying attention to every speaker the entire time. While this can be frustrating, some committee members will be more receptive and engaged, depending on the speaker or topic. (Sometimes you can get the attention of the committee with a long pause, or reference a visual you have brought with you.)
  • Be respectful to the panel. You are there to build a connection with decision makers on issues that are important to you. Expect support, but the reality is, not all committee members will always see eye to eye. That is ok.
  • Take your time, especially when you are relaying how important what you are advocating for is to you.
  • Respect the time of the committee. Do your best not to go over the allotted time.
  • Humanize people in recovery. This can be done by reviewing the language in the HOW TO Speak out as a Recovery Advocate toolkit piece on the RAP website. You can also humanize the issues by not having testimony that gets too lost in numbers and statistics.
  • Work to maintain eye contact as best as you can.
  • When you see someone nod in agreement, acknowledge it. It is encouraging, and can also indicate that you are making your point and can move forward in your testimony.
  • It is ok to be emotional while delivering testimony. These issues are important to you and it can be powerful to relay that.
  • Include the Bill Number if you are testifying for or against legislation, especially in the written testimony for reference.
  • Thank the committee you are testifying to for the opportunity.
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