Etiquette at the State House

When testifying at the New Hampshire State House with the NHLA and learning to be a liberty advocate, proper decorum is very important. After all, as an advocate you are trying to influence the Legislature and convince the members to see an issue your way. To do this, you must be taken seriously. Until you are well known to your target audience, this means that you should use every means possible to increase your appearance of influence.

Behaving as if you belong there is an easy and effective way to seem more influential. Learn where the various rooms are, sign in with assurance (bring a pen!) and act confident. Use the proper forms of address: Madam Chair, Mr. Chairman, Representative [last name], Honorable Committee. Under no circumstances use hostile, sarcastic, or profane language. If you have written testimony, bring twenty copies if possible. When referring to specific elements of the bill, have a copy and mention the line numbers. All of these behaviors let the committee know that you are familiar with the Legislature, you know what you are talking about, and that your testimony should be taken seriously.

Be aware of your appearance, and how others perceive you. Jacket and tie, or equivalent, gives you a step up. Offensive T-shirts and camo are a definite step down. Good grooming should be taken for granted. Be prepared with paper and pens, calendars and such. Mute your cell phone. Visible weapons can be distracting, so think about whether you should be carrying concealed or whether the visible weapon is part of the point you are trying to make. Remember, the committee chair has full control over the committee room and hearing. If the chair finds open carrying to be distracting or intimidating, the chair has full authority to ask you to leave the room, leaving you no opportunity to testify.

Another element of decorum is that emotion should be controlled. One reason for the formality is that it allows people to work together while holding opposite views on the subject under discussion, even while planning a floor fight of impassioned speeches against each other. Keep cool; if you show strong emotion at least some people in your audience will be embarrassed, and then they will forget most of what you had to say. Testifying before a committee is an intimate experience, and you don’t need a lot of emotion to make an impact.

See also: How to testify at a public hearing