How to Testify in front of City Council

John A. Wilson Building housing the municipal offices and chambers of the Mayor and the Council of the District of Columbia. United States

Tips on Testifying Before the D.C. City Council

How to sign up as a witness:

  • Each committee in the DC City Council sets its own process for hearings according to the committee chairman.
  • Once you sign up as a witness, you should receive confirmation from the committee contact person [PERSONALIZE THIS SECTION TO REFLECT SPECIFIC HEARING] that you are testifying. If you have not received confirmation one week before the hearing date, please contact [INSERT COMMITTEE CONTACT NAME AND INFO].
  • For the hearings that are expected to be lengthy with many public witnesses, you may wish to ask the committee contact for an approximate time you will be called up.
  • Please provide [ADW CONTACT NAME] at the Archdiocese with your name, a number (and a cell phone number if you have one) and email address. This information will be helpful in the event we need to reach you to communicate any updates, changes or information along to you.

Do your research:

  • Know your audience: It will be helpful to know who the members of the committee are and if they have background on the issue you are testifying about.
  • Know your issue: Try to familiarize yourself with the other side of the story – the more you know, the more persuasive your testimony will be.

Draft your testimony and practice:

  • Support your personal opinion with facts.
  • You only have three minutes to speak, so keep your points brief. Think of it as an “executive summary.” Remember, your written testimony may be longer and go into details if needed.
  • When testifying before the DC City Council, it is acceptable to read your testimony (some legislative entities discourage this practice) and it is not necessary to memorize your testimony.
  • It may be helpful to practice your testimony in front of someone or in front of a mirror so you are comfortable with delivering it orally within the time limit.

On the hearing day:

  • The D.C. City Council is located inside the John A. Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW across the street from Freedom Plaza.
  • If you are driving, it is recommended that you find a parking garage. Keep in mind that some hearings can be lengthy and if the start-time is in the mid-afternoon, you may be there for a few hours. Check the hours of the garage before you leave your car.
  • You may also take public transportation. The closest Metro rail station is Federal Triangle (Blue and Orange lines), however, Metro Center (Blue, Orange and Red lines) is also a short walk to the Wilson Building. 
  • It is best to arrive at least 15 minutes before the hearing so you can be sure to get a seat in the hearing room. For lengthy hearings, you may wish to check with the committee contact prior to the hearing date for an approximate time for your public testimony.
  • Public hearings are scheduled for different rooms according to the size and schedule. After going through security at the Wilson Building, [you may confirm at the security desk/ information desk?] the hearing room number and location.
  • There should be a committee staff member near the dais who can answer any questions you might have about the sequence of the witnesses, or approximate time you will be called up.

What to expect

  • It is best to provide copies of your testimony to the committee staff. You are generally asked to provide 15 copies.
  • You will be called up in the order in which you are listed on the witness list, and you will go up with several others who may not necessarily represent the same side of the issue as you do.
  • There will be a time clock that will begin counting down as you begin speaking. As you approach your three-minute limit you will see the lights on the clock flash from green, to yellow and as your time expires, to red.
  • Once all the members of your group are finished speaking, the council members may ask you questions. However, when the hearings have fewer witnesses testifying, the council members may ask witnesses as they finish their testimony instead of waiting for the full panel to complete.

A few helpful hints:

  • At the beginning of your testimony, thank the committee for giving you the opportunity to speak. 
  • Clearly state your name and your support or opposition for the legislation up-front.
  • If you reside or work in the District of Columbia, it is helpful to say so and identify the ward – acknowledging the council member if he or she is present in the hearing room.
  • Witnesses are given three minutes for their testimony and the City Council is strict with this time limit. If you run short on time, you can reference that your written testimony contains further details.
  • Be confident – remember, you are testifying because you are an expert on the issue!
  • Be respectful of the council members and other witnesses even if they are not on the same side of the issue – resist temptation to be negative or argumentative.

Resources  | How to write your City Council member  | Do’s and Don’ts for Catholic Parishes regarding Political ActivityHow to Testify in front of City CouncilCatholic Authoritative Documents