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Dec 01

Effective Public Comments

Posted on December 1, 2023 at 9:20 AM by Bryanna Hartmann

I was recently asked by a citizen at the County Council meeting, “Does it even matter if I speak? I mean, you seem to already know how you are going to vote.”

The answer is yes and yes. Yes, it does matter if you speak, and I have changed my mind on topics because of citizens speaking. Do I already know how I am likely to vote on most issues? Yes. I read every page of the agenda and ask numerous questions prior to the meeting. But, the citizens still have my ear till the moment of the vote.   

So, how am I influenced?

Here are the essential ingredients of what works and what doesn’t in a three-minute speech to the County Council.

What Works:

  • Clarity and Conciseness: Clear and concise comments tend to be more effective. Focus on key points, deliver them succinctly and avoid unnecessary details.
  • Relevance: Ensure that your comments are relevant to the topic at hand. Irrelevant or off-topic comments may not have much impact.
  • Respectful Tone: Maintaining a respectful and professional tone in your comments increases the chances of them being taken seriously and considered.
  • Factual Basis: Supporting your comments with facts, credible data, personal experiences or evidence can strengthen your argument.
  • Call to Action: Clearly state what action or change you're advocating for. Don't just highlight problems; provide potential solutions or suggestions. Showing that you've thought about possible ways to address the issue can make your comment more persuasive.
  • Follow Up: After your speech, follow up with council members to provide further information, answer questions, or discuss the issue in more detail. This demonstrates your commitment and can help in furthering your cause.

What Doesn't Work:

  • Rambling or Unfocused Comments: Long-winded or unfocused comments may lose the Council's attention and dilute your message.
  • Personal Attacks or Hostility: Hostile or aggressive language can diminish the impact of your comment and may even discredit your points.
  • Repetition: Constantly reiterating the same points from a previous speaker without adding new information or perspectives can diminish the impact of your comment and the overall intent of the desired action.
  • Lack of Preparation: Comments that lack preparation or structure might not effectively convey the intended message.
  • Number of Speakers: Sometimes, too many voices speaking can cause confusion. It's crucial to ensure that everyone gets an opportunity to express their thoughts and that the conversation remains organized and focused to achieve the meeting's objectives. Furthermore, while the number of voices is significant, the quality of the points being made is equally important in influencing the outcome of a meeting.

While a single three-minute speech might not revolutionize the County, it can absolutely influence the elected officials. However, making an impact in a Council meeting isn't just about the speech itself, but also about the groundwork, follow-up, and the support you can gather before and after. While your speech might not yield immediate results, consistent advocacy and engagement can contribute to long-term change.