One important aspect of community and political engagement is attending and making public comment at local legislative meetings. Here at the Coastal Conservation League, we encourage community members and supporters to speak up at these meetings whenever possible, because we have seen firsthand how a collective voice can make a difference. We also understand that sometimes those meetings can be overwhelming, making it difficult to feel comfortable speaking up. Some people feel nervous about public speaking, while others may be unsure of what to say or how to organize their thoughts and opinions.
In this brief article, we want to give you a few quick tips you can use to prepare for any public meeting where you’d like to give comment. Feel free to use these suggestions and spread them amongst your communities, so others can feel empowered to use their voices as well.
Keep It Brief
A lot of times, there are time limits for public comments. It’s best to keep your comments under 60 seconds when you can. Even for meetings where there are no limits on time, 1-2 minutes is a good best practice for comments, and you can still say plenty in that timeframe!
Start With A Short Introduction
Introduce yourself to your elected or appointed officials. This introduction should include your name, address or neighborhood, and a brief explanation about why you’re interested in the project/issue being discussed. That can sound like:
Greetings esteemed body! My name is ______. I live in _______ on ________ Street, and I am interested in this project/issue because ___________.
Make Your Most Important Point First
Because time is of the essence with public comment, it’s a good idea to get the most important point you want to make out there first. This way, you make sure public officials get to hear what matters to you and why and can consider that, as they make their decisions.
For example, if you are speaking up to Beaufort County Council and sharing that the Cultural Protection Overlay should be upheld in all cases because making exceptions for one sets a bad precedent for the future, it’s a good idea to get straight to that point after your introduction and explain further as time permits.
Use Bullet Points To Stay Clear And Concise
It would even be a good idea to write your points down on notecards or paper, so they can help you stay on track. This way, your points come through clearly, and you can say everything you want to say before your time runs out.
A good of example of this is “I would like the Planning Commission to deny this current redevelopment plan for Union Pier because it is missing several key items that would make our community better. Some of those items are:
- Water management to address flooding
- Bike and pedestrian connectivity
- Public access to the waterfront and intentional green space
Until these items are properly addressed, I think the Planning Commission should not move this plan forward, as it does not fit the needs of the community.”
Avoid Background Information Or Filler That Can Clutter Up Your Argument
While a good personal story can help sway opinions, there’s very little time to share anecdotes and make your points. Therefore, we recommend trying to be as concise and direct as possible. Since you’re keeping your comment brief, get straight to the point. Using the previous tip can help your organize your thoughts and keep things decluttered.
In conclusion, making public comment doesn’t have to be intimidating or stressful! Use these tips to help you gather your thoughts and feel confident lending your voice at any public meeting.