In 2015 I had the opportunity to testify before Congress on the state of entrepreneurship and small business. Here is a guide from my experience for business owners who want to make their voice heard.
I walked in and was immediately struck by the formality of the room, the cameras, and hushed conversation. It was March 2015 and I had arrived in Washington DC to testify on behalf of the National Small Business Association (NSBA) before the House Committee on Small Business. The topic was “Building an Opportunity Economy: The State of Small Business and Entrepreneurship.” At the time, I was the Vice Chair of Advocacy for the NSBA.
It was, to say the least, an interesting experience. I routinely speak to large audiences, so this one was a small group by comparison. But it was, I feel, one of my most important presentations to this day.
Here’s a little inside look at what it was like to testify before Congress:
- Before you testify on the Hill you must submit written testimony. Mine was a combination of information gleaned from a survey by the NSBA about the state of small business but also my personal experience as a business owner.
- On the day of testimony, you are given a time limit… and a big clock that counts down to be sure you do not go over. Once everyone on the panel has spoken, the questions start. Not just about what you have said, but also questions regarding your written testimony which is more in-depth.
- The panel was diverse, but I was the only small business owner, so it was not surprising that many of the questions came my way. Fortunately, one of the things I teach in presentation training is to have five times more information than you need. It came in handy and I was prepared.
I agreed to do this because I felt it was a chance to make the case for supporting small business with certain legislation. If presented with the opportunity to testify before Congress – either on the state or federal level, take it. It truly is an honor.
Here are a few tips that might help when testifying before Congress:
- Be prepared. It can feel a little intimidating, so don’t wait until the last minute to develop your content.
- You don’t need to be an expert on legislation. You do need to draw on your personal experience as a business owner to tell a story or express an opinion about how a certain issue is impacting your business.
- Don’t feel that you must answer every question. If you don’t know something just say so. The purpose of testifying is to provide good information. You do not want to say the wrong thing. Stick to what you know.
Not everyone gets the opportunity to provide testimony, but everyone can be sure that their perspective is heard by reaching out to elected officials or through organizations like the National Small Business Association. Every two years they hold the Small Business Congress in Washington DC. This year, there are several opportunities to attend regional events in advance where business owners can weigh-in on their priorities and learn about the issues. As the current Board Chair of the NSBA, I will be traveling to a few them. Then in November, we will gather to “discuss, debate and decide on the small business agenda for the next two years.”