The guidelines are general; always check with the city manager's office, clerk's office or appropriate official for policies specific to your community.
First, get on the agenda
To address some governing bodies, all that is necessary is to fill out a speaker's request card and leave it with staff before the meeting starts. The card ensures that the speaker's name and address are correctly identified in the minutes of the meeting.
Other governing bodies require advance written requests to reserve time to speak. Contact the administrative office to find out the requirements.
Why is it important to have your name/issue on the agenda? By having your name officially entered, the council can recognize you promptly at the appropriate time during the meeting. In addition, some states prohibit councils from taking action on any item not on the agenda, unless the item warrants emergency attention.
When having your name placed on the agenda, you may be asked to specify a reason for your appearance:
- A general presentation before council
- To comment on an item before the council or that you wish the council to consider
- To register your position in favor of an item before the council
- To register your position against an item before the council
Timing is everything
Most councils set a time limit for citizens’ remarks — for example, three minutes for individuals. Keep that in mind when preparing your presentation.
When speaking on behalf of 10 or more individuals present in the meeting room, the presentation may be limited to 10 minutes. Other members of your group cannot speak. If you are making a group presentation, advise the council at the start. The council may ask group members to stand to confirm 10 individuals are present.
Guidelines for successful presentations:
— Wait until the time at which your topic on the agenda is being addressed. (Council may have a designated time for citizens to comment on matters not on the agenda.)
— When it is your turn to speak, state your full name and address at the start of your presentation so the official minutes reflect your appearance.
— The best presentations are to the point. Presentations that are less than 3 minutes long, but to the point, are more effective with councils than long and repetitive presentations.
— If your point has been made by previous speakers, it’s still very important to have your name entered in the record. At the appointed time, introduce yourself and be recognized. Inform the council that “Mr. Smith” or “Mrs. Jones” made your point and you do not wish to bore the council with repetition. But do state your viewpoint, briefly, for the record.
— If you plan to present the council with information, have it organized and ready to pass to the clerk or secretary, who will distribute it to council. Begin your presentation immediately.
— Address your remarks to the whole council, rather than to a specific member.
— If a timer sounds to signal the end of your time, sum up immediately to avoid the mayor interrupting you with instructions to stop.
— You may choose to end your presentation by stating you are available to answer questions, although, typically, the council will ask you to stay at the podium if there are questions. It’s likely no questions will be asked.
— After the meeting, hang around in a conspicuous place so that if municipal staff or elected officials have a question, they can access you. Do not engage in small talk with others of your group at that time, so you are available.