To be hopefully posted on the city website and distributed with city council meeting agendas. The city of Sioux Falls is proud to invite public input at City Council meetings. We’re glad that citizens are passionate about our city and wish to speak out on relevant issues. We understand that many citizens are not experienced public speakers so we wrote this little guide to help you get going:

1 Understand your goals.

Sometimes people are upset about government and want to let off steam. Other times citizens want to address city policies. These two goals do not work well together. It is best to release frustrations elsewhere and focus on policy during council meetings. This focus makes it much easier to address issues and to help guide city policy.

2 Try to stay calm.

Staying calm truly helps to keep our meeting peaceful and productive. When people are calm, even about emotional subjects, it is much easier to deal with the underlying issues. When people are angry, they usually get tuned out because anger is difficult to address.

3 Focus on one topic.

It is best to limit your talk to one major topic. This helps to solidify your presentation and clarify your ideas. When people speak on multiple subjects, it’s hard to make progress on any of them. If there are several topics on your mind, we invite you to come back and speak on them individually at upcoming meetings.

4 Look at the big picture.

City leaders have limited resources that are pulled in multiple directions. This makes it impossible to make everyone happy and impossible to completely solve all the problems we have. The best we can do is make a good compromise among divergent goals.

5 Offer a solution.

Voicing concerns can help get the ball rolling, but it is for more valuable to propose solutions. While we are happy to hear your concerns, we’re even happier to hear how you think problems can be corrected.

6 Remember that politicians are people too.

We usually don’t completely agree with each other, but try to remember that we’re all in this world together and we should show as much respect to each other as possible – even when we are upset.

7 It helps to practice.

If you practice your presentation by giving it to your friends and family, your public talk will be much improved. But you don’t have to worry about making a perfect speech. We’re interested in your input, just do the best you can.

8 Limit your talk to 5 minutes.

So that council meetings can be completed in a reasonable amount of time, we have to limit each speaker to 5 minutes.


3 Thoughts on “Advice on how to address the council (by David Zokaites)

  1. The mayor should read this and follow it too – changing number 6 to citizens are people too.

  2. blasphemo on May 12, 2016 at 2:14 pm said:

    David Zokaites, thank you for this useful primer. I’ve often thought something like this would benefit public input. I’d like to add that citizens need to “begin at the beginning” when they start talking. While a concerned citizen has been thinking about their experience/issue/complaint/suggestion for perhaps days or months, their perspective is NEW to the Council & the audience. Public Input remarks need to start with some introductory phrases to bring everyone listening up to speed. Too often Public Input speakers launch into the middle of a rant, and much of their first remarks are lost as the Council & audience are trying to figure out what they are saying. Like the old public speaking axiom says: 1) Tell people WHAT you’re going to tell them. 2) Then, TELL them. 3) Then, tell them AGAIN (summarize).

  3. blasphemo on May 12, 2016 at 2:48 pm said:

    David Zkaites, your Public Input primer is thoughtfully composed and makes credible suggestions. But frankly, I don’t feel your Public Input remarks to which I’ve listened reflect that you heed your own advice! While I have no doubt you feel you’ve been wronged by the SFPD, the excruciating detail with which you’ve delivered your multi-part story over Public Input at many successive Council Meetings renders your message moot. Furthermore, while you have effectively minimized communicating any apparent anger you may have with City Hall, conversely your delivery has an overtly condescending and ‘flip’ tone to it. Along with your theatrical “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” sweeping arm gestures, your demeanor just slams the ears of the City Council shut, and it’s embarrassing for some of the rest of us to listen to. With Public Input apparently in jeopardy, painfully odd rambling diatribes like yours paint all the Public Input remarks with the negative Scarlett Letter of the lowest common denominator. Dude, you’re bringing a Haight-Ashbury performance to a comparatively Brooks Brothers formal meeting. You’ll not sway the Council or generate much audience support with your method of approach to date. It’s the lawful forum of fairly mainstream elected officials, with proceedings conducted according to Rules of Order. You have to play by some semblance of the written/unwritten rules of the game to garner respect. As much as one may not like it, there’s a reality to how one needs to play this game to be taken seriously, and have any hope of achieving results. Sorry.

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