Professional Development | Toolbox Stories From State Legislatures Magazine


ncsl legislative staff training

For many years, the "Toolbox" department in State Legislatures magazine has been a go-to resource for legislators and staffers looking to learn some new skills or brush up on some old ones. We’ve collected some of the most-requested articles here, grouping them in general categories. At one time, the department was called "Tools of the Trade," and you'll see we've gathered some of those oldies-but-goodies for you, too.

If you’re looking for a particular story and don’t see it here, be sure to visit the magazine homepage or send a note to the magazine editors.

Use the navigation on the left of the screen to connect with any of the nine professional staff associations or staff networks associated with NCSL.


  • Giving a Good Speech, December 2004: Giving a speech can be a trying experience, even for seasoned pros. Here’s some advice on how to make your speeches effective and memorable.
  • Giving a More Powerful Presentation, July/August 2007: Giving a great speech doesn’t have to be difficult.
  • Hosting a Winning Webinar, February 2014: Planning and practice are keys to a standout web conference.
  • Improving Your Writing, July/August 2006: There’s a knack to putting words together in a way that will draw readers in and keep them interested and reading to the last period.
  • Producing a Punchy Podcast, September 2006: Podcasting can be a creative, convenient way to get your message out.
  • Writing It Right, September 2005: There’s nothing like a letter to make constituents feel appreciated. Let them know you value their input by answering their correspondence promptly.

Crisis Management

  • Being a Peacemaker, May/June 2019: No one goes to work antic­ipating a violent or negative interaction, whether it be with a member of the public or a co-worker. These tips come from a security expert.
  • Preparing for the Unthinkable, October/November 2004: A crisis can hit at any moment. And every legislature needs a plan.


  • Avoiding Ethical Pitfalls, December 2007: A panel of veteran legislators offers advice on how lawmakers can avoid some of the obvious and not-so-obvious ethical pitfalls.
  • Being an Ethical Lobbyist, May 2013: Today’s lobbyists bear scant resemblance to characters in the movie “Lincoln.”
  • Dealing With Conflicts of Interest, July/August 2004: There’s no getting away from all conflicts of interest. Here are eight ideas to help lawmakers juggle their personal and public interests.
  • Navigating Ethical Dilemmas, December 2006: Knowing the law is only the first step to successfully handling ethical dilemmas.
  • Sorting Right From Wrong, February 2011: Being ethical goes beyond just following the law.


  • Being a Better Boss, July/August 2013: Legislative staff managers are vital for staff success. Here are some things great managers have mastered.
  • Being a Good Manager, December 2017: The bad boss—we’ve all had one. Good ones, too, one hopes. There’s no question that a state legislative agency’s culture (any organization’s culture, for that matter) is defined by the behavior of its managers.
  • Guiding Legislative Interns, April 2006: Legislators and staff bear a responsibility for the education and experience of a legislative intern.
  • Learning From a Leader, March 2008: During her six years as governor of New Hampshire, Jeanne Shaheen learned a lot about what good leadership means.
  • Unleashing the Problem-Solving Genius of Your Staff, October/November 2015: To spark valuable new ideas, staff leaders are working to encourage creativity within their own walls—not as a rare miracle of inspiration, but as an everyday skill that anyone can develop.

Legislative Services

  • Creating a Great Bill Draft, January 2006: Follow these suggestions and get the bill you want.
  • Going From the Campaign to the Capitol, December 2012: A host of considerations come to light for those making the transition from campaign worker to legislative staffer.
  • Managing Legislative Time, December 2005: The efficient use of time is essential for any legislature.
  • Redrawing Maps the Right Way, July/August 2019: States have an opportunity to make a fresh start and achieve greater cooperation when redistricting.
  • Testing the Credibility of Sources, April 2013: To evaluate research and sources of information, consider the answers to these 10 questions.
  • Testing the Evidence, November/December 2019:  5 questions to help you evaluate evidence-based policy.
  • Using Poll Information, March 2007: Generally, when polls are wrong it’s because collection errors were made. The science behind polling keeps improving and, in fact, polls have proved to be a fairly accurate barometer of public opinion.
  • Writing so People Understand You, May 2015: Replacing jargon and acronyms with simple, direct language makes it more likely that citizens will understand what government is doing for them, and what it expects of them.


  • Appearing on TV, June 2005: Appearing as a guest on a television or radio show can be a breeze—if you prepare.
  • Being a Media Darling, March 2005: There’s no getting away from it. Reporters and legislators need each other. Here’s a primer on your rights and responsibilities when giving an interview.
  • Hugging the Media ‘Cactus,’ February 2015: Here’s how to make your next media interview a less prickly experience.
  • Working With the Media, February 2004: Like it or not, the media is part of the legislative process. Here are six ideas to help lawmakers cultivate relationships with reporters and editors.
  • Writing News Releases That Work, April 2005: Here are seven steps to writing and distributing effective press releases.


  • Getting Beyond Polarization, July/August 2005: Polarization can degrade the democratic process. Here’s how you can help thwart its negative effects.

Workplace Culture