Testifying Before Congress: How to Draft Your Oral Statement

Welcome back to this series of excerpts from my new research report Thrill on the Hill: How to Turn Congressional Testimony into Public Policy Success. Stay tuned for more in weeks to come.

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Once upon a time, I led the communications shop at a large national association. Upon arriving, I noticed that our oral testimony was dry and desultory. The reason? The verbiage was lifted straight from the written testimony. Bad move.

Why? The formal document is written for the eye. The oral statement is written for the ear.

So we struck a bargain. The lawyers and issue experts took the first crack at the written submission. With that in hand, we in the communications department began drafting the five-minute oral testimony. One respondent queried for this research agrees that “It should be pulled from the written testimony.”

Our system worked out great since everyone had a defined role doing what they are best at. The technical folks dealt with the intricate details while the communicators made it sing. After all, your communications staff should house your best writers (hint: If that is not the case, get rid of them and recalibrate your hiring process to ensure you bring on board talented writers in your communications crew).

The proclivities of your witness should also be taken into consideration. “The actual written and verbal testimony has to be written with clear goals in mind and very aware of the personality of the individual delivering the remarks,” recommends one of our experts.

In basic terms, “I think about the key points I want to make and then add supporting information accordingly” advises another respondent.

Bottom line, adds one, “I think about what I can say that will keep MCs (members of Congress) and the media paying attention.” This notion of also playing to the press is important. Remember, there are multiple audiences beyond the Congressional committee members, so consider how your words and ideas will motivate them, too.

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