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.
My clients receive a three-word mantra as they prepare to communicate in public: Practice! Practice! Practice!
There is no substitute for rehearsals—and please note the plural form of the word. One run-through is not enough. It is imperative to give your witness for a Congressional hearing the comfort of knowing her remarks cold and in applying the communications skills needed to get the job done right.
This means holding several dry runs. The specific number depends on many factors. For example, has she testified previously? Is she already an accomplished communicator or does she need extra work in that department? How complex is the issue involved? Is this a new issue for you or have you been working it for years? Is this your company’s number one priority? How many champions (or adversaries) do you count among the committee’s members?
Make it a point during your preparations to “talk through the plan for the hearing,” advises one expert consulted during research into this topic. “Talk through the list of committee members and their particular interest in the issue—if they have shown interest.” Yes, be prepared for the fact that not all members of Congress care about your issue.
As part of that discussion, says another, “Walk them through the logistics of the day so that there are no surprises if we can help it.”
The physical appearance of your text also matters. Here’s how you can make life easier for a Congressional witness. On the copy she reads:
- Limit the text to the top two-thirds of the page. That way, she avoids looking down which risks both avoiding eye contact and reducing her vocal capabilities.
- Sit forward in the chair, in what amounts to a runner’s position. Don’t lean back; that’s too comfortable and will throw your voice off microphone.
- Place forearms on the table. This allows for use of hand gestures (if she normally does so) while giving the hands a natural resting place.
- Include page numbers in the upper right corner of each page. This makes it easier to get them back in order if necessary.
- Attach the pages of her statement with a paper clip, not a staple. This allows her to effortlessly dispatch each page when finished with it.
- Task someone accompanying your witness with carrying a second, stapled copy. If the first copy is blown away by a sudden gust from an errant cooling vent or soaked with a spilled glass of water, you’re ready with a reserve text.
It goes without saying that the more challenges you face—whether related to the complexity of the issue, the makeup of the Congressional committee, or a challenged witness—the more rehearsal time you must devote. And these must be formal run-throughs with no corner cutting allowed. We’ll discuss later how to organize those training workshops.
Your turn. What other steps do you advise when delivering your oral statement before the denizens of Capitol Hill?