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.
It is mandatory that your witnesses undergo a thorough testimony training workshop when preparing to appear before a Capitol Hill committee. There are no shortcuts to this preparation.
“If you’ve ever watched prep for a debate, it’s very similar,” says public and media affairs consultant Renee Radcliff Sinclair. “Set up a room, make your witness wear a suit, sit them down in front of a microphone, have a panel with staged questions ready to do Q&A, then drill, drill, drill.” The notion of wearing proper attire during your run-throughs is important, for you want your rehearsals to parallel the real thing as closely as possible.
To bolster this point, advises another expert surveyed during our research, “The more formal, the better—use your board room to recreate the hearing room [and] over prepare.”
“We set it up like a hearing. Have the witness deliver their testimony, and ask several staffers to sit in as members to ask questions and act like members. Then we provide feedback and do it again if needed,” adds another.
“I walk through the testimony and possible issues that may arise,” explains one respondent. “We also then talk about what to expect in terms of being introduced, possible questions, and possible interruptions (e.g. floor votes).”
“It’s helpful to include other members of the organization who have testified or prepared witnesses in the past to provide insight,” says public affairs and communications executive Tom McMahon.
Let’s cover the five Ws to help you better prepare:
What should be on the agenda?
- Review of your message
- Quick primer on verbal and nonverbal techniques
- Numerous run-throughs of the oral statement
- Exhaustive Q&A prep, complete with staff and consultants portraying committee members
Who should be in the room?
- Your witness
- Your senior government relations and communications staffers
- Issue experts who can help resolve technical questions
- Consultant who leads the workshop
- Videographer to record and play back your practice runs (your consultant should be able to supply this individual)
- Important: Limit attendance only to those who have a legitimate purpose; no hangers-on or curiosity seekers allowed
When should it take place?
- Ideally, a day or two before your appearance on Capitol Hill
- Fly your witness into town a day early to give him time to adjust and get a good night’s rest in advance of the training session
- Before the formal workshop, connect with your witness by phone or video conference to unearth any issues you may need to confront
- Of course, furnish your witness with necessary background materials well in advance of your workshop
Where is the best location to hold it?
- Washington, D.C.
- Your office conference room is fine, assuming it is big enough
- If you need more space, secure a room in a conference facility or hotel
Why bother will all this fuss?
- You’ve got to take this seriously if you have any hope of attaining your public policy objectives
- Your witness is probably one of your top executives; do you really want to be the one responsible for embarrassing her in the high profile atmosphere of a Congressional hearing room?
A note about working with a consultant (in the interest of full disclosure, this is where my clients bring me into the picture): He should do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to organizing your training workshop. To be sure, he’ll need to coordinate closely with you to learn about your issues, your witness, and your public policy goals. Experienced consultants have done this before, so take advantage of that familiarity and expertise; you’ve got plenty of other duties to attend to.