Congressional Testimony: The Big Day Arrives

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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Your advance preparations, including your testimony training workshops, should stand you in good stead. Still, when your witness first arrives on Capitol Hill, it is likely to be a lump-in-the-throat experience for him. It’s intimidating. In fact, if your witness isn’t a little bit shaky, he’s either in denial or evidencing a huge and harmful dose of hubris.

The first order of business is to arrive early. Security concerns being what they are today, it can take a while to gain clearance into your House or Senate office building. There are few more nerve-inducing events than running late for a bout of Congressional testimony, so give yourself plenty of extra time.

Sunrise, Capitol, Building, Sun, Silhouettes, Skyline

When planning your trip to the Hill, back time everything. For example, if your testimony is scheduled for 10 a.m., plan to arrive there no later than 9:30. If it’s a 15 minute taxi ride from your office or hotel to the Hill, that means you leave at 9:15. If your testimony plans on a final preparatory breakfast, allow for that. And so on. Also of importance, build in some extra time. As with anything in business, unexpected events have a way of popping up, so give yourself some wiggle room in order to avoid a nerve-jangling experience.

“I generally meet the witness for breakfast and then arrange to get to the Hill with him/her. This takes the worry out of the witness figuring out where to go,” adds one individual surveyed during our research, “and it gives them the opportunity to talk through their concerns, questions, fears, etc.” One note about breakfast. Gauge your witness’ morning preferences. While a healthy breakfast is a good idea—no sense in your witness appearing with an empty fuel tank—a big meal is likely to leave them feeling logy. Additionally, some of us are morning people while others don’t get up to speed until later in the day. Ask your witness about his normal routine and adhere to that as much as possible.

Public policy veteran Renee Radcliff Sinclair recommends that witnesses and their advisors “Walk around the building a little bit to get a ‘feel’ for the environment,” and to “Familiarize yourself with the room you will be testifying in.” As I advise my clients, it helps to “take ownership” of any room where they speak. It can be a real confidence builder.

You are likely to be directed to check in at the committee staff room. Upon entering, be gracious. One survey respondent reminds us that it is a good idea to “introduce [yourself] to the other witnesses, congressional staff, and members” (though members may not arrive until the last moment).

One vital reminder: Hit the restroom. I cannot tell you the number of weird looks I’ve gotten over the years when offering this guidance. But clients thank me later.

“Remain calm,” says one respondent. For some witnesses, especially first-timers, this may be easier said than done. The point here is to know your witness well enough to understand what techniques may have calming influences.

While too much of a relaxed attitude isn’t advised, worrying oneself to the point of hypertension is no good either. This hearing is probably a bigger deal to you than to a member of Congress, who participates in such meetings regularly, so keep some perspective.

What success have you had when your testmony team arrives on Capitol Hill?

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