Congressional Testimony: How to Debrief Your Witness

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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It is vital that you begin the debrief process immediately following your Capitol Hill testimony. This won’t be the full soup to nuts review you’ll conduct later, but you do need to take note of your initial impressions about what worked, what you can do better next time, and what tasks you need to carry out going forward.

A word of caution: Find a quiet corner well away from prying eyes and ears. Your strategy is too important. Don’t assume that young person walking down the hall or sitting at the next cafeteria table is of no consequence. She may turn out to be an intern in the committee chairman’s office, fully capable of reporting your internal deliberations back to the boss.

Organizer, Datebook, Diary, Agenda, Office, Notebook

What happens once you depart Capitol Hill? Schedule some time on your calendar for a follow up meeting. In fact, set a firm date and time during your advance preparations so that it gets on everyone’s schedule ahead of time. One expert surveyed during our research suggests “an in-person debrief right after [the testimony] over lunch.”

Of course, your witness is likely headed back home immediately after testifying, so she may need to participate via video conference. That’s fine. Just realize that she must be an integral part of your debrief.

Your debrief meeting agenda should focus on three basic areas:

  1. What worked, and how can we model that for use again in the future?
  2. What could we have done better, and how can we sharpen that tool next time?
  3. What follow up steps do we still need to take, who is assigned to which tasks, and what are our deadlines (e.g., responding in writing to members’ questions for the record, arranging follow up meetings with key Hill staffers, pitching reporters on the results of your testimony)?

Let’s talk about some specifics on which to zero in as part of this process. First, work in a discussion of “the other witness testimony [and] the members’ lines of questioning,” says government relations pro Michael Hogan.

“Review the questions that were asked of the witness and others that testified,” reminds public affairs veteran Tom McMahon. “See if there’s a reason to schedule a follow-up meeting with the member or staff to provide additional information or discuss other ways the witness could be helpful.”

Also, “A download of impressions from staff, myself, and the witness is necessary, as well as any feedback from staff or members is essential,” according to one survey respondent.

The importance of your examination cannot be overstated. You must commit 100 percent to the debriefing route if you hope to better your public policy results over the long haul.

Okay, government relations professionals: What other steps do you recommend when it comes to reviewing your Capitol Hill performance.

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