Testifying before Congress can be a daunting undertaking. Whether you are called to testify or have volunteered, it can be extremely nerve-racking. That is why it always pays to be prepared.
When Congressional Committees hold hearings, they call two different types of witnesses friendly and hostile. A particular subset of the former is “experts”—witnesses the Committee feels are experts in their field to provide relevant information to the topic at hand.
Whatever the reason you are testifying, there are some simple steps you should take to prepare. Attorney Samuel Dewey outlines a few of those steps here.
Know What You Are Being Asked to Do
The most important step in preparing to testify before Congress is to figure out what you are being asked to do. It is essential to understand exactly why you are testifying, what the Members of the Committee expect from you, what they are not expecting, and what the rules of the road are. Some of this information is publicly available in the form of Rules or procedures, but much of it exists in the form of legislative “common law” known only to experienced Hill practitioners.
When preparing your written statement, you should introduce yourself to the panel so they can gain further insight into who you are and why you are relevant to the topic at hand. Discuss the issue the Committee is trying to address, explain the major points you wish to make, and what your goal is in testifying before the Committee (if you have one).
Have Facts But Be Personal
It is important to have facts and statistics to back up any claims you make. At the same time, you do not want to sound like you are just reciting reports.
You will be successful in your testimony if you relate to the Members on the panel. The best way to do that is to speak in a plain manner easily understood by the average American (your testimony may be on TV and will almost certainly be live-streamed by the Committee).
Keep eye contact with the Members as you go through your answers, especially with the specific members who ask you questions.
Be confident in yourself, your position, and your reason for testifying in the first place. This will come across in your testimony in powerful ways.
It is easy to get nervous and knocked off track when testifying before Congress. Do not let the environment, the people you are speaking in front of, or the questions you face divert your attention from the matter at hand.
Remember that you are testifying before Congress for a specific reason. Stick to that central issue only. Do not wander off-topic.
Do not be afraid to say that you would rather not comment on another topic that is not the subject of the hearing. It is OK to say that is not your area of expertise.
There is a wide menu of additional strategies and techniques known to experienced counsel that can be employed in a manner tailored to the relevant Committee and situation.
Ultimately, Sam Dewey says that solid preparation in advance will lead to you feeling more comfortable, confident, and calm as you testify before Congress.
About Samuel Dewey
Samuel Dewey is a successful lawyer and former Senior Counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee and Chief Investigator and Counsel to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging. Mr. Dewey specializes in: (1) white-collar investigations, compliance, and litigation; (2) regulatory compliance and litigation; and (3) complex public policy matters. Within these fields, Mr. Dewey is considered an expert in Congressional investigations and attendant matters. Mr. Dewey has a B.A. in Political Science, a J.D. from Harvard, and is admitted to practice law in Washington, D.C., and Maryland.
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