Winning at the Witness Table

I’m slated to lead the discussion about Congressional testimony at the National Press Club on Thursday of this week, so this seems like a good time to review some advice on how to prepare your executives when they venture to Capitol Hill.

One of the best ways of advancing your company’s public policy agenda is to make your voice heard before lawmakers and regulators. Government plays a large role in what your business can and cannot do, whether you plead before Congress, a state legislature, or a federal or state regulatory body.

House Natural Resources Cmte

Any worthwhile strategy includes a decision about when—and how—to testify before policymakers and what to do afterward. Your staff and public affairs consultants can go a long way in mapping out your strategy.

Sure, a testimony training workshop is a must if you hope to strengthen your leadership’s ability to communicate at the witness table. Yet even that is but a step along the journey.

Now you can join my Communications Community and get monthly roundups to help you sharpen your C-suite’s communications edge. I’ll even share with you my research report Maximize Your Next Media Training: Best Practice Standards, so join the Communications Community today.

Here’s a review of just some of the moves that wise businesses make as they steel themselves to climb the Hill:

  1. Solicit testimony opportunities that can advance your public policy goals or help you block proposed legislation you want to scuttle.
  2. Treat policymakers with due deference, while refusing to be cowed.
  3. Charge your communications staff with writing a message-oriented oral statement. Why your communicators? They should be experts at composing tight copy and writing for the ear.
  4. Keep that oral statement punchy, replete with anecdotes, numbers, case studies, third party references, and so forth.
  5. Ensure your opening statement comes in under the time limit. Rushed witnesses make for poor persuaders.
  6. Settle upon the person who makes the best witness. Maybe it’s your CEO or president. Or it might be your COO or vice president of government affairs.
  7. Conduct some research into committee members, exploring how they view your issue and whether your company has any history with them.
  8. Prepare your witnesses with background information on the issue as well as on committee members.
  9. Conduct a simulated hearing, led by a skilled consultant, prior to the real thing.
  10. Sort out any internally contentious issues beforehand, and refuse to get bogged down in overlong issue debates during your rehearsal.
  11. Tune in to a few pertinent committee hearings on C-SPAN or watch the videos on the committee’s web site.
  12. Arrive at your hearing on the early side to become accustomed to the setting and to chat up lawmakers and members of the press.
  13. Respond to each question with message-driven responses.
  14. Issue a news release that summarizes your testimony and includes quotes from your oral statement
  15. Debrief your performance immediately following your testimony. I cannot emphasize the importance of assessing feedback strongly enough. It serves as an important gauge of your public affairs strategy.

Take this advice and make it work to your benefit. You will no doubt want to add tips of your own that are specific to your situation and your issue. I encourage you to share your pointers with your fellow followers of the C-suite Blueprint. Leave your thoughts in the “Leave a Reply” box below.


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