Congressional Testimony: 4 Reasons to be Prepared

Has your agency/program ever been on the brink of loosing funding? Has your cause or company been in the sites of motivated Congressional opposition? Budgets are tightening and scrutiny is increasing. We have an increasingly partisan political climate where government shutdowns are a reoccurring problem and relations with Congress are more important than ever. For federal departments and agencies, an appropriations hearing can have a significant impact on an agency’s budgets and plans for the upcoming fiscal year. For a nonprofit or commercial company with significant interests before Congress, a hearing can have significant impact on the legislative outcomes for your issue or organization. For many leaders, testifying or appearing on Capitol Hill can be a daunting experience but it is one that leaders need to master. They are carrying the interests of their agency, cause, organization, or company and how they perform matters. We see four main risks of a bad Congressional hearing performance:

• You look unprepared: Many leaders are overwhelmed by the experience of testifying on Capitol Hill. There are multiple legislators all with a separate axe to grind or set of interests. Questions can come from anywhere and cover a seemingly endless array of topics. If asked an unexpected question by a member of Congress, a leader will often respond: “I’ll get back to you on that.” This failure to respond in the moment is often perceived as lack of preparation. In many cases, leaders may even have the information they need to answer the question but he or she might not have access to it at that vital moment. As a result, that leader looks unprepared unnecessarily. We’ve written before about some key preparation tips.

• Your agency, organization, or cause loses credibility: A bad performance on Capitol Hill can damage your agency or organization’s credibility making you the poster child for what the public or the opposition sees as wrong. In some cases that is the goal of the hearing and in other cases it’s an unfortunate consequence. You only have a few moments to make an impression and it’s crucial that you maximize those moments.

• You provide inaccurate information: If leaders don’t have the information they need at their fingertips, the worse case scenario is that they provide the wrong information and/or inaccurate information. Once it is on the record, it is there for all to see. The best outcome is that you have the information you need to provide the right answer. In the absence of that, it’s better to look unprepared than to give the wrong information.

• You don’t get the outcomes you want: In the end, doing damage to your brand or cause can prevent you from getting the legislative outcomes you want. A strong performance can change the conversation and move it in your favor. It is worth the investment of time and effort to prepare.

Sign up for our webinar on tools and techniques for being prepared for your organization’s next Congressional appearance.