Giving Effective Testimony before Congress

Giving testimony before Congress can be a daunting task, particularly if this is your first time to visit the Capitol and you do not have any prior experience in this type of situation. It is quite natural to feel somewhat apprehensive and nervous in this type of situation. Understanding what to expect and how to best prepare to deliver your testimony within a public forum will help you to feel more at ease.

When invited to appear before a committee or subcommittee, you will typically receive a formal invitation from the chair or on occasion from the chair and a ranking minority member of Congress. In some cases, the committee might ask for written testimony rather than asking an individual to appear or submit testimony.

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First, it is important to understand that you should prepare your testimony ahead of time. Your testimony should be guided in part by the likely questions you will be asked. Your testimony will be accepted much more positively if you have taken the time to become thoroughly acquainted with the topic and have conducted accurate research.

Under both House and Senate rules you will generally be required to file a specific number of copies of your written statement. You must also comply with what is known as the truth in testimony rule. Under this rule you must file a resume as well as disclose both the amount and source of any contract or grant money you have received via the federal government within the two preceding fiscal years or in the current year. (See Section 2.7 “Advanced Copies of Witness Statement or Written Testimony, Biographical, and Other Information—Special Rules Regarding Truth in Testimony,” in Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForge.)

Keep in mind that the time slot in which you will testify may be limited.Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForge Therefore, it is important to ensure that you are able to present your most salient and important points first. Toward this end, it is a good idea to practice giving your testimony before the day actually arrives. This will help you to feel more comfortable and confident with the idea of speaking before others.

Prior experience with speaking in public and making oral presentations can also help you to feel more confident about the testimony you will give. If it has been some time since you last made a public presentation or you do not have any prior experience in this arena, you may find it helpful to take a course that will help to prepare you, such as Preparing and Delivering Congressional Testimony or Speechwriting: Preparing Speeches and Oral Presentations.

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