Testifying Before Congress – Looking the Part

When you have been invited to testify before Congress, it is prudent to spend some time rehearsing and preparing for the upcoming testimony you will provide. While much of the preparation phase will naturally be focused on research and practice question and answer sessions, you must also understand the appropriate dress standards and personal demeanor that is expected of someone who is to appear before a congressional committee.

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An excellent place to start is by consulting with the professional staff of the committee in front of which you will appear. General business attire is considered to be appropriate for a witness. This includes a business suit or a coat and tie for men and a business suit or dress for women. Witnesses should also make sure they are well groomed. Different dress standards may sometimes apply, such as when a witness represents a special religious, ethnic or cultural organization or group.

In regards to the demeanor and attitude of a witness, you should make sure you are engaging, professional and personable. Make an effort to be helpful to the committee. At all times, face the committee when you are seated at the witness table. Maintain an upright posture and keep both hands resting solidly on the witness table. Utilize good eye contact with the members of the committee. Hand gestures may be used but only to accentuate and underscore points in your Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForgetestimony. Avoid using hand gestures excessively.

Practice keeping your testimony simple, direct and evenly-paced, making it neither too fast nor too slow. And practice well in advance of the hearing date. Do not be afraid to use voice inflections to vary your presentation and make it more interesting. Your body language should be professional at all times before, during and following your testimony.

Effective witnesses know how to utilize their appearance, manner and voice to help achieve the desired goal. While it is certainly important to give proper consideration to the preparation of your testimony, your demeanor and attire are also considerations that should never be overlooked as you prepare to provide testimony before a congressional committee.

To learn more about effectively preparing to testify before Congress, consider our workshop Preparing and Delivering Congressional Testimony.

Reference: Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForge, Section 4.42 The Witness’s Personal Appearance, Attire and Demeanor: Looking and Acting the Part


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