It is natural to experience some nervousness when you are called to testify before Congress. Understanding the best way to respond to committee questions when testifying can help alleviate some of your nervousness and also help you to prepare to deliver your testimony effectively.
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When preparing to answer questions, it is important to recognize that the committee’s goal is to utilize the question and answer portion for eliciting information from witnesses that may be beneficial to the committee.
As a witness, one of your roles is to highlight critical messages related to your testimony. You may also agree or even disagree with the committee regarding issues or positions, but it is more effective to do so in a respectful manner.
Your first goal when answering questions is to be responsive. Many of the committee’s questions may involve asking for the reasons or rationale behind something. Other questions may ask “how,”, “when,” “where,” or “who.”
Ultimately, responsiveness means answering questions in a way that is accurate, factual, honest and sincere.
The questioning of witnesses typically takes place after the witness has testified. The chair of the committee will usually make an announcement that it is time for questions and answers. In some cases this will occur after a single witness has testified, but it may begin after an entire panel of witnesses has testified.
Along with the initial questions, the committee may also pose follow-up questions. The committee chair often begins the question and answer phase, although she may designate someone else to begin the questioning. The ranking member of the committee will also usually be recognized to pose questions. The order of questioning usually follows seniority.
It is not unusual for a committee member to give a long and detailed speech before actually posing a question.
For more information, consider our workshop: Preparing and Delivering Congressional Testimony.
Reference: Section 6.0 Responding to Committee Questions, Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForge
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