Making the Most of Visual Aids when Testifying before Congress

When you are invited to testify before Congress, visual aids can provide impact and enhance your testimony. Even so, certain guidelines should be followed to make the most of the use and design of visual aids.

red heart centre
Creative Commons License photo credit: kifo

First and foremost, make certain you obtain approval to use any intended visual aids prior to the hearing. Arrangements for aids such as slide projectors, easels, monitors and other equipment should always be made in advance. In addition, it is important to ensure there are no objections to dimming the lights during the use of such aides, if necessary.

When it comes to the design of visual aids, make a point to keep everything simple. You should include only information that is vital. A viewer should need only to glance at a visual aid in order to gain an understanding of its meaning. When graphs and tables are complicated they tend to defeat the entire purpose of the visual aid.

Do not wait until the last moment to prepare your aids. Allow sufficient time for preparation and revision of all graphics. Along the same lines, ensure you have allowed plenty of time to preview your aids. Make arrangements with the committee staff for a practice set-up of your aids in the actual committee room. Consider such questions as where you will place easels, which furniture needs to be moved, where electrical outlets are located and how lights are dimmed. Taking such matters into consideration in advance will help to ensure everything runs much more smoothly during the actual hearing.

You should also spend some time planning the introduction of your visual aids. For instance, will you display your aids throughout the entirety of your testimony? It is often better to have mounted charts displayed on an easel in the order in which they will be presented.

Also, be sure your visual aids are self-explanatory. One of the most common mistakes many witnesses make is preparing aids that take too long to explain. Finally, be sure you have a plan for charts and aids to be removed from sight when they are no longer needed.

To learn more about preparing to testify before Congress, consider attending our workshop Preparing and Delivering Congressional Testimony, also available for custom, on-site training.

Reference: Testifying Before Congress, by William LaForge, Section 5.71 Use of Visual Aids


For more than 40 years, TheCapitol.Net and its predecessor, Congressional Quarterly Executive Conferences, have been teaching professionals from government, military, business, and NGOs about the dynamics and operations of the legislative and executive branches and how to work with them.

Our custom on-site and online training, publications, and audio courses include congressional operations, legislative and budget process, communication and advocacy, media and public relations, testifying before Congress, research skills, legislative drafting, critical thinking and writing, and more.

TheCapitol.Net is on the GSA Schedule, MAS, for custom on-site and online training. GSA Contract GS02F0192X

TheCapitol.Net is now owned by the Sunwater Institute.

Teaching how Washington and Congress work ™

Select publications from TheCapitol.Net