Ed BarksAsk a group of corporate executives what makes for an effective CEO, and you are liable to get a range of replies. Yet it is doubtful that any particular CEO would exhibit all of the traits mentioned.

It’s the same with witnesses who provide testimony before Congressional committees. Each has her own strengths and challenges as a communicator. Nevertheless, there remain certain characteristics that one must display in order to achieve success at the witness table.

A recently published research report, Thrill on the Hill: How to Turn Congressional Testimony into Public Policy Success, surveyed experts in the government relations field. Nearly all agreed on three main attributes of a successful witness:

  • Storytelling
  • Ability to deal with questions from committee members
  • Having important facts and figures at the ready

Patience is also cited as a virtue when testifying on Capitol Hill. Witnesses must exhibit a “willingness to explain to uninformed or hostile members [of Congress] in a patient and respectful manner,” said one survey respondent.

How can you and your organization leverage your Congressional testimony in order to fast forward your public policy objectives? To rise above the rest of the pack, I strongly urge you to pay attention to what you do upon exiting the hearing room.

Here’s why. The research discovered a disturbing aspect when it comes to post-testimony review. The questions posed in our survey that were skipped most often dealt with the need to get better over time. This may indicate that debriefing efforts and attention to improvement in the long run are not viewed with enough importance. While more research is needed before claiming cause and effect, you would be wise not to let your organization and your witness lose out on this opportunity to improve.

Companies that are serious about attaining their public policy goals are smart enough to use today’s testimony as a foundation to enhance tomorrow’s performance.

Ed Barks works on extended communications training engagements with Fortune 1000 and Inc. 500 companies, and large associations that want to refine their message and sharpen their executives’ communications skills. Contact Ed at (540) 955-0600 or visit www.barkscomm.com.