As soon as practicable in the witness preparation stage, a witness should become familiar with the issue of the hearing and the subject matter of the testimony. This is a critical step in preparing to be an effective witness. Usually the witness is a principal or officer in the organization being asked to testify, so it is natural for that individual to be somewhat or very familiar with the hearing topic already. However, even in the best of circumstances in which the witness is the head of, or a top official for, an organization, he or she should be deliberative and diligent in preparing for a hearing.
To ensure adequate preparation as a knowledgeable or expert witness before a committee, a witness should spend time reading and reviewing pertinent organizational and outside information about the issues to be covered in the hearing. The witness should understand the committee and legislative process, and the type, purpose, and goal of the hearing. The witness should also have a firm grasp of the nature and context of the testimony he or she will present to the committee.
It is often a valuable exercise for a witness to conduct targeted reviews of materials and information from a variety of sources from both inside and outside the organization, including:
Previous Hearings — Consulting the hearing records or transcripts of previous hearings on the same or related issues, especially before the same committee, can provide excellent sources of information about the issue at hand, the perspectives of the committee and its members, likely questions to be asked, and previously considered strategies and remedies. In its training materials, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), whose members testify frequently before Congress, lists a number of key questions that can be answered through a review of previous congressional testimony and hearing records:
– What testimony has been given where presenters were in identical or somewhat similar situations?
– How did they deal with particular situations that might be causing you concern?
– What kinds of questions did committee members ask them?
– What kinds of responses did the witnesses make?
– How might those answers be improved?
– What were the major concerns of the chair, the ranking minority member, or other opinion leaders on the committee?
– What positions have members taken?
– What hints do those concerns and positions provide for your preparation, testimony, and answers?