One of the first things that I had to do when I first became a lobbyist was help prepare one of our company managers to testify in front of a committee in a state legislature. The task can be especially daunting if the person testifying has never done this before or has been barely exposed to the political process. But like most everything else, over-preparation is the key to success.
First, if you’re going to testify, you obviously need written testimony. This can be a process when everyone involved thinks they are Hemingway. But what is most important is that the person testifying feels comfortable giving it. The key to doing that is to let them speak in their own voice. After completing the initial draft for the manager, I let him take a look at it to give me his thoughts. Having come to understand the issue and lobby on the issue in various states, I thought it was near-perfect. I had touched on all the main points, backed it up with statistics and facts, and came with the requisite “ask” of the committee. But what I failed to remember was that it would’ve been perfect if I was the giving the testimony myself because I naturally wrote it in my own voice. In his review of the draft, he had his edits. And they all reflected his way of not only looking at the particular issue but his way of saying it. He was not a political person and up until this point, had not interacted much with any state legislator. In his own voice, he made the testimony more personal and that is what legislators on the committee responded to. You can have all the arguments and the facts in the world to present your issue but if it is not personal, the legislator is going to keep reading that newspaper while you testify.
Second, if you’re going to testify and maximize the opportunity, it helps to be a so-called “advance man” like they have in any political campaign that scout out locations beforehand for the candidate to see what is needed. Knowing well the location of the committee hearing where you are going to testify is crucial to the comfort level of the person testifying. I had never been at a committee hearing in that particular state legislature before but several weeks before our scheduled hearing when the committee was holding another hearing on the same issue, I thought it would be a good idea for me to see where our manager would be testifying. I invited the manager to accompany me and just by sitting in that hearing and observing, we both learned a lot.
For example, we learned about the size of the committee room, where the Democratic and Republican members sat on the dais, how far apart from the legislators would our manager be sitting when he testified, whether there was an easel to display charts, how crowded the audience would be, and even the noise level and the actual temperature of the room. These might sound like trivial things but they really were not when the goal was to maximize my manager’s comfort level in testifying for the first time in front of twenty-one state legislators at once. And if he already knew the layout of the land beforehand, his prepared testimony and responses to potential questions would more likely be effective.
Lastly, I also learned that the time at which you testify in front of a legislative committee is crucial. On the day that our manager testified, I was able to secure him a spot early in the morning of the hearing when the number of witnesses they had scheduled was expected to make the hearing go until four o’clock in the afternoon. Not only was it important to get my manager back to his facility after his testimony at a reasonable time when he could continue to do the business of our company, it was also important in terms of making his testimony have an impact. You will find when a hearing starts that most, if not all, the legislators are present at the hearing when it first starts but that as a hearing continues especially if it is expected to be a long one, the legislators can start to drift away from the committee hearing room to take care of other business whether it be a meeting with constituents or lobbyists, attend hearings held by other committees they are members of, or making phone calls. Since our manager was one of the first to testify that morning, he had the entire committee as his audience giving the testimony maximum impact. I would not be so sure of this if he had testified instead at three o’clock in the afternoon.
Out of all this preparation for the hearing, our company manager was warmly received by the committee, his personal testimony presented a point of view that had been otherwise ignored, committee members became knowledgeable about the issue and several of them became advocates and supporters of our issue in the legislature. Never underestimate the ways and importance of making anyone comfortable for any type of performance and amazing results happen.