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Preparing for select committee appearances

Tips for making the best of a select committee appearance

However well you know your subject, select committees can be an intimidating experience. In recent years some select committees have become quite confrontational in their approach to witnesses. But with a bit of preparation, you can make the best of a challenging situation. Here are my top tips for handling select committee appearances:

  • Get to know the committee.  Each member of the committee will have both political and personal interests that they want to pursue; by doing good research beforehand you should be able to guess most of these in advance which will assist your preparation.  
  • Talk to the clerk of the committee, who may be willing to tell you key areas of interest for the committee.  Everyone wants the hearing to be useful and productive.
  • Do background research. The committee may have dealt with similar subjects before in which case you can view  the previous reports and written evidence online.  Your organisation will probably have already submitted written evidence, so be clear about what has already been stated.   
  • Get on the front foot. Be clear what YOU are trying to achieve at the hearing.  This is a very public arena and may become part of the news agenda.  You have an opportunity to be proactive in your responses, so if there are key points that you want to make, have them ready and prepared.
  • Rehearse. Make time for practice beforehand.  Even the most senior of government officials make time for practicing select committee hearings.  Get colleagues or experts to play the roles of the committee.
  • Be helpful.  The committee have a job to do on behalf of taxpayers and the more assistance you give them, the easier it is for them to do their job, and the shorter the hearing will probably be for everyone.  Try to answer the questions. 
  • Be truthful.  Always tell the truth but if you don’t have the particular facts they are asking for, apologise and say you will find out and write to the committee.  
  • Keep calm.  Some select committees try hard to make headlines for themselves by being contentious and baiting witnesses.  Don’t rise to the bait emotionally or get into a row.  Try to stay focussed on the main aspects of the discussion, and if necessary repeat answers you have already given.

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