If you find yourself as a witness or party to a case in court, adopting the suggestions we offer may improve the strength of your testimony. This article offers you several skills to employ. It is not a substitute for more intensive preparation offered by a skilled trial lawyer:
1) Dress neatly and conservatively. While you may not have to dress as formally as your attorney, you will at least want to wear what is considered “business casual” attire when you appear in court.
2) Sit up straight in the witness chair and face the person asking the questions. Don’t slouch or lean forward while testifying. Be sure to adjust any microphone so that you can be heard by everyone in the courtroom.
3) Testify in a confident, straightforward manner. Don’t look at the attorney, the judge or someone else in the courtroom for help in answering a question. Project that you know what the answer is and that you are giving it honestly and in a straightforward manner and most importantly be honest!
4) Speak frankly and openly when answering any questions. Don’t memorize what you are going to say because it may sound rehearsed and artificial.
5) Speak slowly and loudly enough so that you can be heard and understood. When testifying, do not put your hand over your mouth, or have anything in your mouth such as gum or candy. If you are wearing a facemask due to COVID measures, the Court may allow you to remove the mask while testifying so that you can be heard, and so that you will not be muffled.
6) Listen carefully to the question asked and answer the question directly and succinctly. Only answer the specific question asked and avoid offering commentary or opinion.
7) If you do not hear the question, do not be afraid to ask that the question be repeated. You may also ask the questioner to clarify or rephrase a question if you don’t understand it. It is important that you do not give an answer to something that was not asked, or an answer which might be misinterpreted or misunderstood.
8) When a question is asked, the court will allow you to take time to think about the question and the answer. Do not feel like you have to answer immediately. You can collect your thoughts before answering. Testifying is not a race to the truth.
9) In preparation, devise two or more difficult questions which you fear your opponent may ask you on cross examination. Decide, in advance of court, how you will answer them.
10) If an objection is made to a question, wait for a ruling from the Judge on the objection before speaking. Otherwise, respond directly to the specific question that was just asked.
11) If you don’t know the answer to a question or if you can’t remember something because it happened long ago or for some other reason, do not be afraid to say, “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.” You cannot be penalized for something you do not know or honestly do not remember. Never guess at an answer or tell the person what you think they want to hear, or provide an answer based on what someone else told you.
12) If you feel confused about a question while on the witness stand, especially under cross-examination, you may ask the attorney to repeat or rephrase the question. If you realize that you mistakenly have given an inaccurate answer, correct it as soon as you realize the error. Don’t leave the witness stand without fixing it, and don’t be reluctant to admit the mistake. Doing this will score points with the judge.
13) Be polite to everyone involved in the process, particularly the lawyers and to the judge. Don’t answer in a hostile or argumentative manner no matter how hostile the questioner or the question seems. Keeping your cool under duress can never hurt you.
14) Don’t be a jerk. Many witnesses who testify come across as angry and combative. Be the exception and try not to let your emotions rule you.
Testifying under oath can create stress even for those who have testified in court before, and no one likes answering questions that are potentially uncomfortable or embarrassing. By following these tips, your chances of winning your case will improve.