As a young girl, my extra-curricular activity was acting, singing, and dancing in large scale productions with a cast of 100, made up entirely of children. I couldn’t get on stage fast enough, and eagerly sang my heart out to an audience of 1,500 people. The acting bug was still inside me when I stood in a courtroom for the first time and argued for a client.
Although I love stealing the spotlight and speaking to the masses, I recognize that for many public speaking is terrifying. For those, testifying in court may become an even more daunting task. To give you an idea of what to expect, here are my top five tips for testifying in court:
- Listen to the question asked. I’ll let you in on a secret, attorneys get nervous too! They fumble their words, and sometimes a question is said that doesn’t make sense. Make sure that you understand what is being asked. If you don’t, tell the attorney. Remember that if you answer a question, it will be assumed that you understood it.
- Answer the question asked. Sometimes in conversation, we know what a person means even though they may not have articulated it succinctly. This might be the practice in life, but in the courtroom, you should only answer the exact question asked, and not the question you think the attorney meant to ask.
- Don’t volunteer information. When you are on the witness stand, it is best to respond with short answers. If asked if you know where the other party works, say yes. Don’t say yes, and then describe where he works. Simple responses will keep your testimony on track.
- Be respectful. The easiest way to look bad to a Judge is to get defensive or angry at the attorney asking you questions. You can lessen the naturally adversarial environment by taking a breath before responding and focusing on a question.
- Be truthful. Honesty is still the best policy, especially when you are testifying. The oath administered to you before you sat down required that you tell the truth, and Judges and attorneys take it very seriously. Everyone expects witnesses to be truthful, even if the truth hurts the case a little. But be careful not to be over zealous. People tend to disbelieve statements that begin with “honestly” or “truthfully”.