So, you have to be in Court or in a deposition and you’re going to testify. Here are five simple tips to help take the stress off yourself and be a star witness.
- Tell the truth. Telling the truth in court is different than telling the truth in casual conversation. To tell the truth in court you have to personally know something (you shouldn’t guess about it). Tying an answer to your five senses can be really helpful. For example, “I knew he was mad because I heard him start swearing, I saw his face turn red, and I heard him slam the door” is a much better testimony than “he was mad.” Other acceptable answers include: “yes,” “no,” “I don’t know” (you’re not expected to know everything), and “I don’t understand the question.”
- Answer only the question asked. It is a classic lawyer tactic to ask a question that forces you to give an answer that makes you sound awful. It’s natural to want to explain yourself immediately to the judge. This is one of the worst things you can do. Your lawyer can always come back and “clean up” any answers that were bad but they can’t “put the toothpaste back in the tube.” Also, don’t try to dance around an answer. Just answer the question and know that your lawyer will help you fix it.
- Go slowly. When someone asks you a question, take a short breath to collect your thoughts. This not only helps you compose yourself, it makes you look trustworthy, and it helps your lawyer have time to object if they need to. If someone objects, immediately stop talking.
- Don’t show anger. Emotions are fine in court. Sadness, happiness, pride, concern, are all ways that show the judge you care. Anger makes you look bitter and defensive. Sarcasm is also something to avoid. There is a time for wisecracks, but it isn’t in front of the judge.
- Know your battles. Talk to your lawyer beforehand about what it is exactly that you are trying to accomplish. You aren’t in this alone, and you shouldn’t have to worry about every conceivable issue. Know what is important for you to accomplish and don’t worry about the rest.
If you follow these simple steps, you’ll be well on your way to a more effective, less stressful time in court.