Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tips for testifying in court

Testifying in court can be scary and nerve wracking.  Unlike a television show or movie, no one is scripting the questions or the answers, which means that anything can happen.  Here are some tips that will help you through the process.

(1) Influence the listener to like you.  In family court cases, you almost always testify before a judge, rather than a panel of jurors.  That one judge will make the decision in your case.  Make it a bit easier for the judge to make a decision in your favor by being likable.  This does not mean you must laugh or giggle through your testimony. After all, the subject matter that you are discussing merits a serious demeanor.  That said, you should however, appear pleasant, cooperative and non-argumentative.

(2) Sometimes we blink rapidly when we are nervous.  If the judge sees this type of rapid blinking, you may appear nervous and it could affect whether what you say is believable.  A trick that psychologists use -- and no one is quite sure why this works -- is to either touch your index fingers to your thumbs (the A-OK sign) or clench your toes.  These action will prevent you from blinking too much.

(3) Some people have a tendency to talk with their hands.  However, if you are waving your hands around, the judge will be focused on your hands and not what you are saying.  If you simply cannot keep your hands still, make sure they are at least perpendicular to the floor similar to a chopping motion.  That type of posture signifies emphasis and not unnecessary excitement, which will help you appear calmer.

(4) Know your message and keep circling back to that theme whenever you can. To prepare to present your testimony this way, you will need the help of your lawyer.

(5) The court knows that you are testifying to what you think and what you believe. Therefore, your testimony is less effective if you start every sentence with "I think . . .."  or "I believe . . .." Obviously you think it or you would not be saying it. Instead, focus on the substance of your testimony.

(6) Cross-examination is when the other side's lawyer asks you questions regarding your testimony. Often this causes you the most anxiety because the lawyer's job is to make you less believable and to prove a point other than yours.  The best advice on cross-examination is:  if you don't know, then you don't know.  People do not win or lose cases based on the quantity of what they say or whether they knew the answer to every questions.  If you do not know an answer to something, it is much better to simply admit that rather than to make up something or try to guess.  With the help of your lawyer, you can also train to answer the question that you want to answer, instead of not the one that you are asked. However, this is tricky because you do not want the judge to consider you non-responsive or uncooperative.

(7)  Testify like you are talking to your grandmom.  Why?  First of all, if your grandmom is hard of hearing, you will want to speak loudly and clearly.  Too many people mumble through their testimony and, with the natural noise and distractions in the courtroom, the judge cannot hear you.  Additionally, when speaking to your grandmom, you are (or should be) pleasant, non-threatening and likable.  Because these are some of the qualities that would probably help you in a family law matter it is a good demeanor to adopt.

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