Ten Tips For Testifying at Trial
- Prepare Ahead of Time
- Dress for Success
- Take a Deep Breath
- Listen to the Question Asked
- Take Your Time
- Answer ONLY the Question Asked
- Tell the Truth
- Don’t be Argumentative
- Listen to what the Judge or Attorney Says
Quick tip: Before responding briefly pause to opposing counsel’s question to allow your attorney time to object should one be required.
If you have an attorney, you should meet with them prior to trial to discuss what topics will be addressed during testimony and the attorney should give you tips or provide you with materials that will help you prepare for testifying. Many times in a family law case, testimony revolves around specific events and dates. It can be helpful to create a timeline of these events and times to review prior to testifying so you can clearly remember these facts.
Your appearance can affect how the judge or jury perceives you and your testimony. It is important that you dress conservatively. It doesn’t necessarily need to be your Sunday best but you do need to avoid sleeveless tops, shorts, shirts with inappropriate messages on them, tight or revealing clothing, and open toe shoes. Don’t wear anything that could offend the judge or make them think less of you as a parent or person. Also keep in mind it may come across as ostentatious or tacky if you’re wearing all brand names so keep the Chanel purses and flashy jewelry at home. Wear something comfortable as well, you don’t want to be shifting and fidgeting during testimony because you can’t breathe in your outfit.
Breathe. It’s understandable that testifying on the stand and under oath is a scary prospect but it’s going to be okay. Speak slowly. Enunciate your words. What you are saying on the stand could very well affect the outcome of the case. Make sure you speak loudly and clearly. It’s okay to show emotion but try to speak as clearly and calmly as possible. You want to make sure everyone can clearly hear what you are saying. You’re not on a timer, take the time to gather your thoughts and make sure you say what you want to say.
You may be asked hundreds of questions while you’re on the stand testifying and often many of the questions may seem very similar and you just want to repeat the previous answer. Or you may think you know what the attorney is going to ask and go ahead and answer before they finish the question. Do not do this. Make sure you listen very carefully to the question that was asked, take the time to digest the question and make sure you answer addresses the specific question asked. You don’t want to get tripped up by the opposing counsel or say something that was not even relevant to the case.
Many people start speaking at high rates of speed when they get nervous. This is a normal human reaction. However, you want to make sure the judge, jury, court reporter, and attorneys all understand what you are saying. So take a deep breath and slowly respond. Speaking slowly and calmly will also help to formulate the best answer possible.
Don’t elaborate. Don’t answer a question that wasn’t specifically asked. You will get your chance to tell your full story, just take everything one step at a time. Your attorney will ask you specific questions to paint a full picture of your side so don’t spill everything at once. And you don’t want to start oversharing when the other side is asking you questions. Answer only the question asked with short and sweet sentences.
This should be an automatic but sometimes people forget they are under oath or attempt to try and stretch the truth.
You’re trying to impress the finder of fact so that they will find in your favor. Answering the opposing side’s questions can be frustrating or you may not believe your side is being adequately portrayed. But you need to stay calm. Don’t try to talk over the attorney. Don’t interrupt either an attorney or a judge when they are speaking. Don’t get an attitude on the stand.
An attorney may make what is called an objection, which could cause the question asked to be reworded or set aside. A judge may ask you to stop talking or not to answer a specific question. Make sure you are actually listening to prevent yourself from speaking out of turn.
Of course you’re going to be nervous during testimony. It’s natural. However body language can be as important as verbal statements. Don’t pick at your nails or fidget, it could come across as lying. Don’t cross your arms or have an aggressive look on your face, you want to come across as honest and sympathetic.