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Maybe you thought it would never happen to you, but now you've been summoned to testify in court as a witness, plaintiff, defendant, or crime victim, and you need some advice on how to best present your case to the judge or jury. The following tips from the field of forensic psychology can help reduce the stress and enhance the credibility of your day in court.
Preparation. Nothing eases anxiety more than knowing what to expect and how to handle it. Before the trial, carefully review the facts of your case. Discuss with your attorney what kinds of questions to expect. Both mentally and aloud, rehearse your testimony. Try to anticipate questions that may come out of “left field” and how to deal with them. There's no such thing as too much preparation.
Attitude. In court, maintain composure and dignity at all times. Confidence, not cockiness, is the key. Treat the courtroom players – judge, attorneys, jury – with respect and expect to be so treated in return.
Behavior. On the stand, sit up straight and avoid shifting in your chair. If you've brought papers or other materials with you, arrange them carefully in front of you. Look at the attorney who is questioning you and wait till he or she has finished the question before answering. When responding, switch your gaze to the jury, who tend to find witnesses more credible when they “look straight at us.” Speak and act in an open, friendly, and dignified way.
Speech. Speak as clearly, slowly, and concisely as possible to be understood. Keep sentences short and to the point. Maintain a steady, conversational tone of voice. Listen carefully to each question before you respond. If you don't fully understand the question, ask the attorney to repeat it or rephrase it. Take time to compose your thoughts. Answer the question completely, but try not to ramble. If you feel you cannot honestly answer a particular question by a simple yes-or-no answer, say so and let the attorney rephrase it. If you don't know the answer to a question, never try to fudge or wing it; just state, “I don't know.”
Tricks and traps. The opposing attorney may try to seize on omissions and inconsistencies in your testimony to discredit you. Don't take the bait: avoid becoming defensive or hostile and continue to maintain your composure. Any time you're stuck, ask for clarification. If opposing counsel is giving you a really hard time, your attorney will most likely pop up and raise an objection.
Remember: While court testimony is often challenging, with the proper mindset and preparation, it doesn't have to be overwhelming.