101 Winning Tips: How to Testify Credibly & Persuasively in Court
Testifying at a trial can be a painful and costly experience if you aren’t well prepared! Use these 101 easy tips as a jump-start to successfully prepare for your turn on the stand.
The tips are the result of Dr. Noelle Nelson's working as a trial consultant with lawyers and their witnesses for over 25 years. You can see more about her work in the "client results" section
Here’s what some lawyers have said about Dr. Nelson’s witness preparation techniques:
"Noelle Nelson is an excellent jury consultant. We used her in a … case to work with some particularly troublesome defense witnesses. She did a fine job coaching these witnesses on how to make a gentler, kinder, less defensive presentation in their testimony to the jury. She is easy to work with and quickly gains the cooperation and respect of even the most cantankerous witness. It is clear that she has mastered the techniques of teaching people how to make verbal and non-verbal responses which maximize their impact on the listener."
- John B. Golper, Attorney; Ballard, Rosenberg & Golper
"If your case is burdened with the witness from Hell, don't despair, try the magic of Dr. Noelle Nelson's advice. I have seen her witness preparation skills turn a frog into a prince."
- Howard A. Jaffe, Vice Chairman, COO & General Counsel, The InterGroup Corporation
“As a trial lawyer in my 37th year of busy practice in Los Angeles and San Francisco, I can illustrate Dr. Nelson's results for me-- 1972-1992: 26 trials, half were losses, I never even knew what I was doing wrong; 1993-2008: 68 trials, zero losses, Dr. Nelson taught me what the Bar programs did not-- how to use my witnesses effectively and how to maximize my presentation and boost my clients' effect on juries. . .Our clients/witnesses win our trials for us! . . .Seeing is believing-- our results are the proof of Dr. Nelson's excellent guidance.”
- Robert Pave, Attorney; Pave & Bogaards
Tips are divided into 10 topics:
- Stop, Listen, Think
- Typical Questions
- Tricky Questions
- Direct Examination
- Cross Examination
- Final Words
Keep your body language open and undefended. Don’t cross one or both of your arms over your chest, it’s read as defensiveness. Avoid slumping, slouching, twisting your body to one side, leaning to either side, or supporting your chin with your hand, elbow on the table.
Be consistent. If you’re asked the same question in slightly different ways, stick with your original answer. Only change it if it’s inaccurate, not just because opposing counsel repeats the question.
Give the information requested, not more. Do not volunteer. If you’re asked for one example, give one, not two. If you’re asked for your date of birth, don’t volunteer where you were born and how happy your Mom was.
Employ “I don’t understand the question” liberally. Never attempt to answer a question you don’t 100% understand. Even if opposing counsel gets smarmy with you and asks “What is it you don’t understand about the question?” be humble, and repeat “I don’t understand the question.”
Withstand pleasant personality influence. Opposing counsel may act like your best buddy; casual, easy-going, warm-hearted, friendly and nice. Don’t be swayed. It’s the “honey attracts better than vinegar” approach, and you’re still the fly.
Be wary of the “yes” set. Opposing counsel wants to get you to agree to their version of the facts. When you find yourself agreeing with opposing counsel – as sometimes you must (“The earth is round, isn’t it?”), listen extra carefully to the next questions. The more times you say “yes” the more likely it is you’ll say “yes” when you shouldn’t.
Deal with inconsistencies appropriately. You will inevitably say something on the stand inconsistent with what you said earlier. Opposing counsel will pounce on it. “Earlier today, you said you didn’t see the specs, but now you tell us you did. Were you lying then or now?” Stay calm. “I’ve had more time to think about it, and I realized I did see the specs.” Your unruffled response will tell the jurors it’s no big deal.
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