Written by attorney Cortney Harrison Bethmann

25 Tips for Being a Good Witness

When you go to court for a hearing or trial, the lawyer may use witnesses to help tell the story to the judge or jury. The testimony from witnesses can be very helpful or damaging to the case. While some witnesses do better than others, being prepared increases the chances of being a good witness. Here are 25 tips for being a better witness:

  1. Before you testify, picture the scene and try to refresh your memory;
  2. Neat appearance and proper dress are important;
  3. Avoid distracting mannerisms. Stand upright, pay attention, and speak clearly;
  4. Don't try to memorize what you are going to say;
  5. Be serious in the courtroom;
  6. Speak clearly and loudly enough for the judge or jury to hear you;
  7. Listen carefully to the question. Don't give snap answers. Understand the question before you answer;
  8. Explain your answer when appropriate. If you can't answer with a "yes" or "no", don't feel forced to;
  9. Answer only the question asked. Don't volunteer information;
  10. If your answer was not correctly stated or summarized, correct it immediately;
  11. Don't give conclusions or opinions unless specifically asked. Stick to the facts;
  12. Use phrases that are accurate - "That is all I recall" versus "Nothing else happened";
  13. Always be courteous, even if the lawyer questioning you isn't;
  14. You are sworn to tell the truth. Tell it;
  15. If the judge interrupts you or a lawyer makes an objection, stop talking immediately. Wait for instructions from the judge;
  16. Give positive, definitive answers when possible. Avoid saying, "I think" or looking unsure about your responses;
  17. Try to not seem nervous;
  18. Do not lose your temper;
  19. If you don't want to answer, avoid asking the judge "Do I have to answer that?". It makes everyone's ears perk up to listen and almost every time the answer will be yes;
  20. Don't look to the lawyers for cues. You must answer what you know.
  21. Do not argue with the lawyer;
  22. Do not nod your head for "yes" or "no". Speak clearly so your answer gets into the court reporter's record;
  23. When walking to the stand, be confident - no smirk, smiles, or downcast look;
  24. If asked, "Have you spoken to anyone about this case?", answer truthfully;
  25. Review these tips before you testify, so they are firmly implanted in your mind.

In conclusion, don't feel like you have to be a perfect witness. Even expert witnesses make mistakes. Just do your best and always tell the truth. If you begin to feel overwhelmed, ask the judge for a short moment to gather your thoughts. Most judge's understand the stress of the witness stand. Good luck!

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