If you are in management, sooner or later, you will be asked to testify in court. Whether for an administrative process such as a workers’ compensation hearing, or in court on behalf of your organization, testifying is never fun. It can, however, be easier if you follow these tips.
- Tell the truth. Honesty is the best policy. Armed with the straight facts, your attorney can help provide the best defense possible. If you made a mistake, sometimes admitting a minor error helps to build credibility before the judge or jury.
- Dress professionally. Even if your employer allows casual dress, you will be the focal point for the jury, perhaps spending hours on the witness stand. Dress as if you were attending church or synagogue.
- Opposing counsel is not your friend. He or she may be charming or use small talk to build rapport, especially before deposition. Never forget that there are ulterior motives. Even if your attorney banters with opposing counsel, remain detached.
- Tell it to the judge or jury. If you feel intimated by the jury, pick a spot just over their heads and focus there. The jury wants to look you in the eye to measure your credibility.
- Keep your posture open. Avoid folded arms, slumping, or crossed legs. These are signs of defensiveness and may lessen your credibility or tip opposing counsel to hone in on particular testimony.
- Strive to make accurate statements but leave yourself room to maneuver. For example, don’t say something occurred on April 8 unless you are sure it did. Instead, say early April. Appear confident, however, because frequent hedging will make you appear dishonest or ill-prepared.
- Don’t lose your temper. Becoming sarcastic, argumentative or mad can reveal unpleasant aspects of your personality. Just remain calm and answer the questions, because juries like calm and truthful people. Your flash of anger may damage your credibility with the jury.
- Think before speaking. Allow several second to elapse before answering questions. And if opposing counsel pauses, let him or her frame the next question or response. Silence is sometimes golden, because you can provide too much information if you can’t stand the silence.
- Once you have answered the question, stay silent. Opposing counsel may look at your expectantly as if waiting for you to say more. Don’t expand on your answer; just sit in silence and wait for the next question.
- When testifying about an exhibit, for example a form you completed, be sure you see it before answering, even if you know what it says.
- Take advantage of recess. Recesses are time outs, so try to use these moments to get with your attorney or a senior member of your organization for feedback.
- Don’t educate the attorney. If he or she appears confused about technical aspects of your business, don’t try to instruct. This may be an attempt to manipulate you into talking without thinking. It isn’t your responsibility to educate opposing counsel about technical aspects of your business.
- Don’t agree with summaries of your testimony. If the attorney attempts to summarize your testimony, simply state, “The record will reflect what I said.”
- Don’t make jokes. While there may be some humor in your testimony, you will lose credibility if you appear to be amused by the events that occurred or the legal process.
Testifying is never enjoyable. However, the better prepared you are, the quicker your testimony will go and the stronger your testimony will be.