Thomas Stilp, JD, MBA/MM, LLM, MSC
Fortunately, there is no great mystery to being a good witness. After hundreds of successful depositions, hearings and trials where we’ve advised people how to act on the witnesses on the stand, we know being a good witness can be learned. Like any skill, it depends on the conscientious application of some very simple ideas. A few are listed below:
1. Follow my instructions
Show the opposing attorney that you and I make an effective team.
Make sure you understand the question before you try to answer it. If you don’t understand the question, say so.
3. Take your time
Don’t rush to give an answer. Thoroughly review any exhibits you are offered.
4. Answer briefly
Say no more than necessary. Don’t volunteer. Typically, the less you say, the better.
5. Tell the truth
That way you won’t have to remember anything. Don’t even think about lying. You’ll only make things worse.
6. Don’t guess
If you don’t know, say so. It’s worse to guess and be wrong.
7. Take it seriously
No jokes or facetious remarks. It won’t be funny later and will make you look foolish when your testimony is read by the other attorney to a judge or jury later.
8. Don’t argue
That’s my job. Show them that you will make a good impression on a jury by keeping your cool.
9. If I object – listen
An objection is a danger signal. Stop talking immediately. I will tell you whether to answer the question.
10. If you make a mistake – tell me
Mistakes are easier to correct before the deposition is over.
11. Be wary of absolutes
Watch out for questions that use the words “always” and “never.”
12. Watch out for questions that paraphrase your answers
You are entitled to stick to the answer you gave in your own words.
13. Admit preparing for the deposition
There is nothing wrong with going over your testimony in advance.
14. If you get tired – say so
Don’t let discomfort or fatigue make you cranky and careless. Take a break.
To sum up: Just answer each question, one at a time, as truthfully and briefly as you can.