Your witnesses’ first job is to make sure they give all the testimony your team needs. But they should definitely have some fun with their performances!
Even though they’re portraying a fictional witness, your students should seem like real people. Real people have quirks that make them unique. Think about what quirks they, as a witness, have. Here are some ideas for giving each witness a personality of their own.
1. What words or phrases will the witness use?
Will their vocabulary be more formal or casual? Will they accidentally slip into some slang when testifying?
2. (Carefully!) consider a catch phrase.
Some witnesses can get away with using a catch phrase. Make sure it’s appropriate for the particular role, and don’t let your students go overboard or be cheesy. For example, an expert witness might simply say “precisely” instead of “yes.” A student portraying an aspiring social media influencer might be able to get away with something like “Do it for the gram.”
3. How will they answer questions on the stand?
Have your witnesses think about the volume, speed, and tone of their speech. How quickly do they answer the questions they’re asked? They might answer quickly to show that they’re confident or eager to testify. Or they might answer more slowly if they want to show they’re giving some thought to their answer.
4. What will the witness’s demeanor be?
Will your witness be calm or more emotional (angry, annoyed, sad)? Will they break down into tears when provoked?
Maybe your witness is shy or reluctant or nervous. This might work well for a younger witness or someone testifying against a friend. Or maybe the witness is annoyed they have to be testifying.
On the other hand, an expert witness might be cool and objective. Some expert witnesses can even be a little condescending.
Ask your students to think about how they’ll react to questions on direct and cross-examination. Will they answer only the question, or will they tend to elaborate a bit? Does it depend on whether they are on direct or cross? Will they react differently to their attorney vs. opposing counsel?
5. What kind of body language will they use off the stand?
Your witnesses are performing even if they’re not on the stand. How will they act when they’re in the courtroom, waiting to testify?
Have your witnesses also think about how they’ll walk to and from the stand. A confident witness might walk more briskly, heading straight for the stand. A witness who is trying to draw attention to themselves may have a bit of a strut. But someone who is nervous or reluctant to testify may avoid eye contact with the bailiff and judge as they walk to the stand.
6. How does the witness sit when testifying?
A witness who is really passionate about what they’re saying may lean forward. One who doesn’t really want to be testifying might fold their arms over their chest. And a witness who is unsure of themselves may slouch in their seat.
7. Do they gesture as they speak?
You probably know people who “talk with their hands” or gesture as they speak. Perhaps your witness will do this. They may also model or re-enact actions they testify about. Or they might use their hands to emphasize certain parts of their testimony.
8. What kind of eye contact will your witness make?
Consider how much eye contact they’ll make with the attorney asking the questions and with the judge. Will the eye contact be long and intense, or will it be more casual?
9. What other expressions do they make as they testify?
There are other things people naturally do as they talk. Some nod or shake their heads as they speak or as they listen to someone else speak. Some smile or roll their eyes or make other facial expressions. Sometimes nervous people giggle. Consider whether your witness would do any of these things.
10. What will they wear?
Consider your witness’s appearance and clothing. While costumes generally are not allowed, your witness’s choice of dress could convey a lot about their character. Are they young and trendy? Polished and professional? A casual guy-/girl-next-door type?
11. Is there a personal detail your witness could share?
Consider adding a made-up detail to bring to life what’s said in the witness statement. For example, the defendant’s best friend might state in their witness statement that they’ve known the defendant since the first grade. They might then testify that they met the defendant in first grade, when the two of them bonded over their matching Pokémon lunch boxes.
But be careful here! Make sure that the new personal detail you add is not a new fact that changes the case.
The ideas here are just ideas – some things to think about when adding some flair to your witnesses’ testimony. But, tell your students to be careful of adding too much flair. You don’t want them to look like a character, rather than a real person. This will make them seem less credible and take away from the important testimony they are giving to support their team.
And don’t let this list limit you or your students! I’m sure there are many other ways to make a witness feel like a real person. So, let me hear from you: what ways have you found to add some life to your witnesses’ performances?