Your first job as a witness is to make sure you give all the testimony your team needs. But you should definitely have some fun with your performance!
Even though you are portraying a fictional witness, you should seem like a real person. Real people have quirks that make them unique. Think about what quirks you, as the witness, have. Here are some ideas for giving your witness a personality of their own.
1. What words or phrases will you (as the witness) use?
Will your vocabulary be more formal or casual? Will you 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 your role, and don’t go overboard or be cheesy. For example, if you are an expert witness, you might simply say “precisely” instead of “yes.” If you’re an aspiring social media influencer, you might be able to get away with something like “Do it for the gram.”
3. How will you answer questions on the stand?
Think about the volume, speed, and tone of your speech. And think about how quickly you answer the questions you’re asked. You might answer quickly to show that you’re confident or eager to testify. Or you might answer more slowly if you want to show you are giving some thought to your answer.
4. What will your demeanor be?
Will you be calm or more emotional (angry, annoyed, sad)? Will you break into tears when provoked?
Maybe you’re shy or reluctant or nervous. This might work well for a younger witness or someone testifying against a friend. Or maybe you’re annoyed you 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.
Think about how you will react to questions on direct and cross-examination. Will you answer only the question, or will you tend to elaborate a bit? Does it depend on whether you are on direct or cross? Will you react differently to your attorney vs. opposing counsel?
5. What kind of body language will you use off the stand?
How will you 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.
And remember you should always be “on,” even if you’re not testifying. Think about how you’ll act when you’re in the courtroom, waiting to testify.
6. How do you 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 you gesture as you speak?
You probably know people who “talk with their hands” or gesture as they speak. Perhaps you, as the witness, will do this. You may model or re-enact actions you testify about. Or you might use your hands to emphasize certain parts of your testimony.
8. What kind of eye contact will you make?
Consider how much eye contact you’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 you make as you 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 you would do any of these things.
10. What will you wear?
Consider your appearance and clothing. While costumes generally are not allowed, your choice of dress could convey a lot about your character. Are you young and trendy? Polished and professional? A casual guy-/girl-next-door type?
11. Is there a personal detail you could share?
Consider adding a made-up detail to bring to life what’s said in your witness statement. For example, if you are portraying the defendant’s best friend and your witness statement says you’ve known the defendant since the first grade, then you might testify that you met the defendant in first grade, when the two of you bonded over your matching Pokémon lunch boxes.
But be careful here! Make sure that your personal detail 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 testimony. But, be careful of adding too much flair. You don’t want to look like a character, rather than a real person. This will make you seem less credible and take away from the important testimony you are giving to help your team.
And don’t let this list limit you! I’m sure there are many other ways to make your witness feel like a real person. So, let me hear from you: what ways have you found to add some life to your witness performances?