What to Say and How to Say It: A Quick Guide for Trial Witnesses

Witnesses provide the evidence for your case, so the very first thing for your team to do is to figure out what each witness will say when they are on the stand. Make sure that the witness gives the necessary facts and information so that your team can later argue why the defendant is guilty or innocent.It’s also important to figure out how the witness will say what they say. The way they testify shows your personality and character, and it can make them more believable than your opponent’s witnesses. Let’s break this down a bit.

What’s Your Witness’s Story?

Start with the witness statement in your case packet. Read through the witness statement and figure out how this witness’s statement fits in with your team’s case theory. If you’re on the prosecution team, what does this witness have to say about the defendant’s motive, ability, or opportunity to commit the crime? If you’re on the defense team, what can this witness say to show that the defendant did not have a motive, ability, or opportunity to commit the crime? For example, can they say that someone else might have committed the crime?

It’s the witness’s job to make sure they testify to these points during their direct examination.

Next, read through the witness statement again to pick out things that might hurt your team or help the other team. Your opponent will likely cross-examine the witness on these points, so the witness should be ready for it!

How Does the Witness Tell Their Story?

Please don’t let your witness get up on the stand and just recite their statement from the case packet! Have your student use their own words to tell the story. This shows that they are a real person beyond what’s in the case packet.

Give your witness some character. Have your student think through the following questions:

  • What do you look like? For example, what do you wear? How do you sit and talk when on the stand testifying?
  • How do you speak? Slowly or quickly? Quietly or loudly?
  • What kind of body language do you use? Do you smile, frown, or roll your eyes? Do you sit up straight or slouch? Do you gesture with your hands or nod your head as you speak?
  • Is there a character (or combination of characters) from a book, movie, or TV show who acts or speaks like you? Who inspires you?
  • What adjectives would someone use to describe you after spending just a few minutes with you?
  • Is there a backstory or personal detail you can share about yourself (that doesn’t change the important facts of the case)?

Your student may have lots of different ideas for answering some of these questions. Write them all down and experiment with your practice runs to see what works for your student and for your team’s case, and what doesn’t. Make sure they have some fun with it!


Hopefully, this has given you a place to start with preparing your witnesses to testify. When you are ready for more, check out these 11 ways to give your witness a personality of their own.