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 you to do is to figure out what you will say when you are on the stand. Make sure that you, as the witness, give 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 you say what you say. The way you testify shows your personality and character, and it can make you more believable than your opponent’s witnesses. Let’s break this down a bit.

So, What’s Your Story?

Start with the witness statement in your case packet. Read through your witness statement and figure out how your statement fits in with your team’s case theory. If you’re on the prosecution team, what do you (as the 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 you say to show that the defendant did not have a motive, ability, or opportunity to commit the crime? Can you say that someone else might have committed the crime? It’s your job to make sure you testify to these points during your direct exam.

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

How Do You Tell Your Story?

Don’t just get up on the stand and recite your witness statement from the case packet! Use your own words to tell the story. Show that you are a real person beyond what’s in the case packet. Give your witness some character. In your role as a witness, think about:

  • 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)?

You 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 you and what doesn’t. Make sure to have some fun with it!

Conclusion

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