Being called as a witness in a trial can be a scary experience. All eyes really are on you and everything you say is not only being recorded, it's being judged for credibility and accuracy.

Plus, you don't just have to tell your story once -- you get to tell it relatively clearly and easily for the side that called you as their witness, but the other side is going to do its best to make you retell it in pieces that will cause you to fumble over your facts or maybe even doubt your own memory.

That's why attorneys often spend time on witness preparation. While an attorney can't tell you what to say, he or she can go over how you say whatever it is you need to say. That includes the following:

What You Should Do When You're a Witness in Court

Take a few deep breaths when you're called to the stand and remember these tips:

  • Do remember to dress appropriately, fix your hair and generally pay attention to your appearance. Like it or not, people judge you before you say a word and you have an average of 7 seconds to make a first impression.
  • Walk quietly and carefully to the witness stand without glancing at the defendant. Keep your eyes focused straight ahead. That projects confidence -- which is part of what you want jurors to see in those first 7 seconds.
  • If you've given a deposition, make sure that you've reviewed the deposition the night before you go on the stand. In fact, the more you review the deposition, the less likely you are to make a mistake that the other side can call you on.
  • Talk clearly and confidently. Use definite phrases. For example, "That's all I remember," instead of "I'm not really sure what happened."
  • Look directly at the jury when you answer.

Above all, don't let yourself get rushed or hurried -- and don't give into the temptation toward a nervous joke. That doesn't always play well in the courtroom and could indicate to some jurors that you can't be taken seriously.

What You Shouldn't Do When You're a Witness in Court

Once you've been turned over to the other side's attorney for questioning, expect the gloves to come off and the questions to get abrupt and as tightly worded as possible. Remember that this is a trick designed to aggravate you, confuse you, or make you nervous and don't allow yourself to fall victim to some common mistakes:

  • Don't argue with the attorney -- if he or she is being purposefully sarcastic or rude, ignore it and answer without a trace of anger or sarcasm in your voice in return. You'll come off better and the attorney worse.
  • If you get confused, say so. Ask for a moment to review your deposition or ask the attorney to clarify his or her question.
  • Don't allow yourself to be rushed into an answer. If you need to pause a little longer to think about something, do so.
  • Don't answer any question asked by the opposition until you take a breath. This gives your side's attorney a chance to object. Wait until the judge rules on the objection to answer.

There are a lot of things that can affect how a witness is perceived in court, so the more you practice witness preparation with the attorney prior to court, the better.