Janet Larsen Palmer & Neal Larsen Palmer 2013-08-23 00:30:08
Harnessing the Power of Body Language in Testimony As you prepare your witnesses for testimony in depositions, mediations and trials, are you taking into account the nonverbal presence of each witness? Research suggests that nonverbal communication can account for more than 90 percent of a person’s impact, giving scientific validity to the old saw that it isn’t what a witness says, but how it’s said that really counts. As videotaping depositions becomes common practice, how your client testifies, both verbally and nonverbally, can profoundly affect the outcome of the case. Here are 15 nonverbal behaviors to practice with your witnesses, including experts. These suggestions are most likely to contribute to witness credibility in depositions and trial testimony. 1. Sit Upright With Excellent posture, Shoulders Back, Leaning Slightly Forward. Ideally, the witness’ back should never touch the back of the chair, even for a long deposition. This “readiness posture” sends a message of willing participation and confidence. Holding the core of the body strong and upright provides high nonverbal credibility. 2. One Hand Should Never Touch The Other; Never Make A Barrier With Your Arms. The most common deposition posture is for a witness to sit with both hands clasped in front of him or her. This is an ill-advised gesture because it is a highly submissive posture. It is wise to keep the front of the witness’ body unobstructed by clasped hands or arm gestures, creating an “open posture” that signifies confidence and cooperation. 3. Take Up As Much Body Space As You Can Comfortably. More powerful people easily command more physical space around them. At the deposition table, the witness should widen his or her arm gestures about three inches on each side, for maximum effect. On the stand, the witness can achieve the same broad territoriality, if a surface is provided in front of the witness chair. Otherwise, the witness can achieve much of the same effect by placing both arms on the arms of the witness chair and aiming the hands away from the body. 4. Make Sure Both Hands Are Always Visible And Out Of parallel. Since our culture is strongly hand-oriented, keeping both of the witness’ hands visible at all times is a major component of building trust. When hand gestures are non-symmetrical, the witness will look more confident. 5. Lift Your Hand Gestures Off The Table Occasionally To Make A Memorable point, And Show Your Open palms As Often As possible. Whenever a witness raises his or her hands off the deposition table, or off the arms of the witness stand chair, that testimony will have much more impact on anyone watching (such as opposing counsel or the jury). Gesturing with upturned open palms increases trust and believability. 6. Avoid preening And pacifying Gestures. When a female witness suddenly twists her hair, or a male witness strokes his chin (whether he has a beard or not), these pacifying gestures are signs of self-consciousness. Avoid them all, if possible. 7. Keep Your Hands Away From Your Mouth. One of the worst things a witness can do is to touch his or her mouth, even with one finger. Any contact between the hands and the mouth is an indicator that something is being withheld. 8. Hold Your Head Straight, With Your Chin parallel To The Table Top. For maximum credibility, a witness must maintain a straight-up-and-down head position; no head-tipping allowed. All professional television news anchors are trained to keep their heads straight throughout their broadcasts. Chin position is also critical. A high chin suggests arrogance 9. Adopt A Cooperative, positive Demeanor To Enhance Your Likeability. Much has been written about the importance of likeability, which is communicated mostly nonverbally. Even in depositions, where opposing counsel assesses how well your witness will testify, likeability can have a powerful effect on decisions the other side may make, including whether to settle, if that is an option. 10. Maintain Direct Eye Contact With Your Questioner, During Both The Question-Asking And The Conclusion Of Your Answer. During longer answers, expand your eye contact to the jury. Many witnesses wonder whether they should look exclusively at the jury, especially as they respond to cross-examination. To avoid seeming rude to the questioner, witnesses are best advised to look at the questioning attorney first, then expand eye contact to the jury, if time permits, and end with direct eye contact back to the attorney. 11. Take At Least One “Beat” Before Answering. Witnesses often answer too quickly, making it awkward for counsel to object while also looking less thoughtful. It’s best to wait one or two seconds before answering any question. 12. Speak With Slightly increased Volume. Confident testifiers are not afraid to be heard. Increased volume also builds energy, which contributes to credibility and definitiveness. 13. Emphasize Key Words To Avoid A Monotone. When a witness responds to a question in full voice, hitting key words with strong accentuation, he or she will look and sound more confident and powerful. 14. Speak in A Strong Voice, With Downward inflection At The Ends Of Sentences. When witnesses speak with an upward lilt at the ends of sentences, almost as if everything is a question, this tentative delivery undercuts the impact of their testimony. Witnesses should practice speaking with downward inflection at the ends of major clauses, even when identifying themselves at the beginning of their testimony. 15. Above All—Never Let ’Em See You Sweat! The idea is for the witness to maintain a cool, cooperative, unflappable demeanor. It is easier to keep his or her composure by maintaining a relatively calm facial affect throughout testimony. The witness’ face should certainly register honest emotion, but never break down. This can be achieved with skillful nonverbal rehearsal. In our experience, using videotape during nonverbal witness preparation is essential. When your witnesses see how great they come off by incorporating these tips, they’ll gain self-confidence and reduce unnecessary anxiety. Drs. Jan and Neal Palmer, principals of Communication Excellence Institute in the Los Angeles area, are specialists in nonverbal communication who consult with attorneys to prepare clients and witnesses for testimony, especially when appearance and demeanor are critical to the case. They also work with expert witnesses to increase their credibility, and are frequent speakers for law firms on business development and presentation skills for attorneys. For more information, call (800) 410-4234, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit their website www.talk2cei.com.
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