How to Portray Your Witness

Now that you’ve created and developed your character for your witness. How do you portray your witness during a Direct or Cross Examination?

In this article, we’ll be explaining what to do for each scenario that you may come across and answer the pressing questions you may have about how the witness stand works.

Introduction

As a witness – you are the main character and star of the show. If you’re on Direct Examination, you should work with your attorney to make yourself the main character. If you’re on Cross Examination, the opposing attorney will try to make himself the main character and you need to combat that without being too aggressive.

A witnesses job during direct examination is to deliver your team’s side of the story. As a witness, you should introduce yourself, explain why you’re here, and explain what happened.

A witnesses job during cross examination is to sway the jury towards your team’s theory. The opposing attorney will try to sway the jury by asking you questions that present their case-in-chief in a better light. However, your job is to provide answers that sway the jury towards your own team’s case-in-chief.

The Differences for Cross Examination

On a Cross Examination, you have to try harder to be the main character without being too aggressive against the opposing attorney whose trying to take the spotlight away from you. You want to look likable and make your team’s case-in-chief more favorable compared to the other team.

For example, the attorney may ask “Mr. Doe, you didn’t see the defendant walking into the bank wearing a red shirt, is that correct?” If you think about this question, you can sway it in your favor by saying “I actually saw the defendant walking into the bank wearing a bright colored shirt. Yes.” This response lets you sway the jury by remarking that you did see the defendant wearing a bright colored shirt but not wearing a red shirt.

The best way to handle cross examination is to listen carefully to the question, take a three-second pause to think and come up with a response, and answer the question with a concise comment. You will accomplish three things: you won’t look aggressive if you come up with a good response and answer the question, you can sway your jury into your favor with your response, and you will use the other teams time.

Be Aware of Time

For Direct Examination, your attorney is on the clock and the answers you provide are on the clock. Therefore, make sure that your questions and answers for direct examination are within the time limit. This will take practice and collaboration with your team. If you find that you are overtime, you may have to cut questions and answers and compromise with you team to create a cohesive case-in-chief from the direct examination side.

For Cross Examination, the opposing team’s clock is used. Many teams will try to filibuster the opposing team to make them lose time on their clock. However, you should try to avoid this as this makes you look aggressive and defensive to the jury. You still want to answer the question by swaying it in your favor and using the other teams time but you shouldn’t filibuster the opposing team. The biggest thing that bad teams lack is: balance.

How should I act? What do I wear? How should I walk? How should I talk?

At the end of the day, you are an actor. If you’ve developed a character, use the characteristics you’ve developed.

For example, if your character is a CEO, you should walk and sit with a strong presence. You should talk like how a CEO would talk. You should dress like how a CEO would dress. These are all things that you need to keep in mind of when you’re playing a witness.

If you’re stuck, take the time to watch a movie or TV show. See how the actors act and dress.

For example, in the HBO series – Succession – look at how Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) dresses compared to his father, Logan Roy (Brian Cox). Kendall dresses with a slimmer suit and goes tie-less while his father wears a more traditional fitting suit and wears a tie.

The idea behind costume design is to display the differences between characters. I don’t want to spoil Succession but Kendall wants to make the company more modern while Logan wants to keep the company the way it is. That is the reason why the costume designer put Kendall in a more modern cut suit while Logan wears a more traditional cut suit. Your outfit is part of your character!

HBO Succession – Season 3. Image provided courtesy of Warner Media, LLC.

Where do I look?

When the attorney is asking you a question, you should turn your head and look at them. When you are presenting your answer to the judge or jury, you should turn your head and look at the judge or jury.

This means that you’ll have to turn your head like a swivel every time you deliver an answer. You should never point your head towards the ground or table. And you should maintain eye contact with the people that you are talking to.

You can also have fun with the way you turn your head. If you deliver an answer that is pressing towards the other sides witness, you may want to turn your head towards them to point them out to the jury or judge.

Is that all?

It’s a bit hard to explain how to portray your character. It takes practice and strategy development on your team’s part on how you want your characters to appear. At the end of the day, you’re an actor acting in a play. Have fun!

How to use Sound Scripting to Improve Speech

For most if not all teams doing Mock Trial, you’ll be preparing a script of questions that you’re going to ask your witness – for both direct examination and cross examination.

Even if you’re a very advanced team that comes up with questions on the spot – you most likely prepared a guideline of what questions you may ask.

With that being said, if you prepared a script of questions, you should learn the techniques of Sound Scripting to help make your question flow more natural.

What is Sound Scripting?

Sound Scripting is a methodology of marking emphasis on context words in your script. For example, you can take a sentence like “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” and when you add Sound Scripting, it will look like “The QUICK brown fox JUMPED over the lazy dog.”

Why put in the effort to Sound Script?

A lot of teams who don’t sound script often sound like they’re reading off a script even though they’ve memorized their script. When do they do this, they sound un-natural and boring. When you’re boring, your listeners will tune you out and miss what you’ve said.

By adding sound scripting, you add emphasis on context words and give your script more character. It also makes it a lot easier to come up with hand movements as you talk with more emphasis.

What does Sound Scripting look like?

Cross Examination

  1. It is  your testimony today that John Doe set the truck on fire?
  2. Is it true that John Doe was wielding a knife on Main street?

Direct Examination

  1. What did you see on Main street the night of January 13th

I saw quite a large man wearing a brown t-shirt wielding a knife on Main street that night on January 13th.

How to be an Unimpeachable Witness

Impeachment’s are a great tool at destroying credibility. While it’s a great tool at destroying credibility, it can destroy your own teams credibility if your witness is impeached and was caught lying at the stand.

Impeachment are unavoidable as all humans make mistakes. Here are a few simple tips to avoid becoming impeached while on the witness stand.

1. Know your witness statement

The number one step to avoiding impeachment is knowing your witness statement by heart. You will need to know and understand everything about your witness. This will require reading and dissecting the witness statement so you can capture every detail possible.

You may say this is common sense but most if not all Mock Trial witness statements were created by the organization running the Mock Trial program. The witness statement didn’t come from your own words and it’s your responsibility to fully understand what it’s trying to convey about the character you’re playing.

2. Don’t lie. Be careful when you twist the facts.

The number one thing about being a witness is that you should avoid lying. Even if the truth will ruin your character, it’s not worth it to lie. The best thing to do – with caution – is to twist the facts so that you’re telling the truth but diminishing the reality of what happened. However, when twisting the facts, make sure you don’t purposely lie or that will hurt you.

3. Play it off

If you do end up getting impeached – what’s done is done. The best thing to do in this situation is to say “I’m sorry, I was confused by the question” or “I’m sorry, I mixed up the events of what happened” and then restate what actually happened. This will help cool off the situation and restore a tiny bit of credibility to your witness.

If you are playing against a good lawyer who followed our Impeachment guide, then you could be saved. Once you hear the lawyer say something along the lines of “Is it your sworn testimony today that …,” then it is your sign that you’re about to be impeached and you could wiggle your way out of that situation by saying “Oh no, I’m sorry, I mixed up the events and meant to say …”

Story Time

Impeachment is probably one of my favorite aspect of Mock Trial and always gives me a good laugh. Here are a few of my favorite impeachment stories:

  • I’ve once watched a trial where the lawyer followed the Impeachment guide and the witness corrected themselves once they figured they were almost going to become impeached. However, the lawyer still went through the entire impeachment process and impeached the witness. If this happens, people will notice and the lawyer will lose points for not noticing that you’ve corrected yourself. I noticed what happened and was wondering why the lawyer was still going through the impeachment process.
  • I watched a trial in a tournament where the one team would have their witnesses lie on everything so that their witnesses could look better. Thankfully, the other team knew they were lying and impeached them on every answer they provided. We ended up going through 8 impeachments before the Judge in the trial said “enough” and made the witness get off the stand.

The morale of the story is: just don’t be messy.