When writing our book The Articulate Witness: An Illustrated Guide to Testifying Under Oath, we combed through books, brochures, and web sites about witness preparation and compiled the collective wisdom of judges, lawyers, and court administrators.

Here is some of the most common advice we found. Use it to help prepare your client for the witness chair. The complete list is found in the book, available here.

Plan ahead:

  • Find out where the courthouse or deposition room is located, how to get there, and where to park.
  • Wear neat, tidy clothes. Ask the attorney calling you on direct for further advice about appropriate courtroom attire.
  • Before testifying, review any statements you have already given.
  • Leave in plenty of time so you are not rushing to get there at the last minute.
  • Especially if you are the victim of a crime or domestic violence, be prepared to see people in the courtroom whose presence may be upsetting to you.

Once you arrive:

  • Do not talk about your testimony with other witnesses.
  • Know the jury is watching you from the moment you are called and enter the courtroom.
  • Keep consciously breathing.

While under oath:

  • Be polite, thoughtful, sincere, and honest.
  • When speaking to the judge, address her or him as “Your Honor.”lawyer talking to testifying witness and gesturing toward jury
  • Speak loudly enough for everyone to hear. Answer out loud, not with a nod or shake of your head.
  • Don’t start to answer until the attorney finishes each question. Pause to think first.
  • If you are sure about something, say so. If not, say, “I’m not sure” or “I don’t remember.”
  • Answer the question and stop. Do not volunteer additional information.
  • Do not lose your temper. Keep your cool.
  • Expect to be questioned by attorneys for both sides.
  • Do not answer if you hear the word, “Objection!” Wait for the judge to rule.