Question: “How old is your son, the one living with you?”
Question: “How long has he lived with you?”
Answer: “Forty-five years.”
Is this your client? Do you struggle to try keeping your witness from looking like a deer caught in headlights? For the rookie, a deposition can be as frightening as an alien abduction. It’s a foreign, constraining environment, one that most witnesses describe as frustrating … others as humiliating or even terrifying. How do you rid your client of deposition stage fright?
You have the ability to keep your client from creating unnecessary anxiety, dreading the proceeding and the potential damage it might cause. You are their power source. You are instrumental in helping them overcome the testifying jitters.
Take Away the Mystery
Testifying isn’t like a normal conversation. We’re not used to being asked question after question where our answers can make or break a case. But knowing how to be a good deposition witness isn’t a mystery either. Explain how it’s a staged exchange with each side having an agenda. Tell them they don’t have to have stellar verbal skills or ability, but what they do need is to be truthful and know how to apply certain techniques.
We’re In This Together
Address your client’s agenda first. Ask them what it is about the deposition that most scares them. Usually, it’s one, two, or all of these:
• Feeling like they’re being made to look foolish
• Fear they’ll forget important details and get details wrong or confused
• Exposing their nervousness in front a group of people
Evaluate their emotional state. What do you think they need from you most right now? Reassurance? Clarification? Information? Find out and give it to them.
Tell them you’re going to help them prepare in a way where they don’t look foolish, forget details, and show fear. Tell them you possess secret weapons that you’re going to share with them, techniques that will transform them into a self-confident, credible witness and how these weapons will block an attack from every angle. Boost their ego and build self-empowerment.
What’s Expected of Me?
Some witnesses are worried that they won’t be able to recall incidents from memory or how you instructed them to respond. Tell them they’re not expected to have a photographic memory, to spit out word for word how you told them to respond to certain questions. Rather, tell them to focus on the INTENT of those questions and the INTENT of the responses you want them to use.