Set a comfortable pace
Don’t give answers in a rush without first making sure you understand the question being asked and without considering your answer.
Refresh Your Memory
If you can refresh your memory from a document that is to hand before answering do so. If you have prepared a statement that answers the question refresh from this document before answering (to ensure your responses are consistent with the statement).
If you can’t refresh from a document, then give yourself a little time to consider what you are going to say.
Speak In Your Own Words
Don’t try to memorise what you are going to say. Doing so will make your testimony sound “pat” and unconvincing. Instead just be yourself.
Appearance Is Important
A neat appearance and proper dress are important.
Present your answers clearly, slowly, and loud enough so that all present can hear what you say. Avoid distracting mannerisms (such as chewing gum) while answering questions.
Eye contact and posture
Maintain steady and natural eye contact with the person speaking and then to all those who are present to hear your answers (i.e. those who will decide what happens next).
Lean forward slightly when listening to questions and adopt ’thinking man’ type pose. Answer questions sitting up straight (not leaning back in your chair) and with open body language (i.e. no crossed arms).
Tell the Truth
Most important of all, remember your duty is simply to tell the truth and assist those present by explaining what you know. True facts should be readily admitted.
Do not stop to figure out whether your answer will help or hurt your case. Just answer the questions to the best of your memory.
Do Not Exaggerate
Don’t make overly broad statements that you may have to correct.
Listen Carefully To Avoid Confusion
Take care to focus on the question (there should be only one at a time) that you are being asked to answer.
Do Not Lose Your Temper
A witness who is angry may exaggerate or appear to be less than objective, or emotionally unstable. Keep your temper. Always be courteous, even if the person questioning you appears discourteous.
Respond Orally To The Questions
Do not nod your head for a “yes” or “no” answer. Speak aloud so that all present can hear your answer.
Think Before You Speak
Listen carefully to the questions you are asked. If you don’t understand the question, have it repeated, then give a thoughtful, considered answer. DO NOT GIVE AN ANSWER WITHOUT THINKING. While answers should not be rushed, neither should there be any unnaturally long delay to a simple question if you know the answer.
Explain Your Answer
There will be leading questions (i.e. those that can be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’). Pay particular attention to how the question is asked. Explain your answer if this is necessary to avoid any misleading impression. Give the answer in your own words, and if a question can’t be accurately and fully answered with a “yes” or “no”, explain further.
Dangerous Leading Questions
A leading question that invites you to agree with a judgment (i.e. what sometimes means) must be carefully handed. For example: ‘do you agree that <something said or done> was inappropriate?’ If you say ‘yes’, you have surrounded the point forever. If you say ’no’, your answer may appear to lack credibility, or suggest you aren’t capable of recognising your own wrongdoing. You will have to use your own judgment, but sometimes a middle path is possible, i.e. ‘I can see in hindsight why this might be a concern, however, it is important to understand the context, which was….’.
Correct Your Mistakes
If your answer was not correctly stated, correct it immediately.
If your answer was not clear, clarify it immediately.
If you realise you have answered incorrectly, say, “May I correct something I said earlier?”
Sometimes witnesses give inconsistent testimony – something they said before doesn’t agree with something they said later. If this happens to you, don’t get flustered. Just explain honestly why you were mistaken. People make honest mistakes.
Do Not Volunteer Information
Answer only the questions asked of you. Do not volunteer information that is not actually asked for. Limit yourself to the facts that you have observed or personally know about.
There may be a small exception to this: if additional information is relevant to what is normal practice then explain this and give examples.
Don’t Set Yourself Up For Error
Unless certain, don’t say “That’s all of the conversation” or “Nothing else happened”. Instead say, “That’s all I recall,” or “That’s all I remember happening”. It may be that after more thought or another question, you will remember something important.
Questions that interrupt
Stop speaking instantly if you are interrupted and make a note of what you were going to say so you can come back to it. Then answer any new question/s and then ask if you can be permitted to finish your first answer. Don’t raise your voice and continue speaking (i.e. talking over the interrupter).
Be Positive and Confident
Give positive, definite answers when at all possible. Avoid saying, “I think”, “I believe”, or “In my opinion” if you can answer positively. If you do know, then say so. You can be positive about important things which you would naturally remember. If you are asked about little details which a person naturally would not remember, it is best just to say so if you don’t remember. Don’t make up an answer.