Having recently gone through the experience of testifying in court as a witness for the first time myself I can honestly say it is a nerve wracking experience. Prior to this I have been in court thousands of times often standing in front of hundreds of people and while questioning witnesses and making legal arguments to a judge. I am not someone who is afraid of public speaking.
That being said there is something particularly stressful about testifying in court - particularly if the result of the case is going to affect your life. While I most certainly did not enjoy the experience, I am glad I went through it. It has given me an insight into what my clients go through before and during a trial that I wouldn't otherwise have, and has allowed me to become a better lawyer as a result.
The following is advice for anyone participating in a trial, whether the trial is your own or for someone else:
The best and most important piece of advice is pretty basic but extremely important: remain calm. When lawyers question a defendant or witness in court, they often employ tactics intended to put intense pressure on them in an already stressful environment. Lawyers implement this approach in the hopes of making the person on the stand so off balance that they'll divulge important information that could potentially help the lawyer with his case.
If you are the one testifying it is your job to prepare yourself for this and remain calm. It's up to you to prevent the opposing lawyer from intimidating you, confusing you to get you to say something you didn't mean to, or twisting your words. The best way to remain calm on the stand is to meet with your attorney before trial to practice testifying. You should practice both direct examination (being questioned by your own lawyer) as well as cross (being questioned by the opposing lawyer). This will prepare you to remain calm and confident in the stand.
Mentally prepare yourself prior to appearing in court. Spend some time alone trying to recall any key events or details that are related to the case. Write notes about what you remember. Going through this step will help cement what happened in your brain and provide you with some notes to read over to refresh your memory before taking the stand to give your testimony. The day of court will be the most stressful and being able to read over the notes you wrote when you were calm and relaxed will help give you an added boost of confidence
Familiarize Yourself With The Courtroom
If possible show up to court early and sit inside the courtroom. Familiarize yourself with your surroundings. Once you actually get on the stand, take a deep breath in and breathe out slowly. Look at the lawyers and judge and remind yourself that this is simply their job and that they are people too. They put their pants on one leg at a time, just like you.
Make Eye Contact
Make direct eye contact with both the lawyer and judge, especially when you're being asked a question. Speak to each party involved in the courtroom when you're answering a question, do not limit yourself to the lawyer asking you questions. Doing this will allow you to feel more comfortable, less intimidated, and most importantly make it more difficult for the lawyer to draw you into a one-on-one conversation.
Stay Calm and Don't Get Upset
Before you give your testimony, take a deep breath and let it out slowly. Think positively. Listen to the question you are being asked. If you need clarification or don't understand the question ask the lawyer to repeat it or simply tell him/her you don't understand what they are asking. Listen for two part questions - lawyers will often make a statement of fact and then follow it with a question. If the statement of fact is not true do not answer the question - tell the lawyer that what the fact they stated is not correct.
Don't Be Afraid to Say You Don't Know
Speak loudly and clearly. Only answer questions you actually know the answer to. If you would have to guess or speculate to answer a question, don't answer it. Tell the lawyer you don't know and that you would have to guess to give them an answer. You can only testify based on what you've either witnessed or know to be true, not your opinion. Do not be afraid to say you don't know. Take as much time as you need before answering.
Don't Get Upset
Do not let the opposing lawyer's statements or questions upset you. Stick to the facts and always tell the truth. In the end, keeping calm will allow you to answer questions more accurately and make you seem more credible.