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The Dragonslayer

Winning tactics during  military litigation

Don’t be nervous!”

Easier said than done — particularly when young enlisted folks are on trial, coping with the rank and authority of senior officers.

Chances are anyone in this predicament will be nervous indeed.   And they may have a case of the “nerves” or use unconscious, automatic gestures which serve them badly.

So how does defense counsel help?

Some suggestion to calm jittery nerves:

·        Remind the client to breathe deeply and slowly.   That should begin well in advance of arriving on the witness stand.  Under questioning — three deep, slow breaths.

·        Divert client adrenaline to good use.  “Nerves” can be kept in check by the outlet of appropriate gesturing.  Not artificial or phony gestures – that would be obvious.  The key is to unleash normal, genuine,  and relaxed gestures to accomplish two goals:  [1] calm nervousness; and [2] underscore important points in the client’s testimony.

·        To discover those “good” gestures, the client should begin by sitting in a chair much like that on the witness stand or – better still — ‘rehearse’ in the witness chair itself.  He/she should sit up straight; no slouching .  Hands need to be relaxed, ready to gesture; spontaneous gestures will not emerge if the witness fidgets or grips his/her hands together tightly. 

·        And what  gestures “come naturally” to this client?   If he/she motions with animation in a conversation —  yet fails to do so while rehearing testimony – it should be promptly corrected. 

·        What gestures are genuine and assist a presentation?  The witness must not force things; but if there’s an inclination to move hands while speaking, that’s fine.  Do it. 

·        A short video clip of the client rehearsing testimony might help him/her focus.

·        The client should be animated.   To help, make questioning realistic.  Don’t just go through the motions – use the level of high energy which will occur in the hearing.   Question your client like it’s “real.”  Avoid a low-key manner; practice with appropriate vocal and persuasive energy.

·        Advise the client how to respond if the prosecution asks, “Have you prepared/gone over/rehearsed your testimony? “  Our favorite might contain some of the following: “Sir/Ma’am, my lawyer told me you might ask that question if you thought we’d harmed your case.  Yes, we went over what I have to say…this is one of the most important days in my life and my testimony has to be true and complete…you made me taken an oath to do that.”

Above all, gestures must look and feel natural—the “body language” of people confidently telling the truth.   

SOURCE, Brian K. Johnson, Using Gestures To Help Calm A Nervous Witness,  The Champion, November 2015

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