Much to the chagrin of trial attorneys, jurors don’t always give their full attention to the trial. It’s trial counsel’s job to keep things interesting. Depending on the case, this can be a tall order. Here are some tips for making your questioning of a witness as compelling as possible.
To help the jurors listen to you and see you as occupying center stage, try to incorporate the following tips into your questions:
- Vary your tone of voice. Watch the jurors to see whether they’re paying attention. If they’re not, try to regain their attention by changing how you speak (or don’t speak).
- Modulate the volume so that you speak softly sometimes and more loudly at other times.
- Use silence, e.g., in the form of pauses.
- If you have a particular accent that may affect jurors—either bring it out during voir dire to accustom jurors to your accent or try to modify it during trial.
- Ask your questions in an inherently interesting order. You don’t always have to ask for information in chronological order.
- Begin with a question that’s dramatic or calls for a dramatic answer.
- Consider whether it might be effective to start in the middle or at the end rather than the beginning.
- Intersperse questions with demonstrative evidence. (But first make sure that you’ve cleared your demonstrative evidence with the court and counsel.)
- Write important information on paper (or ask the witness to do so) to highlight testimony. You can use this paper again during closing argument.
- If feasible, bring the actual equipment or other technical apparatus being discussed into the courtroom.
- Use photographs, models, maps, diagrams, videos, computer simulations, and other demonstrative evidence whenever possible to illustrate testimony.
- Avoid repetition unless you use it for dramatic effect. You don’t want the jurors to think they’ve heard it all before, but consider using repetition to underscore a key point. People tend to believe statements that are constantly repeated, so ask a witness to repeat strong points more than once.
- Be brief on collateral subjects. Jurors become bored by endless questioning on insignificant points. So, don’t get bogged down in nonessential details or waste time impeaching a witness on petty or collateral matters.
For more practical guidance on how to ask questions more effectively, turn to CEB’s Effective Introduction of Evidence in California, chap 1. Also get expert advice on witness examination in CEB’s Effective Direct & Cross-Examination.
Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:
- Keep Cross-Examination Short (Unless You Shouldn’t)
- Gear Your Oral Presentations to All Types of Learners
- Expert Tip: Use Jury Instructions in Your Opening and Closing
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