Being a good witness isn’t just about using the correct (and truthful) words. It’s demeanor and body language. This is instinctively true . . . clearly no one believes a fidgety, sweaty person no matter what words they are speaking. While it is hard to control the minutia of one’s body language, there is one macro-level aspect of body language a witness can absolutely control with relative ease – and that’s who you look at when you are talking. Making eye contact with the judge is quite simply “Credibility on Steroids.”
Know this for sure: a witness should ignore the habit of looking at the lawyer asking the questions, and should look straight at the judge.
Ignore natural impulses:
In normal life, people are taught to look at those speaking to them. But court is not normal life, as anyone who has been there knows. So the normal rules don’t apply. For maximum credibility, witnesses in family court must look directly at the judge. It is almost entirely useless to look at the lawyer who is conducting the examination. A witness’s job is not to convince a lawyer of anything, its to convince the judge. Therefore, though a lawyer asks the questions, the response is to the judge.
The judge is 3 feet away, not 100!
If a witness does not look directly at the judge, there is almost know difference whether the judge is 3 feet away or a 100 feet away. However, by looking right at the judge, the witness will be creating a level of intimacy that encourages the judge to believe in the witness’s credibility.
Never, ever flinch!
When you are answering the attorney, most likely the judge will be looking down at his or her desk and writing notes – or at least pretending to. However, by looking directly at the judge when you are speaking you are taking advantage of the judge’s natural propensity to look at whomever is looking at the judge himself. So you want the judge to look back at you, that’s when a witness can have maximum impact. However, it is important that the witness never flinch when the judge finally looks up from her desk. If the judge suddenly looks at a witness, and the witness flinches and quickly turns away, that could hurt the witnesses credibility more than never looking at the judge in the first place.
Peek-a-boo, I see you!
Judges are clever, and most try not to let either party know how they are feeling about a given case until they issue their decision. But sometimes a lawyer can pick up on a judgments reaction to certain statements made during a hearing or trial.