These “pointers” were developed by experienced trial lawyers after years of trial experience, based on what their clients told them and what they had seen witnesses do in depositions. Witnesses say that if they follow these “pointers” everything is fine, and they feel good about their testimony.
If you want to feel good after your deposition — read these “pointers.” Read these “pointers” today. Read them tomorrow. Read them the day before your deposition.
Pointers for Your Video Deposition
For your deposition, you want the jury to know the true facts of the case that you know. You want to avoid the tricks the other side may play to try to distract the jury from the truth that you can provide the jury. You want the jury to know the facts that you have, and you want to leave feeling good about the service you have given to the jury.
Look back at the camera when answering questions. Remember that the camera most of the time will show only your head and shoulders and the wall immediately behind you. The camera will not usually show the attorneys asking the questions or anything else except your head. Think of a TV interview in which for an hour all you saw on the screen is a “talking head.” This is a “one-camera viewpoint.” This one-camera viewpoint can be boring for people watching the video — unless you are looking at the camera just as though you were talking to a friend.
The one-camera viewpoint means that the place you look most of the time when you are talking, answering the question, is to the camera. Do not look at the attorney asking the question, because he or she will not even be in the picture.
You can look at the attorney asking a question, to pay good attention to what the actual question is. But when you answer, most of the time turn your head back and look at the camera.
Think if you saw a TV interview, or a newscast, in which the person was not talking to the camera but rather talking to someone off to the side of the camera. Looking at the side of a person’s head in a one-camera format for an hour is very boring.
So, the first thing to remember is to look at the camera, because it is the camera that you are speaking to.
Have a good chair. The chair you are sitting in is important. If you have a choice, use a chair that does not move easily and that you can sit in straight without much wiggling around. If you are given an office chair that has a spring back, do not lean backwards and forwards or “rock.” It is extremely distracting to the jury viewing the deposition if they see a “bobbing head” in the picture they are looking at.
Sit up straight. Remember what you see on TV newscasts. The newscasters know how to communicate information. You do not see the news being delivered by someone slouching in a chair or with his head on his hand. Do like the newscasters do — sit up straight and keep your hands away from your face.
Look at the camera when you are talking. Do not look down at papers and answer a question at the same time. If you are a “talking head” in the camera shot, people cannot see that you are looking down at papers on the table. In the video you appear to be just looking down without reason. People will wonder if you are embarrassed or “shifty.” Besides, the jury will lose eye contact with you, and it will be harder for them to pay attention to what you are saying. So look the camera in the eye when answering the question, just as though it was a neighbor of yours and you are explaining the facts to them.
Never look at papers if an attorney is asking you a question. Listen to the attorney. You cannot pay full attention to the question if you are looking at papers that are on the table in front of you.
Look at the attorney when you are listening. Turn your head and eyes naturally to look at the attorney when the attorney asks you a question. You need to do that to really understand the question. Give the jury the respect of looking interested in what is going on, and respectfully listening to the person asking the question. Then turn to look at the camera to answer the question. You do not see newscasters looking down at papers and talking. You see them looking at the person talking and then looking back to the camera when they are talking.
Look at the TV newscast tonight and watch what they do. You can learn from them how to tell the facts “to the camera” so people understand what you are saying.
You can look at the records or papers on the table if you want to, but not while you are listening to a question and not while you are talking. Talk to the jury that is going to be looking at you from the camera’s view. Talk to the camera, not to some papers down on your desk. Remember, the jury are friends who want you to talk to them. Don’t look down at the desk and papers there.
You are in charge! If you are asked to explain something on a diagram or other picture or exhibit, you can always point to it and explain something. But, if you do that, remember that the camera is ordinarily only showing your face. You have to ask the cameraperson to swing over and show the item you are pointing at on the diagram or photograph as you explain what you want to explain.
Even if no one asks you to do it, but you want to point out something on a picture, X-ray, contract, or other exhibit, ask the cameraperson to show the exhibit as you point something out. Just say out loud to the camera person: “Will you please show this exhibit on the camera while I explain about it.” Then point out what it is you want to point out. (When you stop talking about the exhibit the cameraperson will automatically stop showing the exhibit, so you do not have to tell them to stop showing it.)
If there is a light shining in your eye, if it is too hot or too cold in the room for you, or if there is some other distraction, say so and people will get it fixed. You do not want to be bothered by any physical distraction. You are in charge.
That goes for bathroom breaks and water to drink also. If you have a full bladder, you certainly cannot pay attention to the question or look calm. Simply say that you want to take a break. You do not have to explain why you need to take a break. Simply say, “I want to take a break now.” Everybody has to stop and allow you to break. Likewise, you can ask for a drink of water, and they will get one for you.
Do not ask for a break to talk to an attorney. You cannot do that anymore than you could in the courtroom before the judge. You can ask for a break for your own comfort, but not to talk to an attorney. So, remember that you can always ask for a break to go to the bathroom or to get a drink of water or get coffee or something else.
Talk to the camera and tell the events. In a video deposition, the “jury” you are talking to is “the camera”! Jurors are naturally sympathetic to you as a witness. Jurors want to hear what you have to say that can help them decide the case.
The jurors are interested in you. The jurors like you. They want to see your eyes, just like you do when you are talking to a friend. The jurors want to see you talking to them out of the video monitor.
Talk to the camera just as you would talk to any friend who wants to know what you know that can help them make a decision. Look at the attorney who is asking the question, but after you hear the question, then turn and look at the camera and explain to the camera (the jury) the answer to that question.
1. Slow down — listen to the question. You can’t give an accurate answer unless you understand the question. Be sure you understand the question before you attempt to give an answer. Listen carefully to each question.
There is no requirement that you be some sort of machine gun rattling back answers as fast as questions can be thrown at you. Some attorneys can talk 160 words a minute, and you simply cannot think that fast and be accurate in understanding each word of the question. Stop and wait for the entire question to be asked you before you start to think of what you know that can answer the question.
If the question can be interpreted in a couple of different ways or you don’t understand the question, say you don’t understand it. Know the question.
2. Keep it short. The average person pays attention for only 90 seconds. The jury usually does not listen well to anything you say after the first 90 seconds of each answer.
The longest news story on television is 90 seconds, because television newscasters know the “90-second rule” for one person to talk.
In fact, most commercials are only 30 seconds long, because experts know that the average listener only listens to the first 30 seconds and then starts to “tune out.” So “keep it short.”
Just answer the question as short as you can and stop talking. Never miss a chance to stop talking!
The jury does not want to know everything you know. They just want to know what is necessary to decide the case.
Your lawyer will ask you more questions if you should say more.
You need to stop talking as quickly as you can because:
- The jury does not want to know everything you ever knew, or learned, about the subject.
- They only want to know your short answer to the question.
3. Do not worry you will forget something. Your lawyer will ask you about anything you forgot to say that the jury needs to know.
4. Nobody can cross you up if you listen to the question and answer only that exact question.
5. Tell it with confidence. Speak confidently. Do you want people to believe you? There are two ways to tell the truth. One way is in a low voice, in a halting, hesitant manner, which makes the jury doubt that you are telling the facts. The other way is in a confident voice and positive manner, which makes the jury have faith in what you say. This is important. Everybody wants to hear you. They cannot believe you if they cannot hear you. Most people believe people who tell things strongly! On the other hand, most jurors do not believe people who do not care enough to speak up so everyone can hear them. In short, jurors do not believe people who do not speak up loudly enough to be heard by every person in the room, and heard clearly.
6. Tell it with energy! Because this is a video, and it is an hour long. Help keep us all interested by telling your answer with energy.
7. Think. There is no need for you to be a “machine gun” rattling back answers. Give the question some thought and then answer it. Repeat: Give each question some thought and then answer it. There is no need for you to be a “machine gun” rattling back answers.
8. You can look at pictures or papers before you start to talk. (But looking and answering at the same moment do not mix well on camera.) If you want, you can look at any record or papers or at pictures to be sure of what you are saying. In fact, the jury is impressed if you look at something to be sure of the accuracy of your memory or what the picture or document says — if after that you lift your head and then look at the camera and talk. (Don’t just read from the record.)
9. Answer the actual question; answer it directly; and then stop.
You need to know what the actual question is. Some lawyers will deliberately ask you two questions like they are one question, so that you will be “wrong” if you just answer the last part of what they say. Or others will say something that is wrong as if it were a statement, and then ask you a question. So you have to listen and be sure what the actual question is before you start talking. You have a right to say that you do not understand the question or cannot answer it the way it is worded.
Answer the actual question directly and to the point. Then stop. (The other lawyer may want you to ramble, but resist the temptation.)
Listen to the question. Wait for the lawyer to stop. Then stop and think before answering.
Answering a question is a five (5) part process:
(1) Listen to the question.
(2) Wait for the lawyer to stop.
(3) Then stop and think about what the actual question is.
If you do not understand it, say so.
(4) Then think about what the answer is to that actual question.
(5) Then answer, by talking to the camera.
Only if you have taken the time (1) to listen to the question and (2) to wait for the lawyer to stop, then you can (3) think clearly what is actually being asked. Then you (4) think; next (5) you open your mouth and answer.
- Slow down — listen to the question. Pay full attention to the question.
- Answer the actual question, and stop.
- Talk with confidence.
- Speak to the camera, not to the attorney.
- Keep it short. Never miss a chance to stop talking!