Witness Preparation – The Fast Talker
When a witness is nervous, it is common that he/she will speak quickly. The fast-paced response can cause a number of problems. Not only will jurors have difficulty understanding the witness, but he is likely to utter a response without taking the time to think first. Below are a few tips for slowing the speed of response of a witness.
One technique for slowing the rate of your witness’s speech is called metronomic pacing. Simply ask the witness to provide a response to a question, and as he answers, create a beat for the witness (by clapping your hands or tapping your finger on the table). As you slow the beat, the witness will naturally slow his/her rate of speech. The human tendency to move one’s body in time with the beat is automatic. You might have noticed this the last time you were running while listening to music. Begin with simpler questions for your witness (such as sample direct examination questions) so that he can practice his pace. Then, ask the witness more difficult questions, continuing to provide a beat that keeps the pace slow. Over time, you will want the witness to provide his own beat, by tapping a finger on the table, or tapping his toe on the floor. Eventually, he will be able to keep the slower pace without the sound of the beat. Depending on the witness, this may take only one session, or may need to be repeated several times before trial.
At times, you may work with a witness who provides a response at an acceptable rate of speech once he/she begins speaking, but the witness begins speaking without first thinking about how to respond to a question. That can be problematic as a witness who is thinking as he speaks is likely to appear hesitant as he uses “um”s and “uh”s throughout his response. Teaching a witness to take a little time prior to responding can be relatively easy with some witnesses. Others provide more of a challenge. If working with a witness who has a difficult time waiting and thinking before responding, here is a technique that can help. One of our consultants recommends writing on a sheet of paper, in large print, the words “WAIT, THINK.” Then, on the other side, write the word “RESPOND.” Tell the witness that you will be asking him mock examination questions, but that he cannot speak while the “Wait” sign is showing. At first, you will want to ask a question and time the number of seconds (we recommend 5 seconds) the “Wait” sign is displayed. Allow the witness to become comfortable with the silence and the new pattern of response. Once your witness has adapted to the pace, remove the use of the sign.