When Things Get Tough: Lessons for Courtroom Testimony

When Things Get Tough: Lessons for Courtroom Testimony
Duration: 60 Minutes
Module 1 Module 1
Recorded on: 2022-09-27
Unit 1 Presentation Materials: When Things Get Tough
Unit 2 Transcript: When Things Get Tough
Unit 3 Workbook: When Things Get Tough
Unit 4 Recording: When Things Get Tough

This is the second installment of Deborah Johnson’s webinar series on courtroom testimonies for expert witnesses. The first session looked into preparing for the trial – the importance of soft skills as much as hard skills, the goal to engage the jury, the power of non-verbals, reflecting on who you need to be, and the value of practice. Deborah is back this time around and the discussion centers on the challenging aspects of testimonies – depositions and cross-examinations and how to make these less daunting.

Deborah Johnson is an industry expert in effective communication, a consultant for various cases, and an EMMY award-winning writer and producer. She is the President of High-Stakes Communication where she coaches lawyers and expert witnesses for improved communication skills in court.

Points discussed in this session include:

  • A quick recap of the concepts discussed in the first part of the series – soft skills, engaging the jury, non-verbals, showing up to court, and practice.
  • How to manage grueling depositions by…
    • Understanding its fundamental rule – that it is for the opposing counsel, not you.
    • Telling them as little as possible while remaining cooperative and respectful.
    • Setting yourself up to be comfortable amidst a grueling deposition.
    • Playing a game of go fish by only answering what is asked, not responding when questions aren’t asked, and not offering more information than initially asked.
    • Controlling the tempo and not allowing them to pick up the pace by thinking before you answer.
    • Going against the intuition of telling everything you know and your side of the story.
    • Using the pause button and listening carefully before providing an answer.
  • Navigating cross-examinations effectively through…
    • Being clear on your purpose – which is to answer questions and engage the jury in doing so.
    • Ensuring the body language and tone of voice are congruent to one another.
    • Treating the opposing counsel as a hologram and addressing all answers towards the jury.
    • Listening carefully when questions are asked and clarifying as necessary.
  • The power of language and using this to…
    • Increase your credibility and establish your skills, credentials, and experience.
    • Describe your thoroughness and expertise and in the process insinuate what the other side lacks or failed to do.
    • Create more impact on the jury through repetition of key themes.
    • Evoke emotions which can then influence decisions through the effective use of adjectives.
  • Understanding the processes within the brain to avert emotional response and maintain control.
    • What a hijack/emotional flooding is, the brain process involved, how it manifests, and its impact.
    • The common triggers that bring about the hijack.
    • The length of time it takes to recover from a hijack and what can be done to prevent it through awareness, training, and preparation.
  • How to maintain one’s cool through some intentional actions such as pausing, breathing, focusing, and controlling the pace.
  • Tips to defuse nerves before a deposition or cross exam by having a strong offense through preparation, pre-game strategy, and practice which involves video feedback to learn and be better at these skills.
  • How the case and your reputation can be put at risk without preparation, proper training, and practice.

Questions raised by the webinar attendees are bout:

  • What to do when you’re certain a defendant perjured themselves on the stand.
  • Dealing with nervous and uncontrollable ticks by managing the expectations of everyone in court.
  • Responding to broad open-ended questions.
  • How to effectively play go fish without coming off snarky.
  • Who to look at – the journey or the attorney?


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Audience Comments

  • “Excellent topic for training. Practical tactics given for professional testimony. Thank you!” — Geri
  • “Hard to narrow it down, truly. Information very well ‘çhunked’, then skilfully explored at every phase. Depth of presenter expertise is readily evident. Great use of my time… So glad I joined today!” — Thomas
  • “I think this was a great presentation. I do not have to testify often, but the few occasions where I have, I felt very vulnerable. I found this presentation to include a wealth of useful information.” — Sonya
  • “I found everything fell under the umbrella of how to conduct yourself in a high-stress/contentious situation. While some aspects were specific to the courtroom like answering only the question asked/saying as little as possible, many of the suggestions are applicable outside the courtroom. I work with Adult Protective Services and routinely find myself in contentious conversations and will be applying much of what was spoken to today.” — Jennifer
  • “Great presenter. Most of what Deborah discussed I was aware of…. after 37 years in LE I should be!!! But, I did pick up a couple pointers so it was worth my time. This would be an excellent tool for young Officers. I wish I was exposed to this years ago; would have saved me lots of grief on the stand!” — Ricardo
  • “Deborah Johnson your presentation today was OUTSTANDING❣️❣️❣️ Learned so much from you. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE❣️❣️❣️” — Barbara
  • “Great tips (and I have been testifying for over 30 years) – thanks!” — Carrie
  • “I’ve watched many webinars, and I can honestly say this one ranks with the best of them. The speaker was very engaging and her information made sense, once she explained the reasons behind her concepts. I really enjoyed this one and will definitely practice what she taught. Thanks.” — Lourdes
  • “I appreciated the training in general. I am in law enforcement our prosecution seems to assume we know how to testify and really it feels like trial and error. I will use the tips in court, especially the training on depos. Thank you!” — Jennifer
  • “I’ve never had to testify as a CASA but in my career as an educator in various roles I did go to court often to testify. This was so interesting and helpful. Wish I had had this during those years I was in court often. I can see how helpful this would be for anyone giving testimony.” — Anne
  • “Both of Debra’s presentations were incredible, really enjoyed them. Hope she puts some additional presentations together on the same subject (i.e. providing testimony on financial records, how to present to make it easy for a jury to relate to, etc..). Thx.” — Mark
  • “Excellent webinar. I am always in court. Many good points.” — Robert




Nlets is a self-funded nonprofit, established in 1967 with the objective of connecting law enforcement, justice, and public safety agencies for the purpose of exchanging critical criminal justice information. They strive to ensure that the right information gets to the right person as quickly as possible. Nlets connects more than 1,000,000 users, 45,000 agencies, and 800,000 devices, with more than three billion transactions traversing their secure network last year.



This webinar has been pre-approved by the Maine Animal Welfare Program for 1 Continuing Education Unit for the State of Maine’s ACO annual training. You can find more information about Certification, required annual training or submitting materials for credit at Maine’s Animal Control Officer Resource Page.





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