Category Archives:Witness Worries

Releasing Your Inner Public Speaking Rockstar

Sometimes a client has everything going for them as they prepare for a speech; they’ve thought about what they want to say, they’ve outlined their ideas in a clear and cogent way, they have an objective for the speech that they can articulate, they are excited to reach the audience with their message — they are prepared, but they are nervous. The client wants to make a good impression, and they know they need help but they aren’t sure what is wrong or what to do. So, they come in for a coaching session to rehearse the speech; and when they deliver the speech in rehearsal — it’s flat, uncompelling, and teeters on the verge of boring. Why does this happen?

Obviously, there are many reasons why this could be happening — but a common one is that the speaker has not connected in an emotional way to what they are saying. Their brain has done a great job getting ready for the speech, now it’s time for their heart to follow suit.

How do you get an emotional arc to a speech that is not emotional in nature? Generally in business you are conveying information, but an effective speech must do more than state facts. An effective and compelling speech guides the listener to a specific point of view, or action step, or feeling about the speaker and their ideas. For a speech to have dynamism and life, you must convey a passion for the subject and a genuine interest in your listener. To do that, you must think about the audience in a more specific way. In session with clients when we are rehearsing a speech, I often ask: When you finish speaking, how do you want your audience to feel? What do you want them to think? Say? Do? When you finish speaking how will they be different? First you answer these questions in an overall sense for the entire speech. And once you have an answer you go back and break the speech down into smaller chunks — smaller ideas within the larger one that you are trying to convey, and you ask those same questions again. By answering these questions the client begins to sense the life behind the carefully crafted words. And then you can begin to coax a vibrant and persuasive presentation out of the client.

Here is a small example:

Coach: When you finish speaking how do you want the audience to feel overall.
Client: I want them to feel secure that our company has their best interests at heart and can solve this problem for them.
Coach: Great — so you want them to feel???
Client: Happy that we are working for them.
Coach: OK — let’s look at the speech itself, you have three main ideas here, in the first one, you seem to be presenting a problem that could come up for the listener.
Client: That’s right, it’s a big potential problem that has large consequences.
Coach: And how do you want them to feel about the problem
Client: Worried, scared, alarmed.
Coach: Terrific, that’s a great active idea — you can scare them in the first part of the speech as you present this problem. In the second half of the speech you present a number of solutions that you can offer the listener. How do you want them to feel about that?
Client: Obviously I want them to feel happy that there is a solution.
Coach: Yes, good, so now in this section you can calm them down, reassure them, soothe them into not panicking. And in the third section you talk about how your firm can specifically tailor these solutions to their needs and give them the personal attention they want. Might I suggest you rally your listener here…. Let them know that not only is there a solution, but that you are the best person to solve it for them.
Client: so they will feel excited about us and our company’s work?
Coach: Yes!
Client: I like that idea — that seems right for me.
Coach: So now let’s try the speech — Frighten your audience, then soothe them, then rally them to call you should anything go wrong.
Client: OK. Let’s try.

As we rehearse the speech again, the client begins to find their own voice, their own passion for the ideas they are conveying because they are focusing on the listener, they are actively pursuing a reaction from the listener and as a result, their voice and their physical being begin to communicate the excitement of the speech and the intelligence, organization, and the main points of the presentation become apparent.

A good speech is more than words on the page. Only when a speaker is truly engaged with, not only their own words but, the pursuit of a reaction from their listeners, only then will their authentic voice, their inner public speaking rock star begin to emerge.
– Melissa Flaim

Angry Witness part 3: F@#$ You and the Horse You Rode in On

It seems like every witness I helped prepare for testimony last month was angry – which got in the way of both how they approached preparing to testify and their actual testimony.

Each witness was challenged by not being able to get past his or her negative emotions and dive into preparation in an open, responsive, positive way. Until we pinpointed the source, it was impossible to get our witnesses to listen, absorb our comments, effectively execute their homework and evolve into reliable, positive, integrated, connected witnesses.

On the stand, unresolved anger is one of the most common and destructive challenges for a witness because it makes one less likely to listen to the question, develop a thoughtful response, follow the rules of testimony and stay in control. Someone who looks or appears angry is unattractive, misunderstood and in the end seems untrustworthy. There sometimes is a way to channel hot emotions into a more useful response such as righteous indignation, but that technique really must be confined to a particular line of questioning, and cannot blanket the full extent of the testimony.

Anger comes from so many sources within each person that it is tricky to identify the emotional source. It can hide in a long held belief or be triggered from a family character trait or some other historical circumstance. The anger also may come from current events related or unrelated to the litigation.

I have certainly been challenged with witnesses who are not only going through a trial but also a family crisis – divorce, for instance. Or the witness may just be responding to the fact of being sued or wronged with feelings of betrayal, humiliation, or being misunderstood. Finally, anger in the preparation room may be rooted in the client’s belief that his/her lawyer doesn’t believe the client or resents the seemingly meaningless, arduous or objectionable litigation process.

Our first order of business in preparing angry witnesses is to spend the first chunk of time talking about their past, their family, where they were raised, their current situation, and why they chose their line of work. I touch on the five core values and beliefs in this conversation: shame, pride, anger, fear and most importantly, joy.

In essence, I try to find out what brings the witness joy in his/her life and I watch their physical response during this chat. Then as we shift our discussion to the matter at hand, I watch as that relaxed, connected self turns rigid, agitated, or vulnerable. This is a start. I look for an opportunity to apply this insight into the prep.

And at the right moment, I address the witness’s anger directly and try to replace it with a more positive core belief or value. Testimony at its best comes from a place of integrated connectedness, relaxation and speaking truth (not “The Truth,” but what is true for the witness).

Bringing the witness away from his or her understandable anger and to a place of self-confidence is the first step in witness prep.


Gillian Drake

September 1 2016

Angry Witness Part 2: His Own Worst Enemy

By far one of the angriest clients I have ever worked with was a Middle Eastern-born physician preparing to testify multiple times in his divorce proceeding. He was frustrated that his marriage was ending, that custody of the children could be disputed, and that his wife had used the allegation of spousal abuse as a litigation tool. The abuse allegation meant that my client faced a hearing on a restraining order as his first judicial appearance instead of a mediation.

Every aspect of US-style divorce went against this man’s nature, cultural and religious upbringing, and sense of fairness. His reaction to the divorce proceedings: blinding rage. Before we could start a witness preparation session he cried about the unjust process. He ranted that his wife was an evil liar. He poured out all of his most recent research into her devious acts to destroy him. And he was frightened: by his growing isolation from his children and the threat of criminal charges.

We worried that if he appeared uncontrollable, venomous and seemingly dangerous when he testified, that his demeanor would affirm his wife’s spousal abuse claim. We had to find a way to control or resolve his anger.

Often, I take the client back to the critical moment of the disputed event and re-trace the steps leading up to it, helping to show the client that s/he was in fact doing everything right, in some way. But here, going back to the decline of his marriage just evoked the negative feelings all over again. We had to be able to articulate the demise of his marriage, but we couldn’t approach this prep in a straight forward way.

So we changed the perspective by focusing him on the future and the distant past and forcing him to look at the only positive things in the case for him: his children. We assigned him lots of homework. For each visit, we asked him to write extensive narratives on persons or times in his life and career with a positive point of view.

The first narrative assignment was about his children: what they were like, what their character strengths are, what they were good at in school, what brought them joy, and his future with them without the distraction of a terrible marriage. We asked him to write a page about how he saw his children’s future: study, sports, relationships, colleges, life styles. At our sessions, he would read them aloud and then we would talk about where he had put himself in their story, where he was absent, how he would change the future.

The second narrative we asked him to write was about his professional life – why he became a doctor, why that specialty, what he is most proud of, what his colleagues say about him.

The third narrative was his life story up and to the point of getting married. The story was to include why and how he fell in love with his future wife and all the qualities he admired at the time. Nothing more.

Finally, he wrote a list of his positive attributes – from many perspectives: what his colleagues would say, his own family, and his children, his friends, etc. Every session, he would come in steaming, and we would allow him to share his agony. We would write down his issues in a list and tackle them one by one. Then we would go on to his homework, have him read it aloud, and we would talk about it — verifying and affirming who he is and how he really wants others to see him. This would get us to the point where we could begin to address the hard issues of the day with a balanced emotionality, a sense that he was heard, and a more positive energy so he could listen and learn.

The result was that eventually we were able to talk about the spousal abuse claim in a constructive way, and, in fact, find a framework for the events that made the wife’s claim as false and transparent as her divorce tactics had become. With this narrative in place, our poor, suffering, hot-headed client became a constructive partner in his own divorce and a balanced witness at his custody hearing.


Gillian Drake


Angry Witness part 1 - Why do I get so MAD?

Defusing Anger During Cross Examination

How many times have you observed a well-prepared, even-tempered witness get lured into a defensive posture or a contentious dialogue with a cross-examining attorney?

It can be damaging for a jury to see a witness who has impressed them as reasonable, compassionate, and credible suddenly present as antagonistic, angry, and inconsistent.

It’s the moment when a juror may think, “Hold on, he’s not who I thought he was,” and it can be supremely challenging to reverse that impression.

Among the many qualities that we want our clients to exhibit at trial, consistency is high on the list. And yet the adversarial nature of cross-examination makes this phase of the proceedings a minefield of innuendo, misrepresentation of character, and story-bending. In the hands of a skilled interrogator, it could well inflame and fluster the best of us.

How do you keep your witness out of that arena as he struggles to address the questions that are directed at him in a satisfactory way?

When we prepare clients for trial, we focus early on upon the need to establish an easy and authentic connection with the jury. This involves not only eye contact, but a mindset that invites them into the conversation and includes them in the storytelling of the case.

During direct examination, this may entail moments of teaching, disclosing, or confiding, and because the exchanges are all friendly, it is not that hard to accomplish. Under cross, however, it can be harder to look the jury in the eye as he is being challenged, criticized or shamed.

The witness is often scrambling to process the questions and sort out what needs to be corrected and how; in addition, there may be a rapid-fire pacing that throws him off-balance. And he may mistakenly assume that the jury is hostile toward him as well. Not so! The jury is actually his refuge from the hostility of the questioner.

We counsel witnesses to listen to the question; decide what needs to be “fixed” in the premise or content of that question; unplug from the questioner and calmly redirect gaze, energy, and the corrected version of events to a neutral jury. This can ally the jurors with the defendant whose story was misstated and restore to the defendant an opportunity to tell the truth to listeners who have no agenda.

Be sure that your witness knows to engage with the right parties when defending himself under cross examination: the parties who genuinely want to understand his role in the events of the case!

Gillian Drake