In court, facts are not enough—it’s the nonverbal that counts

BVWireIssue #216-3
September 23, 2020

expert testimony
expert witness, expert testimony, deposition

If you think that the facts speak for themselves in court, think again, says Deborah Johnson, MC, president of High-Stakes Communication. It’s really how you speak about those facts that influences judges and jurors. Johnson was the lead-off speaker at this year’s Business Valuation, Fraud & Litigation Services Virtual Conference sponsored by the Virginia Society of CPAs.

Nonverbal speaks volumes: Johnson points out that fully half of what you are communicating is through body language—and the judge or jury is watching you like a hawk. Is your body language telling them they can believe you because you are confident and comfortable? Is your posture open and welcoming? Are you making eye contact with opposing counsel even when he or she challenges your expertise?

Johnson points out that many people have no idea how they come across, so she will record the experts she works with, and many of them are shocked at what they see. They had no idea they leaned away when they were nervous or did a funny thing with their mouth or said “um” or “ah” too many times. Armed with this evidence, it’s much easier to clean up the problems that the court will judge as negative. One minute of video is more instructive than one hour of coaching, she says.

Online testifying: In today’s virtual world, you will probably be called upon to testify online. A question from the audience: How much of yourself should be seen on camera? Johnson advises that you need to show more of your body so they see your body language. Therefore, a close-up shot (head and shoulders) would not be a good idea. Rather, use a medium shot—one that shows the third button on your shirt or blouse.

BVWire attended the full conference—which was excellent—and we’ll have more coverage in the next issue.

Please let us know if you have any comments about this article or enhancements you would like to see.