Testifying at a trial can be stressful, even if the witness has testified before. If the jury senses the witness is unprepared, it is difficult to gain back confidence in that witness. Thorough preparation before trial may help avoid the damage an unprepared witness can inflict on your case.

The basis of testifying is to tell the truth. This may sound easy, but there are steps to follow before and while an expert witness is on the stand.

Understand the question

You’ll want to pay close attention to the questions. You may have a hard time telling the truth if you do not understand the question. If you don’t understand, you may want to ask for clarification. Problems can occur if the witness assumes they know what the question is when they really don’t.

It is important to remember that it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for reasonable clarification of a question. Rather, it may be a sign of weakness to answer questions that you don’t understand “truthfully.”

Think before you answer

“No” is not always the right answer if you simply do not recall. This also applies when accepting the opposing counsel’s statements. Listen to the terminology so you aren’t accepting a “fact” without knowing if it’s true.

Stay focused

It’s important for an expert witness not to try to figure out why an attorney is asking a certain question. You may not want to take time figuring out the reasons behind a set of questions if the they are not apparent. This could distract you from the moment and alter your understanding.

An expert witness may feel an obligation to know everything. This is not always the case. Answering “I don’t know” is better than lying on the stand. If a document is an important piece of an attorney’s questioning, you should not assume you’ve seen it before.

There are many factors to consider before trial. Trials are unpredictable and preparation may be your best bet at success on the stand. Careful preparation may also help you catch issues that could come up early on. Ensuring an overall smoother trial will depend on the work that goes into the preparation.