Podcast - Rule 8: Do Not Volunteer Information
In the latest episode of his "Powerful Witness Preparation" podcast series, Do Not Volunteer Information, litigation attorney Dan Small continues his in-depth 10-part series on the rules for witness preparation. In this episode Mr. Small focuses on what witnesses need to be prepared to do during the extended pause that will occur after some questions. After a witness has answered a question to the best of their ability they must stop. He continues to explain that the silence after the question is another aspect that people aren't prepared for when taking the stand.
Witnesses have to be prepared to answer and then stop. They must always remember to not volunteer any additional information just to fill the uncomfortable silence. This is incredibly unnatural. It is natural for one thought to lead to another and give a conversation some flow. If your witness was having lunch with a friend and they ask if they've seen a recent movie, their response will probably not be a simple yes or no. Most likely they will go on to talk about whether they liked the movie, or who they saw it with, or what other movies they've seen with the same actor or actress. As a witness they must simply answer whether they saw the movie and then stop.
In the unnatural question and answer world of being a witness, connections are not the goal. The witness's job is to answer the questions carefully, briefly, precisely and then go home. Connections mean they are volunteering. They must not do it. The questioner's job is to ask the right questions to get the information they want. It should not be the questioner's job to help answer the questions by trying to put words in the witness's mouth. Nor should it be the witness's job to help the questioner ask better questions or to volunteer information beyond the narrow lines of the question.
There are no shortcuts. A witness should answer each question at its most basic level and move forward in small easy steps. They shouldn't try to help the process along or anticipate where it might be going. Too often that means going off that straight and narrow path forward. Those kinds of sidesteps can take much more time in the long run and greatly add to the difficulty of being a witness. A witness should aim to give the questioner nowhere to go but forward and toward the end.