TIPS FOR PREPARING THE “BEAST MODE” WITNESS
Fans of the National Football League are undoubtedly familiar with “Beast Mode,” the nickname given to Marshawn Lynch to describe his uncompromising running style where he plows through multiple tacklers as if they were small children. The most famous “Beast Mode” run occurred in the playoffs in 2011 against the New Orleans Saints, a run that was so spectacular it triggered a frenzy in Century Link Field that registered on a nearby seismograph.
But running the ball isn’t the only thing for which Beast Mode is famous. Lynch is also well-known for his disdain of the media, which was highlighted during the run up to last year’s Super Bowl when Lynch refused to talk to most of the press, explaining that he is, “Just ‘bout that action, boss.” This season, Lynch again displayed his discontent with reporters by refusing to give interviews, being hit with a $100,000 fine, and then allowing himself to be questioned, only to give one-word answers.
Many attorneys and trial consultants have encountered witnesses like “Beast Mode” when preparing for trial. So what should you do with a witness who hates to answer questions and limits herself to one word answers?
The first step is to help the witness understand how her behavior might negatively impact the case. One of the best ways to illustrate this fact is to record her testimony so the witness sees how she looks to the jury. Sometimes the witness needs to see for herself what she looks and sounds like on the stand. When it becomes evident that a closed-off attitude appears defensive and creates a lack of goodwill, your witness might be motivated to adopt some strategies to improve her image.
It can also be helpful to remind a witness how much is at stake, and that a positive image can make the difference in the case; that might get her competitive juices flowing motivating her to be the best speaker possible. Some witnesses feel they are being forced to testify in matter without merit and want to show their disdain for the process. But remind the speaker that the only thing worse than being forced to testify would be to lose this “frivolous” lawsuit because she performed poorly on the stand.
Some witnesses aren’t angry about the need to testify, but instead are introverts who don’t like speaking in public. There are other strategies to help such a person become more comfortable, but the key remains practice and preparation. Uncertainty causes the most nervousness. The more the situation and possible questions become familiar, the less uncertainty she’ll feel, and the more comfortable she’ll be with the situation. Roleplaying an examination to put the witness on the spot will help her become familiar with both direct and cross examination approaches. Try to use a courtroom-like setting when preparing for trial so the witness becomes accustomed to what it feels like to be on the stand.
It’s important that the speaker be familiar with the likely questions as well as the setting. This is easier for direct examination, and trickier for cross. For hostile questioning, help the witness prepare “safe harbors” where they can anchor in case of difficult questions. Knowing that she has an answer in her hip pocket for just about anything can make the speaker more confident and at ease.
Though Marshwan Lynch is beloved by Seahawk supporters and many other football fans, a witness who performs in Beast Mode at trial is unlikely to engender much support from the jury. Witnesses who are reluctant to testify, or just plain uncomfortable, can seriously impede a case’s successful outcome. Fortunately, strategies and tactics are available to assist witnesses to be positive and comfortable and a greater success on the stand.