This article was originally published in Polytechnique Montréal’s POLY magazine, Summer 2015, Volume 12, Issue 2.

If you’re a professional engineer, you may be asked to testify at a trial at some point in your career. Whether you’re being called upon as a litigant or as a fact or expert witness, you’ll want to keep the below tips in mind to ensure your testimony goes smoothly.

  1. Testimony is not always delivered in court before a judge — it can also be provided in the presence of counsel alone. This process is called an out-of-court examination, and can be held before or after plea. The rules for each type of testimony are quite similar, and the following tips apply in both cases. Remember that the primary purpose of a testimony is to bring out the truth, present evidence and establish the credibility of the witness.
  2. Review the case prior to testifying. As in many areas, rigorous case preparation is essential, even when you’re not involved in the proceedings. Given that a trial usually takes place several years after the matter actually occurred, it’s always a good idea to review all available documents so that you can recall the facts, opinions and discussions surrounding the case.
  3. Take your time before answering a question. Remember: testifying isn’t a race to the finish line! Take a brief pause before answering each question to ensure you understand what’s being asked, and take the time to organize your responses in a clear and structured manner.
  4. Keep your answers short and sweet. Testimony is easier for witnesses who provide brief, concise answers. Keep in mind that any issue raised in one of your answers may lead to additional questions. It’s also essential to answer the question as it was posed — and not as you think it should have been!
  5. Stay calm and carry on. Lawyers may ask the same question several times if they haven’t received the answer they’re looking for. When this happens, remain calm and simply reiterate the answer you already provided — no matter how repetitive or futile you feel the process may be. Avoid changing your answer, as this may adversely affect your credibility, or raise additional questions.
  6. Discuss difficult or sensitive testimony with your lawyer. We recommend discussing sensitive or tricky testimonial matters with your lawyer, who is there to help you find the optimal way to address them. 
  7. Remember the golden rule: always tell the truth!