By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
Think about stage fright. Now, multiply it by two, or perhaps ten in some cases. Being in the witness chair in trial compounds what we traditionally think of as speech apprehension, because it adds not only greater degrees of formality, but also the knowledge that there is someone on the other side who is being paid quite well in order to pick us apart. For a party in the case, an expert witness, or any witness, the advice to "just be calm" doesn't often help. Testimony, whether in trial or deposition, is inherently a high stress event and the advice to get comfortable and relax may not be just unrealistic, but counterproductive as well.
According to some new research (Jamieson, Nock & Mendes, 2013), the answer may lie in embracing the stress. Instead of chasing the elusive goal of comfort in the witness chair, it is better, according to these researchers, to acknowledge the inherent stress of being a witness and work to reframe the fact of the heightened physiological state, sometimes called the "fight or flight response," as something more positive. Speakers who did this in contexts where they knew they would be challenged performed much better, even as all physical signs of stress remained constant. This post takes a look at the study and draws out a few suggestions for parties, experts and all witnesses to focus on performance instead of comfort.