By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
When I taught public speaking I'd ask students to picture an experiment. A group of people are being tested on their ability to shoot basketball freethrows, and they're divided into subgroups (evenly matched on ability) and each subgroup prepares for the test differently. One group prepares by actually practicing with a basketball on the court. A second group is asked to prepare by visualizing the shot: They picture the ball arcing through the air and going through the basket, nothing but net. A third group does nothing before the test. So which group would you expect to do best on the test? The group that practiced with the ball seems like the best bet. But the intriguing possibility is that the group just visualizing would come in a very close second. Some say that this study has actually been done with exactly that result, but the better information seems to be that this study on visualization is just that, a visualization - an academic myth about a study that never actually occurred. But the illustration is still useful and there is no shortage of current research on the benefits of mental preparation.
That research is frequently cited by those who practice and promote the idea of visualization and mental practice. That was an important point for my public speaking students to get: Practice and visualize your speech. And it is an important point for litigators and witnesses to understand as well. Voir dire, openings, closings, and witness examination and testimony: These are all high stakes communications situations that can be executed well or poorly. So how do you prepare? Of course the substantive preparation is to know the facts and the law, the arguments and the evidence, the goals and the structure. But there is also the practical preparation of walking through it mentally and getting up and doing it. Drawing from a recent Psyblog post on the demonstrated benefits of mental practice, this post focuses on what attorneys and witnesses should be doing and avoiding when it comes to getting their heads in the game.