By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
The advice is as old as the art of communication: Look at the person you are talking to. And it is good advice. Eye contact makes it easier for audiences to stay engaged and more likely that speakers will focus on their targets. For a witness on the stand during trial testimony, that means "Look at the jury." But not just the jury. A witness who shuts out counsel and fixes their gaze only on the jury is likely to look a little contrived, or even creepy. So the advice is to look at the attorney when she is asking a question, and then look at the jury when delivering your answer. But that advice can create its own problem. If applying it too mechanically, the witness is swaying his head back and forth from counsel to jury to the point that it looks like he is watching a tennis match. Taken too far, the stage direction could look something like this:
[Witness looks at attorney]
"Doctor, where did you go to medical school?"
[Witness looks at jury]
[Witness looks back at attorney]
To the jury, it seems odd because it doesn't replicate anything we would ever see in natural communication. "Has he been coached to do that?" they'll wonder. Instead of the mechanical tennis-watching demeanor, the witness needs to include counsel and jury in a way that is both natural and inclusive. Begin your answer while still looking at the attorney who asked the question, but then, as you give any answer that is a sentence or longer (which should be most answers), naturally shift your attention over to the jury. For longer answers, it is okay to move your attention back to the attorney at times as you answer. As long as your eye contact is sustained and not darting back and forth, it is natural to include both counsel and jury in your field of gaze, just as you would in a three-way conversation with two friends: You would not exclude one to talk to the other, and you wouldn't mechanically alternate between the two, you would be naturally inclusive of both. This post will share a good way to remember that advice, and also address a few reasons why it can still be a challenge.