INTERVIEW: Sally Gooda, a communications expert working with Assurety

Assurety communications trainer Sally Gooda reveals some top tips for staying calm in court.

Appearing as witness in court can be a stressful experience. It is hardly surprising - you are in an unfamiliar, high pressure environment, being asked questions in an unfamiliar, high pressure way. Fortunately there are some simple but effective techniques that can help you keep your stress under control. Assurety communications expert Sally Gooda outlines three of them.

Sally says: “You are inevitably going to have some level of stress, but the key is to do your best to ride out that stress and not to allow it to affect your voice or your body. When people are stressed they reveal an awful lot through non-verbal signals. The key is to strengthen the way you communicate so that a decision-maker is not distracted by such signals.”

One of the simplest ways to manage anxiety and to maintain composure is to sit properly, she says. That means sitting with both feet flat on the ground, with your feet hip width apart. This may be a position you are not accustomed to, but it has been proven to be the most effective way to stay calm.

Sally says: “Lots of people sit with their legs crossed but that restricts airflow, so I encourage people to adopt a comfortable pose with feet on the ground. Sitting with your feet hip width apart is alien to most people but it is an open relaxed posture and it quite literally helps you feel grounded. If you have got your shoulders back and are sitting upright it signals that you are attentive and engaged, and are willing to interact in a way that is called of you. Whereas if you are hunched over and have got your arms and legs crossed or are fiddling or fidgeting you can be seen as being defensive and not willing to assist.”

It also really helps to breathe deeply. Sally says: “Cortisol rockets through your body when you are stressed, and deep breathing can lower the cortisol instantaneously. It can create space for you to consider your answers, it oxygenates the brain to give you clarity of thought and it gets rid of tension, which can affect your demeanour. Breathing deeply also gets rid of that awful butterfly feeling and helps you have a resonant voice. When you walk into the court room you should touch to your stomach to remind you that you need to breathe deeply.”

It is also important to consider the way you speak. Sally says: “Many people tail off towards the end of sentences, so it is important to carry energy through to the end of every sentence. Breathing deeply also helps warm up your vocal cords and produces a richer chocolatey sound as opposed to the thin voice people sometimes speak with when nervous.”

You should also focus on speaking slowly and not allow the speed or tone of your delivery to be influenced by the barrister cross-examining you. Sally says: “A lot of barristers use the technique of speeding up and getting the pace going to the point where the witness is saying things they don’t really mean to.”

Ultimately, it is about trying to retain some control over the process. Sally says: “It is about enabling people to find some control within an environment where they don’t think they have any at all. That is both empowering and comforting.”

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