INTERVIEW: Sonia Saville, an Assurety communications trainer

Sonia Saville highlights the inconsistencies between what we say and how we say it as she sheds light on her role as a trainer for Assurety’s witness familiarisation courses.

The theory behind effective communication reveals some startling statistics. When we are taking face to face with someone, for example, they receive 55% of the message we are conveying through our body language and non-verbal gestures, 38% of the message though the tone of our voice, and just 7% of it through the words we use.

This means that if there is any inconsistency between what we are saying and how we say it, the person we are speaking to may become confused and suspicious about what our real message is.

Sonia Saville says: “What we do with our body affects the audience’s view of what is coming out of our mouth, as does the actual sound of our voice, and if there is any lack of consistency between the messages then they will start to believe what they see and not what they hear.”

It is these inconsistencies that Sonia addresses in Assurety’s witness familiarisation sessions using her skills as a communications trainer.

She says: “We help participants understand how important their behaviour is, even when they are not actually on the witness stand. They are always quite stunned at how they come across. The judge is looking at you all of the time and is also taking in the whole of the court room. If you are fiddling with your fingers, rocking your chair back and forth or constantly fidgeting, for example, then that is going to filter into the message that the judge is getting.”

Sonia brings a variety of experience to her role as communications trainer. After studying law at university she trained as a solicitor but didn’t go into practise and instead worked as a translator in Paris and then as a broker in the City before training as an actress. She worked in theatre for many years, understudying actresses such as Felicity Kendall and Amanda Donoghue, and once had to perform onstage with Simon Callow with seven minutes notice because Felicity Kendall was stuck on a train.

She says: “I know what it is to be suddenly put into a very difficult situation and have to fall back on technique to get through it.”

She then used her acting experience to forge a career working in corporate education, using role play and theatre techniques to improve office environments and staff performance.

Her mission in the Assurety programme is to show participants what impact their non-verbal signals can have on what they are saying, and how the vocal tone, pace and rhythm they use can affect the listener. Sonia is then able to show them how they can control these to communicate their message more effectively.

She says: “How you tell the truth is as important as what you are saying.”

During the sessions Sonia also teaches participants useful techniques that they can use to stay calm when they are in the witness stand, such as how to breathe properly. She says: “Deep breathing re-oxygenates the brain which promotes clear thinking. It levels out your adrenaline and it gives you time to think.”

She adds: “We are helping people to understand how to be the best version of themselves. What we give them is not only specific to being a witness in court, it is completely relevant for dealing with stressful situations in the rest of their life too.”

Crucially, Sonia helps people understand what the role of the witness is. She says: “A witness’s job is simply to answer questions honestly and accurately. It is not to challenge or argue or to try and win the case, that is the job of the legal team.”

She adds: “The essential thing to remember is that you are not having a conversation with the barrister. You simply need to answer the question, and there is no need initially to give context or justify. If it is a question of fact you should be able to answer a question with one of four answers – yes, no, I don’t know, I can’t remember. Every witness should be a helpful and reliable guide for the court.”

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