Communication Barriers and Solutions

Vocal Tics

Vocal tics are repetitive habitual interjections. They often occur after answers and before questions, e.g.:

O.K., Right, Um…, O.K., and… O.K., and um…


  • Learn why you do this (discomfort with silence, need to fill space)
  • Some people believe um… indicates “real” speech.
  • Become aware of the behavior, i.e. notice it as you do it.
  • Have a colleague audio tape a portion of an examination so you can hear yourself.
  • Speak in phrases, and breathe between phrases, substituing the breath for the “um.”
  • In extreme case, have colleague help you during a practice session by making some sort of sound (the more obnoxious the better), each time you say the offending word.


Weight Shifting

Weight shifting shows as shifting from one foot to the other, or bending one knee then the other, throwing the hip out. Energy is not being efficiently used.


  • Stand with weight evenly balanced on both feet, not too close, not too far apart.
  • Or, (a variation) one foot slightly ahead of the other.
  • With arms bent at elbows, gesture. It will channel your energy.


Wandering aimlessly

Wandering aimlessly makes you hard to listen to and reduces your authority.


  • Cultivate stillness. Stand still unless you are going somewhere for a reason. Stillness does not mean stiff.
  • Practice standing in a relaxed, yet attentive stance. This can be done in line at the grocery, at an elevator, or other waiting place.
  • Move to another location when making a transition.


Reading questions or speeches

Reading questions or speeches is a false solution to lack of confidence. It makes you sound false and stilted, and undermines your credibility.


  • Use notes as a visual aid only and improvise from the structure.
  • Change your notes from questions synopsis to proof synopsis.
  • When you are talking, look at the witness and jurors (at least 50% of the time!). When the witness is talking, look at the witness. Stop talking before you look down. Look at your notes before speaking. Look up before you begin again. Do not begin talking until you have gained visual contact.


Upstaging yourself

Upstaging yourself, e.g. walking backwards, looking at opposing counsel upon objection, turning your back to the jury when showing the witness a document.


  • Only walk forward; turn around when going back to counsel table or podium.
  • Talk to counsel only through the judge; do not snap head around at opposing counsel when objection is made.
  • Keep your body in an open position to the jury.


Not getting what you want from a witness

Not getting what you want from a witness. For example, the witness tells the story too fast or with not enough detail. The story gets out of sequence. The witness argues with you.


  • Know what piece of the puzzle this witness will provide.
  • Tell the witness what you want her to do, e.g. “Tell the jury,” “Describe…,” “Mark on the diagram…,” “Show us…,” “Put an X where…”
  • Do not ask the witness if he can do something, e.g. “Can you tell us…”
  • Begin questions with “Who, what, where, when, how and why.
  • Ask, “Is there anything else?” to get more detail.
  • Get the witness to slow down by narrowing the scope of the answer, e.g., “When you arrived, what was the first thing you saw?”
  • On cross, do not begin any sentence with the word “So…”
  • Do not try to get the witness to agree with your theory of the case. Just get the pieces of the puzzle, and then stop.


What do I do with my hands?

What do I do with my hands? The problem is that you clasp them in front of you, hold them behind your back, or keep in your pockets.


  • Do not be afraid to let your hands help you talk through gestures. You do it naturally all the time in casual conversation. According to jury and communications expert Mary Ryan, give your hands a job. Touch the sides of trousers or skirt when standing, and the sides of your legal pad when sitting. Bryan Johnson says to keep hands at waist and gesture from there.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *