Trial videotape depositions can be long, uninteresting “talking heads.” But a short, easily understood trial video can hold the jurors’ interest, and persuade them, without sacrificing important evidentiary elements. To conduct such a deposition requires both legal expertise and knowledge of video production. Here are 5 essential strategies for powerful video depositions:
Prepare questions in advance that are succinctly phrased, easy to understand, and with a thematic flow. Direct examination must be brief enough to be finished within the jurors’ attention spans, without foregoing critical testimony.
Prepare the witness for demeanor on camera by explaining the deposition’s procedural ground rules, and the effects of attire, posture, eye contact, mannerisms, and attentiveness on the audience, the jury.
Prepare procedurally with opposition counsel, before the witness is sworn, in order to foster a non-distracting, well-paced video production. Eliminate visual and audible distractions from the background and foreground. Arrange the seating so the witness can simultaneously face the camera and the questioner. Deal with the rules of civil procedure for video depositions, as well as stipulations, exhibit marking, objections, and going off the record.
Take advantage of the power of video by using the early minutes for the most important testimony, because jurors watch and listen most intently then. Create visual variety relevant to the testimony, by using medium shots, close-ups, and zooms when introducing demonstrative evidence like photos, models, charts, and even documents.
Keep it Short and Simple as the deposition progresses, going off the video record when searching for documents, reading, or reviewing notes, and asking the witness to clarify difficult to understand answers and explain technical terms. End direct examination on a strong substantive point, not a procedural one, and then pause a few seconds, before offering the witness for cross exam.
Be mindful of the jurors’ attention span, and what they are seeing and hearing through the camera. When you think like a lawyer, and communicate like a broadcast journalist, the witness’ message will be interesting and easy to understand, and the jury will listen.