As college and law school mock trial moves fully on Zoom for the 2020-2021 season, I’ve had the opportunity to judge a few law school and college competitions. Here are my big takeaways about how to best present mock trial on Zoom or remotely.
Top Four Tips for Mock Trial on Zoom
1. Audio quality is really important.
Audio quality is critical for remote trials. Your judges will likely be “second-screening” during your trial on their phone or tablet. Your judges will probably have kids and pets interrupt them. They may just get bored and zone out. Regardless, what will pull them back in is good audio.
Most competitors are using the onboard microphone on their laptops. In a dorm or classroom setting, it means that your voice will echo and lose resonance. There are many ways to improve your audio quality, most of which are inexpensive. A desktop USB condenser microphone is $43 on Amazon. You can get wired clip-on lavalier microphones for less. A set of AirPods would do the trick if you already have them (which is why you see so many “talking heads” on TV using them).
I’m not sure which solution is best, but the important thing is to test some out and see what works best for you. Record your audio as you would deliver it during trial and make sure it’s clear, loud, and resonant. Don’t worry as much about an external microphone looking wonky in your image. You can either hide it right out of the camera’s view or just embrace it.Sit down.
2. Sit down.
I think that all advocates and witnesses should sit down the entire time when doing mock trial over Zoom. Certainly, in a courtroom, we would expert advocates to stand if they are able when they are speaking. But over Zoom, when advocates stand, their audio quality drops precipitously, and they look smaller than competitors who sit directly in front of their camera. Once again, think about how “talking heads” present themselves on TV when appearing remotely. Put the camera you’re using at eye-level and sit directly in front of it. Consider your lighting and make sure your face is visible with minimal shadows. Don’t have a ceiling fan whirling overhead creating a distraction.
I don’t think that judges will discount competitors who don’t stand and take it as disrespect. For starters, in “real” Zoom court, every single person on the call is sitting. I’m aware that some competitions require standing per their rules, but if you have a choice, just sit directly in front of the camera.
3. Set the stage.
One new feature of doing mock trial on Zoom is the ability to create a stage behind you while presenting. For lawyers, a minimal, neutral background is best. Don’t use a virtual background because the lines it creates on your body can be distracting.
For witnesses in college, take the opportunity to convey information about your character using your actual background. If a witness is a cat lover, then perhaps there should be some photos of cats behind the witness. If the witness is a chemist, perhaps there’s a periodic table or some test tubes behind them. Be creative in setting your stage and you’ll be sure to score some bonus points for creating a clever and memorable character.
4. Eyes on the prize.
One common mistake that I see advocates make is that their eyes will dart around the screen while they are making an argument. This is, of course, natural. The advocate is looking at different judges and trying to make “eye contact” over Zoom. The effect on the judge, however, is that the advocate looks shifty and untrustworthy.
Advocates should practice staring directly down the lens of the camera when making arguments. As a judge, it makes the advocate appear more confident and trustworthy. One cheap hack that you can do to practice is to stick googly eyes next to your laptop camera to remember to look at the lens and not the screen.