When preparing for any kind of presentation, litigators-like all public speakers-must give major consideration to the audience to which they are speaking. The last thing any public speaker wants to do is lose an audience.
People get fidgety. They start thinking about what they had for dinner two weeks ago, their plans for the weekend or the spot on the floor in front of their right toe. With this loss of concentration every word coming from the speaker may be falling on deaf ears.
While in some situations this may not be a critical issue, other situations require undivided attention from the audience. While an elementary school teacher may not be particularly concerned if the students are daydreaming during a lecture on the origins of Thanksgiving, a litigator should be very concerned if he or she begins to lose the attention of the jury panel.
Being a dynamic public speaker is both an art and a science. Like most skills, practice and preparation will aid the litigator in connecting with his or her jury. Focusing on a simple three-word phrase – Sell The Story – is one way to help a jury focus on the important parts of an argument.
First, "Sell." Litigators must have passion for, and confidence in, their case. When an attorney demonstrates commitment to his or her client and the facts presented on their behalf, the jury will often follow suit. Litigators need to be sympathetic while inspiring empathy for their client. It's easy for most attorneys to be logical and calculated but often the facts alone don't translate the entire story to jurors. The conflict for some attorneys is that they are very fact based while jurors reason on an emotional level.
Second, "The." The word "the" is the most common word in the English language. It's the only definite article of the English language. In this column alone, it's already been used 26 times in 310 words. How does this help an attorney preparing to speak in front of a jury. Not only should an attorney believe what he or she is going to say, not only should it be presented in a fact-based and emotionally-balanced manner, the case should be presented as the only truth. It should be made completely clear to the jury that siding with their client is the obvious choice.
Last, "Story." Any experienced litigator can stand in front of a jury panel and present the facts of a case: Such-and-such happened to so-and-so. A storyteller can engage his or her audience in the facts of a case, delicately weaving fact with just enough emotion to keep the jurors' attention. Documents must be simple and easy to understand, witnesses need to be sympathetic and believable, and clients should be presented as benevolent and likeable. Remembering that every case should be presented as a story, a litigator needs to develop a detailed timeline of events in such a way that the jury stays involved and interested.
A careful chronology of events is a basic reference point that jurors can always come back to in order to stay grounded during the arguments of the case.
Just as a storyteller or author of fiction may bounce ideas off a third party, attorneys can use jury research to test their stories. Jury researchers have the ability to narrow in on the facts that a juror finds important. Likewise, researchers can aid the litigator by providing direction as to which facts were confusing to the panel and additional information that would have helped them deliberate the case.
With this information and the support of a litigation research team, attorneys can move from a purely fact-based presentation to a more captivating, well-planned story that will assist the jury in coming to a fair and balanced decision.
Samples is president of RMS Strategies, a communications and opinion research agency headquartered in Charleston. RMS Strategies has extensive crises communications, counseling and litigation research experience and has worked for clients throughout the nation during the last 25 years. They can be contacted at 304.343.7655 or www.rmsstrategies.com.