“A trial is a highly prepared, precise operation. A good attorney must engage a jury of ordinary people with complex data and ideas. Like a great work of theatre, all the elements must come together to create a cohesive and vivid picture in the minds of the jurors. But unlike a play, a trial may put real lives, reputations, and fortunes at stake. It is critical that impressions are managed and stories are clear.”
I welcome David Mann, The Professional Education Group, Minneapolis, MN, as our latest Law Tips faculty participant. His comments above are a part of his ICLEF seminar, “Advanced Skills of Storytelling and Persuasion for Litigators.” Mr. Mann engages attendees in the key concepts of persuasive delivery and storytelling for lawyers based on techniques drawn from the performing arts. I’ll tell you more about both David and how you can take advantage of his CLE program later in this article. Now, let’s bring the curtain up on his presentation of the keys to clarity, compassion and confidence in the courtroom. David begins by re-examining the central idea of any trial lawyer’s preparation:
Persuasion is about how they’ll hear, not what you’ll say. Though this sounds incredibly simple, it’s actually quite counter-intuitive. We tend to prepare what we say as though we’ll be speaking to ourselves – or someone who thinks like us. But that is rarely the case. In order to be persuasive it is critical to orient your words and ideas to the listener, based on whatever knowledge about them you’re able to gather or perceive.
- Responds to data
- Collects pertinent information,analyzes the information, reaches a logical, sound conclusion based on the evidence
- Responds to images
- Uses general knowledge ofhow life works, constructs a story, uses data to justify their emotional conclusion
There is a gap between these two very different thinking styles, and bridging that gap should be the primary focus of a lawyer’s communication preparation for trial. Understanding and navigating the dynamic between the logical, data-driven lawyer and the emotional, image-driven jury is key to persuasion. With this in mind, it becomes clear that the story of the case and each individual story within it must be clear, human, and engaging in order to be persuasive.
A jury sits in an unfamiliar environment (the courtroom), absorbing a tremendous amount of unfamiliar material (the case), and is asked to make a fair judgment of right or wrong. If a lawyer doesn’t take this into consideration, it becomes easy to inadvertently talk over their heads and not engage them. It’s critical that an attorney makes every effort to resonate with a jury as a credible authority whom they can trust to speak their language and guide them through this unfamiliar landscape. Managing your presentation to communicate humanness (trust and likability) as well as authority (knowledge and confidence) will be perceived by the jury as credibility long before any facts emerge.
The Myth of Natural
Though the importance of delivery is undisputed, it’s common for lawyers to spend much less time practicing it than they do preparing the rest of the case. The prevailing idea- as it is for salespeople, teachers, politicians, etc.- is that all you need to do is simply “be yourself” at the moment of truth. But that’s when things go wrong, because it becomes painfully clear that there is no such thingas a “natural” delivery under such artificial circumstances. Actors know very well how much work goes into appearing to be natural and relaxed, on cue, every time. The same truth is key to every lawyer’s success. Learning how to manage your face, body, gestures, and vocal inflections is a skill unto itself. There’s nothing natural about it at all. But with practice, a lawyer can develop a courtroom persona that “reads” as natural to juries, witnesses, and judges, and projects the authenticity they want to convey.
Perception of Meaning
Human beings perceive much more about a speaker’s intention from non-verbal cues than from the words themselves. It always important to consider this, especially when constructing openings and summations. The human face has tens of thousands of subtle combinations of eye, mouth, and brow movements that are all associated with certain intentions. Likewise, the human voice has a virtually limitless capacity for expression using combinations of tone, pace, and volume. And tiny shifts of the shoulders, arms, legs, and hands can communicate enormous amounts of meaning to a jury. Ideally this unspoken 93% is consistent with your spoken message. But pay attention. Sometimes it can dramatically undercut what you’re saying and elicit an unwanted response.
The word “subtext” is not a word that is often used outside the art of theatre. The concept, however, is present in every act of human communication. It’s the idea that there is an entirely separate message being conveyed that exists “under” the words. For lawyers, there are specific subtext messages that are desirable and others that are not. A good lawyer acts as a conduit between the case and the jury, giving a human face to the otherwise complex and static trial data. Much of this is of course is done with words, but always remember to navigate the subtext as its own communication layer, filled with persuasive possibility.
The Three Cs
For persuasive power with ordinary people – the jury – three principles must be present: Clarity, Compassion and Confidence. Without clarity, nothing else can happen; without compassion (humanness), it’s just a recitation of facts. Only once those two factors are established does it become important to project your knowledge and authority.
It’s intermission time in David Mann’s discussion of integral persuasion skills for litigators. Return to Law Tips next week when he takes you into the specifics of rhetorical delivery…. “Although it is unnecessary for a lawyer to have the vocal and physical dexterity of an actor, there are many areas where a lawyer’s persuasive power will increase by managing the two tools of rhetorical delivery: voice and body.”
About our Law Tips faculty participant:
David Mann is a speaker, trainer, and professional actor/director. He has a specialized focus on persuasive presentation for lawyers, and he is on the faculty of NITA (National Institute for Trial Advocacy) and Loyola School of Law. A professional theater artist for over two decades, David has performed or directed for many recognized theatre companies. He has written and performed five critically acclaimed one-man shows, and he is a recipient of a Bush Artist Fellowship for Storytelling. David is a graduate of Northwestern University, and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. If you have questions for David or would like to inquire about his coaching, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For speaking engagements go to the Professional Education Group at proedgroup.com.