Law Tips: A Professional’s Advice on Clarity, Compassion & Confidence in the Courtroom, Part 2: Managing Your Voice

Juries listen to ideas, not individual words…The human connection happens between the words, so respect that with your phrasing…

I’m pleased to have David Mann, our storytelling for litigators coach, returning to Law Tips with more advice on the three principles of persuasive power: clarity, compassion and confidence. If you’d like to reread last week’s tips on effective communication with the jury, you’ll find that article at the bottom of this page.

During Mr. Mann’s training he advises: “There are many areas where a lawyer’s persuasive power will increase by managing the two tools of rhetorical delivery: voice and body.” Could you use a brush up on vocal communication? David offers these pointers:

Voice is the actor’s primary expressive tool. Study of vocal technique for actors can take many years, but the three essential ingredients are very simple:

  • TONE- the pitch and emotional quality of the voice
  • PACE- the rate of speech and the use of silence
  • VOLUME- the energy of the voice

Use natural phrasing. Juries listen to ideas, not individual words. So make sure to speak in clusters of thought and place your pauses naturally between the ideas. Pauses can be used for effect, but only very sparingly. People catch on to that technique quickly and can become numb to it. The jury needs to get the sense that you are communicating a series of concepts that add up to a story. Unnatural phrasing can have a negative impact, cause confusion, and cost you valuable relationship currency with the jury.

Emphasize antithesis. Facts, of course, become much clearer when contrasted with opposing facts. Simply stating that contrast isn’t enough, however- it has to be emphasized with your voice. In order to make a lasting impression on the jury, it’s important to paint the picture with your inflection: “right” and “wrong” must sound different. “Mrs. Smith” and “that corporation” must have two distinct inflections that communicate your subtext.

Slow down and let the words live.The human connection happens between the words, so respect that with your phrasing. When used sparingly, pauses can be a chance to build a sense of trust between you and the jury. Speaking slowly and confidently gives the jury a chance to process what you’re saying as you say it. Of course there’s a limit- speaking too slow isn’t good either. So think of your rate of speech in walking terms as a stroll- not a jog and not a crawl. Maintain energy to end of line.

Question like you mean it.Very easy to forget, especially after rehearsing for a long time. Questions (especially questions you already know the answer to) can become rote and disengaged. But remembering to question in an interested tone can make an enormous difference in the answer. Witnesses need to be encouraged to elaborate (if that’s what you want), so question like you truly care about the answer. It can create a conversation out of what would otherwise be an interrogation.

Eliminate verbal filler. Cluttering your speech with “OK, and … “ or “you know” or “like” or a lot of “um, ah, er” will only make it look like you don’t trust yourself, which makes it virtually impossible for the jury to trust you. This is why it’s vital that you know your words cold and practice your material. By the time you’re in the courtroom, it’s too late to tell yourself to stop adding filler.

Practice out loud. There is no substitute for this. You can feel confident and think confidently, but unless you practice it you’ll never appear confident to a jury. You can know what you’re going to say and have it written out very clearly, but speaking it in a large room under intense scrutiny is a very different matter. In preparing for a trial, your voice needs as much practice as your mind. Only making a cursory effort at practice (doing it quickly in a whisper, paraphrasing to save time, rehearsing “in your head” but not out loud) will result in you giving the impression that you’re not prepared or confident- even if you are.

Avoid the Clarity Killers. There are a few tonal habits speakers adopt accidentally, and they can have a negative impact on how you are perceived. “The Chop” is the habit of turning a normal sentence into a series of short statements. It’s usually intended to sound dramatic and important (think political stump speech) but it only serves to confuse the listener. “The Nose Dive” is the habit of beginning each sentence with energy and letting it dissipate to a whisper by the end. The next sentence has exactly the same downward-inflected sound, and eventually the listener gets put to sleep. “Question Speak” is the habit of upward-inflecting every few words as if to say “know what I mean?” It’s a pattern associated with teenagers, and if it accidentally creeps into a lawyer’s speech it will instantly diminish credibility.

I thank David Mann for providing his tested insights into the value of honing verbal skills. Fortunately, there’s more of his expertise to come. Have you been thinking of people you know who capture the courtroom or notable speeches in history that illustrate David’s points above? You’ll want to check back in with Law Tips next week for his examples of successful rhetoric techniques used over time by great orators.


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 For speaking engagements go to the Professional Education Group at


ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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