Public speaking takes many forms, from TED talks to client presentations to teaching and beyond. I recently served on a jury, exposing me to another kind of public speaking: lawyering. A trial lawyer has to be a very good presenter. No matter how skilled he is in matters of the law, no matter how much research, preparation, and evidence gathering he does, it all comes down to a successful presentation to a judge and jury. Because juries are made up of people with a wide variety of backgrounds, age, levels of education and life experience, a lawyer must be able to communicate his client’s version of events in a persuasive and unambiguous way.
Comparing the two lawyers
I served on a civil trial that had a single plaintiff and a single defendant, so two lawyers were presenting. Their appearance was similar: both were mature men who wore good-quality suits. Both spoke well and did not stumble over their words. The difference between the two was revealed once the trial got underway.
The plaintiff’s lawyer—I’ll call him Attorney Bob—came out swinging by immediately making a connection to the New England Patriots at the start of his opening statement. Since the case was being tried in Worcester, Massachusetts (deep in Patriots Nation), he figured that would quickly grab our attention (it did). Atty. Bob asked us if we knew the Patriots’ mantra: Do Your Job. [Nodding heads, whispered “yesses”] He told us that the Pats Do Their Job every time they’re on the field because that’s what the fans expected. He then spoke of the defendant, a contractor, that didn’t Do His Job when he created a situation that put his client at risk. Atty. Bob continued painting a picture of a company whose negligence led to his client’s accident, resulting in years of pain and suffering. His speech was well paced with several effective dramatic pauses. He concluded by telling us, the jury, that we should Do Our Job by finding for the plaintiff. Textbook motivational speaking.
The lawyer for the defendant—I’ll call him Attorney Pete—had a very different style of presenting. Whereas Atty. Bob’s speech lasted about five minutes, Atty. Pete spoke for less than a minute, assuring us that his client was innocent of any wrongdoing and that it was entirely the plaintiff’s fault that he got hurt. He didn’t try to appeal to the jury in any way nor did he seek to make the same kind of connection that Atty. Bob had so successfully made.
Taking advantage of tech
In the jury box were several flatscreen monitors. Atty. Bob made extensive use of a tablet-driven courtroom app called TrialPad that allowed him to display his photographic evidence on the jury box monitors, as well as to the judge and Atty. Pete. This gave the photos an immediacy and familiarity, since the members of the jury all had experience either watching TV or working on a computer. Atty. Bob was able to zoom in on details, quickly switch back and forth among photos, and annotate images in real time.
How did Atty. Pete present his evidence? He read notes off of his yellow legal pad. No, wait, actually he did use TrialPad come to think of it. He asked Atty. Bob to go back to a photo he’d shown earlier so that he could argue his side of the story.
Brevity is the soul of wit…until it isn’t.
The majority of our time as jurors was spent listening to Atty. Bob and the answers he coaxed out of people. He clearly had rehearsed his questions with the plaintiff and their interaction was polished. He also spoke extensively with the plaintiff’s girlfriend and cross-examined a defense witness.
Oops, my mistake. He cross-examined THE defense witness. Atty. Pete had only brought one man to the courtroom to defend the actions of the company being sued. This defense witness only spoke for about 10 minutes before Atty. Pete rested his case.
In another example of Public Speaking 101, Atty. Bob during his closing remarks reminded us that we needed to Do Our Job to find for the plaintiff. He touched on all of the important facts that arose during the trial and assured us that the only possible outcome was victory for his client.
Atty. Pete briefly stated that we should find for the defendant.
Being prepared isn’t just for Boy Scouts
Overall, I was very impressed with how well Atty. Bob had prepared his case, the quality of the evidence he brought, his use of available technology and his public speaking skills. I was flabbergasted at the contrast between him and Atty. Pete, who seemed woefully outmatched and ill-equipped. The experience made me realize how important preparation and practice are to successful public speaking, no matter if you’re presenting in a conference room or winning a $400,000 settlement for your client.