The Advantage Blog

Attorneys Need to Keep it Interesting to Keep Jurors Awake

February 8, 2013 | By | ,

One of the first bits of advice I always gave novice speakers when I taught public speaking courses was that you need to keep your audience interested in what you are saying.  It is important to have good evidence in your speech through supporting material like facts, statistics, and expert testimony, but it is just as important to bolster your speech with what are called “interest supports,” such as examples, analogies and visual aids.

The advice I gave to beginning orators is similar to what I now tell attorneys when preparing opening and closing statements for trial.  A recent article (Judge admonishes lawyers to be more interesting) reminded me of the importance of this advice. A federal judge in Kansas City admonished the attorneys in his case for speaking for too long and boring the jurors. It is certainly one solution to simply give shorter presentations – good word economy is also a key tenet of good public speaking.  But even short speeches can be boring if they don’t include interesting content and style.

Capturing and maintaining a jury’s attention can be accomplished in different ways.  It can be as simple as making abstract concepts more concrete through vivid and interesting examples and stories.  The more an audience member can visualize the concepts being addressed, the more the concepts will hold their attention.  A little bit of humor will entertain people, as long as it is appropriate for the issues at hand.  Personalizing the issue can make a speech interesting and the speaker likable.  Emphasizing certain key points with visual and verbal techniques helps improve both interest and recall.

The effective use of visual aids can be the strongest weapon in your arsenal.  We are past the point where well-made electronic visuals are viewed as “flashy.” Jurors expect this kind of technology as they are exposed to it constantly in their everyday lives.  The effective use of visual tools such as Prezi, SketchUp, and visually compelling PowerPoint slides not only keep your jurors interested, it also helps them better understand and remember your arguments. Research shows that ideas and information are best understood and most clearly remembered when received through a combination of sight and sound.

A juror that is sleeping or tuned out to your presentation is not going to be persuaded by seemingly incontrovertible facts or testimony.  Keeping your audience interested is a necessary step to effective persuasion, as well as avoiding a lecture from a testy judge.

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