If you've never said to your kid, "You LOOK at me when I'm talking to you!" are you even a parent?
Most parents have, at one time or another, said this to their kid. (Especially if said kid is/was a teenager.) And that's because we think it's disrespectful to not make eye contact.
When parenting, this is often true.
The problem is, it's not true across the board.
Eye contact does not equal respect. But thinking it does causes all sorts of problems.
For example, if you believe that you should always make eye contact, this will cause you to:
Here's the deal: eye contact does not equal respect, it equals engagement. Which means you need to look at whatever you want (or want jurors) to engage with.
For example, if you are using visuals during your opening statement, I assume you want jurors to look at them. If so, you need to look at them too. Telling jurors to look at your visual while you maintain eye contact confuses them. You say "look up here" but if you maintain eye contact you nonverbally communicate, "keep looking at me." If you want jurors to engage with the visual, you have to engage with it too.
When you're objected to, look at opposing counsel. This will force the jurors to look there too because people follow our eyes. (Don't believe me? Go to coffee with someone and look over their shoulder as you sit across from each other. It will be near impossible for them not to turn around to see what you're looking at.) When you look at opposing counsel, jurors will associate the objection with them ("why are you interrupting?") versus you ("did you say something wrong?")
When you need to move in the courtroom, break eye contact. It's ok, I promise! It's much weirder to sashay to where you're going than to merely break eye contact and walk normally.
You've been told that eye contact is the holy grail of connection. It isn't. It's merely one way to connect with jurors. But if you insist on making eye contact at every possible moment you not only risk totally weirding the jurors out, you miss out on opportunities to systematically use eye contact to your advantage.
Click here to listen to my podcast on eye contact.
When I first started working with lawyers, I was surprised to find that voir dire was the part of trial most lawyers dreaded.
This made no sense to me: voir dire was the one part of trial that was unscripted. It was a conversation, a "get to know you" type of deal. But I soon realized that the "unscripted" part of voir dire was the very thing that made it difficult.
So I set out to fix this problem. I developed a method to help attorneys craft a voir dire that would get jurors talking. And it helped. But there was still a problem.
You can prepare your side of the conversation, but you still have no idea how the jurors will respond.
And that's when I realized that good questions are important, yes, but they're just the start. What you really need to get good at is listening.
When you think of listening you probably think of focusing intensely on someone else (in this case, the juror) and giving them your full attention.
You might be surprised to learn that there are three types of listening.
The first type of listening is the listening I see all the time in voir dire: listening to yourself. This is where you act as though you're listening to the juror but what you're really doing is listening to your own inner chatter.
"Is this a good juror for me?"
"How do I follow up on this?"
I hardly need to point out that this is -not- the type of listening you want to be doing in voir dire.
The second type of listening is where you listen to someone else. This is what most of you have been taught to do in voir dire, but to stop here is a mistake. There's a third type of listening you need to develop.
You need to listen to your intuition. When you listen to your intuition you listen for what's not being said, what's in the room, and how the group is reacting to what individual jurors are saying. This is where every good thing in voir dire happens.
When you listen to yourself, you miss out on all the good information the juror is sharing.
When you listen intently to individual jurors, you risk boring the group.
But when you listen to both jurors and your intuition, you can shape the conversation and infuse it with meaning and purpose. You are present with the individual juror, yes, but you also have an eye on the entire group and what needs to happen next.
But here's the thing about intuition: it doesn't shout at you or slap you in the face. (At least, not most of the time.) It shows up when you get quiet and give it space to arrive. And yet most of you are afraid of silence! So when the juror stops talking you immediately jump in and crowd out the opportunity to let your intuition speak.
Stop. Slow down. Trust that what needs to be said next is just lurking under the surface. Start giving your intuition time to show up and you'll begin to master voir dire with each passing trial.
Give this podcast a listen to learn more.
You communicate nonverbally all the time.
You can't -not- communicate.
And yet I'd guess most of you have received little to no nonverbal communication training.
You cannot be a high performing trial attorney if you don't master nonverbal communication.
1. The majority of any message is nonverbal.
There are three parts to any message:
Content is what you say. Delivery is how you say it. Reception is how it was received.
Even if all three parts were weighted evenly (they aren't, nonverbal communication always speaks louder than words) 66% of any message is nonverbal. How you deliver a message is nonverbal, (body language, voice tone, breathing, and gesturing) and reading how people receive it is done nonverbally. (More on this below.)
To get your message across, you must tune into your nonverbal communication.
2. If there is a mismatch between your verbal message and your nonverbal message, the listener will believe the nonverbal message every single time.
You tell the jury you want to hear from them but then dart your eyes around the jury box. The message jurors receive? "Shut up already, I want to move on."
You tell the jury this case is very serious but then joke around with opposing counsel on breaks. The message jurors receive? "This case is a joke."
You tell the jury this case is simple but then use hundreds of PowerPoint slides and lots of jargon. The message jurors receive? "This case is complex."
Your nonverbal communication speaks louder than your words.
3. The ability to ensure good communication happens rests on your ability to read nonverbal cues.
If you haven't mastered nonverbal communication, that means you misread (or don't read at all) the nonverbal communication of whoever you're communicating with. But this is the only way to tell if what you're doing is working! Communication doesn't happen in a vacuum; you have to keep an eye on your listener to gauge whether your message is landing. You do this nonverbally.
Want to master trial? You must master nonverbal communication. There are no shortcuts. Jurors believe what you do, not what you say.
Give this podcast a listen to learn more.
I bet you've been told you need to build trust with jurors, haven't you.
Here's the problem: trust takes time. Yet, you don't have the luxury of time to get jurors to believe and trust you.
What you need is permission.
What is permission?
Permission is how receptive someone is to you or your message.
Permission is a function of three things:
You can increase permission with jurors (or anyone else) by meeting their need.
For example, what do jurors need at the start of jury selection? Information. They want to know why they're there and what they have to do. So tell them. Forget phony "rapport builders" like asking about hobbies or what jurors have read lately. Get straight to the issue and watch permission go up.
You also increase permission by doing things at the right time. Jurors need to feel empowered, yes. But telling them they're the most important people in the room at the beginning of trial nearly always fails. Why? It's the wrong time. Jurors are on the lookout for any hint of manipulation and this fits the bill. You empower jurors in closing, not when you begin.
Finally, you increase permission by meeting people's needs at the right time and in the right context.
The different parts of trial represent different contexts. The context of voir dire is to get information. The context of opening is to give information. The context of closing is to argue your side. Stay in your lane! Don't argue in opening or deliver a presentation in voir dire.
You need jurors who are receptive to you and your message. Forget about getting them to trust or like you. Instead, focus on meeting their needs at the right time and in the right context and watch permission steadily increase.
Sari has been dubbed the "Attorney Whisperer" because of her unique ability to help attorneys communicate their real selves.