In 2009, after a double bird strike, which killed both engines, Captain Sullenberger made the decision to land a commercial jet with 155 people on board in the Hudson River. A few seconds before the plane hit the water, Captain Sullenberger came on the intercom and said three words which many passengers later said calmed them down immediately.
What were those three words? Perhaps they were words of comfort like, “We’ll be ok,” or “Don’t you worry.” No, the three words Captain Sullenberger said were:
“Brace for impact.”
Brace for impact? How on earth are those words comforting? They aren’t. That’s the point. It isn’t –what– Captain Sullenberger said, it’s how he said it that brought assurance to the passengers. He was in command of his breathing. He was calm. He was confident. And although the words he said were, “Brace for impact,” the message the passengers received was, “We’re in good hands.”
Leadership is communicated. You can think you’re a leader, but unless you can communicate it, no one else will see you that way. But how is leadership communicated? Through breathing.
Authenticity shows people who you are but breathing shows people how you are. If you are not breathing well, or holding your breath in court, you activate your fight or flight response. When you are in fight or flight, you are in survival mode, which means you’re looking out for yourself. No one is going to follow someone who is only looking out for themselves! Breathing well in court communicates, “I’ve got this,” and shows jurors that you are a safe, steady presence and someone worthy of following.
If you want to show up as a leader in court, get your breathing under control. The jury wants to know you’ve got the knowledge, experience, and skill to handle the stress of trial. You communicate all of these things through breathing. But you also communicate that jurors are safe with you. Breathe deeply, and often, and you’ll start to see your leadership grow in court.
noun. a person who advocates an opposing or unpopular cause for the sake of argument or to expose it to a thorough examination.
Are you using the devil's advocate question in voir dire? No? Well pull up a chair, 'cause you're gonna want this in your repertoire.
I've been playing with the devil's advocate question for several years now and have found it to be an absolute must in my voir dire arsenal.
Here is the basic gist:
A devil's advocate question is where you ask the jurors a question that exposes a defense argument.
For example, say you have an overserving case. A bar overserved a customer, that customer drove drunk, and someone was killed.
The defense may say things like:
"We didn't force him to drink."
"He wasn't obviously intoxicated."
A devil's advocate question then would sound like this:
"Yeah, but, what about personal responsibility? No one poured the drinks down his throat."
"But could the bar really do anything? He didn't seem intoxicated."
You take a defense argument and turn it into a question.
But, you have to be careful. For example, NEVER use a devil's advocate question until you've rallied the jurors to your side.
For example, you wouldn't say:
"This is an overserving case. Which means a bar overserved a customer, and that customer drove drunk and killed someone. Who here thinks the bar couldn't do anything if he didn't seem intoxicated?"
Aack! No. You might as well pack up and go home with that question.
Instead, you want to ask the jurors if they think bars can play a part in preventing drunk driving. You want to ask why that's important. You want ask the jurors if bars should be held responsible when someone they overserved hurts or kills someone else.
And, depending on how they answer (ie, if they are "with" you) you can THEN play devil's advocate with:
"Yeah, but, what about personal responsibility? No one poured the drinks down his throat."
Here's why this works: once someone communicates an opinion, if you challenge that opinion it strengthens their conviction that they're right.
Social science backs me up on this. See this article and this one and this one.
The devil's advocate question allows you to both a) bring up a defense point and b) strengthen the opinions of favorable jurors all in one.
Just make sure you only use the Devil's Advocate Question if the jury is firmly rallied around your idea or the question can backfire.
Click here to listen to my podcast on the Devil's Advocate Question.
I know it seems like you are doing an endless number of things both before trial and during.
But when it comes to communication, you're really only doing three things.
Teaching, storytelling and dealing with resistance.
Teaching is where you impart information. You teach throughout trial. For example, if your case involves angiograms, you begin your teaching in voir dire by asking jurors about their familiarity with specific medical terms in your case.
"Who here has any familiarity with angiograms?"
"Was your father's angiogram that you just mentioned diagnostic (performed to diagnose a problem) or interventional (performed to fix a medical issue)?" Etc.
You teach in opening when you tell the jury what angiograms are and how they're used.
"An angiogram is where the doctor punctures the femoral artery..."
"There are two types of angiograms. Diagnostic and interventional. Diagnostic angiograms are performed when..." Etc.
But you also teach in closing when you show the jury how to fill out the verdict form and clarify what the legal terms mean.
And during trial? Your expert witnesses teach on the stand.
You begin storytelling in voir dire by listening to the juror's stories and experiences. You continue storytelling by telling two stories in opening: the story of how the defendant caused the harm, and the story of the effect of that harm on the plaintiff.
But you also tell a story in closing; the story of the plaintiff, projected into the future, where they received no help from the jury.
And during trial? Your lay witnesses tell stories on the stand.
Deal with Resistance
You deal with resistance in voir dire by discussing the very things that are detrimental to your case.
You deal with resistance in opening when you undermine the defense arguments. And in closing you deal with resistance when you teach the jury how to deal with resistance from fellow jurors in the verdict room.
And in trial? You deal with resistance when you conduct your cross exam of the defense's witnesses.
Why is This Important?
It's important to understand the three things you're doing at trial for two main reasons:
First, it helps simplify things. If you know you're teaching, storytelling or dealing with resistance, you can organize your content that way so that it all comes together at the various points at trial.
Second, it informs what body language you should use. Teaching requires you adhere to presentation rules: proper stance, gestures, visuals, etc. When you're storytelling, however, you throw those rules out. Now you can and should "act." Bring the characters to life.
And when you deal with resistance? Adopt the same tone of voice jurors might use should they vocalize their thoughts out loud. "Shouldn't he have told someone?" they might be thinking in a sex abuse case. So say it, just like they'd think it, with proper inflection. This creates a connection between you and the jurors.
Trial can be overwhelming. Simplify your communication by focusing on these three things.
If you've conducted a voir dire that gets jurors interested in the principles in your case, then your jury should be eagerly anticipating your opening to learn more.
Don't blow this chance to inform and inspire jurors by making these three mistakes:
Too Long. Most opening statements are too long.
When your opening is too long, jurors get bored. Opening should be a preview of the evidence and jurors should be left wanting more after you're done. In addition, you want to "hum the tune" of your trial theme in opening so that as the other players (witnesses) sing that tune throughout trial (badly, and often out of tune), jurors remember the original. When you're opening is too long, jurors forget the original song and you start to lose them.
Too Complex. Most opening statements are too complex.
When your opening is too complex, jurors get confused. Names, dates, medical terms the jurors don't understand, stories out of order, tons of visuals...all of these things add to a juror's confusion. When jurors get confused, they go inside to try and figure it out, which means they stop listening to you. If they do figure it out, they'll miss the last few minutes of content you delivered, and if they don't figure it out, they feel stupid.
Too Legal. Most opening statements are too legal.
When your opening is too legal, jurors don't care. And I'm not just talking about legalese either. I'm talking about words like "vehicle" instead of "car." Or "collision" instead of "crash." When you use this type of language no matter how "off code" you're trying to be, you clearly communicate to jurors, "I am a lawyer."
Instead, create an opening that is short, simple and sane.
Short. Condense your opening as much as possible. Short openings communicate, "this is a very simple case that can be decided easily." If you need a 2-hour opening, fine, but really make sure that's the case first.
Simple. Clarify terms for jurors. Remove names and dates. Use the lowest number of visuals you can get away with. Make it easy on jurors to follow along.
Sane. Clean up your language. Use "car," "crash" and other non-lawyer words. Talk like jurors talk.
When you make your opening short, simple and sane, you communicate to the jurors that you have confidence in your case. Half of what you throw into your opening you don't need. So ditch it. Jurors don't commit to content; they commit to people. So make sure your content isn't getting in the way of your connection to jurors.
Give this podcast a listen to learn more.
Have you ever been told you need to, "Own the space?"
What does that actually mean?
Let's first discuss what we mean by "space." We tend to think of space as what is contained within the four walls we're communicating in. But space is not contained by walls. You can enlarge or shrink the space, affecting how it feels to others.
By bringing awareness to it.
Have you ever gone out to eat with someone and felt as though they weren't "there?" One of two things are possible in that scenario: they are either in their head, shrinking the space so small that you feel left out, or they have taken in the entire restaurant into their awareness making you feel lost in it.
How you think about space affects how it feels.
Most presenters, when standing in front of an audience, are in their heads, and it shows. When you're thinking about your content or nervous about what you're about to say, you appear small and constricted to others.
However, when you expand your sense of space, bringing in the entire room and its occupants, and maybe even the hallway outside or the entire building, you expand. You appear large and in charge to others.
But you not only have to increase your awareness of space, you have to move as though you belong there.
That means no side-stepping, no backing up, and no sashaying. (But do send video if you do this.) Just turn and walk normally. Use big gestures and pausing. This communicates to jurors, "I belong here. This is my space. Welcome."
And THAT is what it means to "own the space." Even if you are, however briefly, borrowing it from the judge. ;)
To learn more, give this podcast a listen.
Only seven, you ask?
I know you aren't trying to annoy jurors, (at least I hope not) but there are certain things that you may be doing that are out of your awareness. Let's look at what they are.
#1: Using the hobby question. You want to "warm jurors up." I get it. But asking about hobbies makes light of the situation. No juror wakes up to a jury summons in the mail and thinks, "Ooh goodie! I can't wait to go have a relationship with Mr. or Ms. Attorney!" Avoid this question, at least at the beginning. Jurors are hungry for information, so give it to them.
#2: Telling jurors how important they are. Look, jurors are important, but they sure don't feel important. They've been forced to come to court, shoved in a room and told to wait, corralled into the courtroom and told where to sit, and branded with a plastic sticker that reads: JUROR, telling other people to avoid them! Is it any wonder they roll their eyes when you stand up in front of them and tell them how important they are? Instead, show them. Listen to them. Which brings us to #3...
#3: Not listening. You tell jurors how important they are and that you want to hear from them, then as they speak you dart your eyes around the box, look at your watch or cut them off. Huh? Stop it. Listen to jurors. Intently and with focus. This is what shows them how important they are.
#4: Gimmicks. It's so tempting to try a gimmick you picked up at a seminar, but I implore you to reconsider. Jurors are on high alert for manipulation of any kind. Drop the gimmicks and back away slowly. You don't need them! You just need to show up authentically and let the jury see who you really are. That's it.
#5: Rewording what jurors say. In an attempt to practice "reflective listening" many of you, instead of repeating back what jurors say, reword what they said. This feels manipulative to jurors. If you want to clarify an answer, ask questions instead of rewording.
#6: Making jurors feel stupid. You inadvertently make jurors feel stupid in two ways: 1) you use terms the juror doesn't understand and 2) you ask "should" questions. Should questions are questions like, "What should the doctor have done?" If a juror doesn't know, uh oh. Instead use, "What were your expectations of the doctor?" And of course, always clarify terms before throwing them around so jurors can easily follow the discussion.
#7: Dumb explanations of bias or the jury selection process. Please avoid talking to jurors like they're in 3rd grade and don't understand bias. Instead, tell them about the principles in the case and discuss those principles. That's where you'll find bias, not by lecturing about it ahead of time.
You don't need to do any of the things above to win the hearts and minds of jurors. You just need you. Really.
Give this podcast a listen to learn more.
Last week we discussed the first thing you can read: permission.
Today let's look at the second thing you can read: what mode jurors are in.
Every single communication situation tends to fall into one of two buckets: Issue & Relationship.
You're either tending to the relationship or dealing with an issue when conversing with someone.
Likewise, people tend to be in issue or relationship mode, depending on the circumstance. You can read this nonverbally.
Issue-oriented communication looks like this:
Relationship-oriented communication looks like this:
We like the relationship-oriented jurors, don't we? They smile and nod and make us feel good. But the issue-oriented jurors are scary, aren't they? They stare and cross their arms and make us feel bad.
Stop making up stories.
Issue-oriented jurors are interested in logistics. "What's this about? Is it worth my time?" It doesn't mean they disagree with you.
Relationship-oriented jurors are simply being polite by nodding and smiling. It doesn't mean they agree with you.
Here is what this body language actually means:
Issue-oriented jurors are motivated by facts, evidence and logic.
Relationship oriented jurors are motivated by emotion, stories and the human element.
This means that if you have a primarily relationship-oriented jury, you need to use more relationship-oriented body language and tell more stories and use more emotion.
Conversely, if you have a primarily issue-oriented jury, use more issue-oriented body language and focus on facts and logic.
Stop trying to memorize hundreds of nonverbal cues and just focus on reading permission and what mode your jurors are in. This will allow you to focus on the job at hand instead of being distracted by irrelevant details.
How much thought have you given to body language?
If you're like most people, not much.
And yet how you nonverbally communicate has the power to change everything.
If you want to change your results, you must change your body language.
Body language includes many things: what you do with your face, how you stand, how you gesture, what your voice sounds like, etc., but the easiest way to think about it is to separate the various nonverbal communication skills into four areas:
Today let's discuss body and voice.
Great communicators are highly skilled, but it's not just skill that makes them great. It's timing.
Great communicators know what skill to use when.
For example, there are two basic nonverbal types I teach: authoritative communication and approachable communication.
In nearly every communication situation you are either sending information or seeking it.
For example, if you get a Starbuck's coffee every day, you most likely say, "Tall, soy, light-foam latte," when you get to the cashier. (At least that's what I say.)
But if you miss your turn and end up in a Dutch Brother's parking lot, you might ask, "Do you guys serve soy lattes here?"
To be purposeful, use authoritative communication when sending information:
Additionally, use approachable communication when seeking information:
Want jurors to talk to you? BE APPROACHABLE. Want to communicate you're the leader? BE AUTHORITATIVE.
Using the right nonverbal communication at the right time has the power to change your results.
Give this podcast a listen to learn more.
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.
Verbal information is the most difficult information to get across. Because verbal information is difficult to process, audiences tend to tune out things they don’t understand or have trouble following.
The answer, then, is to create hundreds of PowerPoint slides, right?
No. No no no.
Last year I had an attorney come through my opening statement class. A few weeks before the start of the class, he sent me a 150-slide slide deck.
That’s when I knew we were in trouble.
After he presented his opening to the jury, one juror said, “I thought you were very credible.” The attorney responded, “Thank you!” But the juror continued, “until you started with all the PowerPoints. That’s when you lost all credibility with me.”
When you use hundreds of PowerPoints, what message do you send jurors? This case is really complex. It’s so complex, in fact, it’s going to take HUNDREDS of PowerPoints for me to explain it to you. This is not the message you want to send to jurors.
SO complex = TOO complex = Defense Verdict.
In addition, using tons of PowerPoints interferes with your ability to connect with jurors. Jurors can only look at one thing at a time; you or something else. If you’re constantly using PowerPoints, that means jurors must look at the PowerPoints, not you. You’re missing out on real connection with jurors when you use an insane number of PowerPoints.
I'm not saying never use PowerPoints. What I am saying is every single visual you use should support your presentation, not detract from it. You may think that PowerPoints reduce information overload, but they often do the opposite.
YOU are the main attraction in opening. Focus on telling a good story with excellent nonverbal communication. Use visual information to deepen a juror’s understanding, not as a substitute for teaching from you.
We’ve been looking at what limiting beliefs are holding you back. Today we’re looking at the limiting belief: My Stories Are True.
Years ago, I was working with a trial attorney in my office. After several attempts to get him to open up his body language, he still remained closed.
Frustrated, I finally blurted out, “Ok, what’s the story?”
And out tumbled a story about how he’s afraid he’ll say or do something that will turn the jurors against him and how this fear had been eating him alive.
When our communication is “off” there’s always a story behind it.
Body language starts in the brain. What we think gets communicated through our nonverbals.
This is dangerous.
Walk into the break room and see two people abruptly stop talking and you make up a story that they were talking about you.
See a juror frown and you make up a story that they don’t believe you and your version of events.
Your spouse is late coming home from work and you make up a story that they’ve been in an accident.
All of these stories have consequences because we communicate based on our stories.
Think your colleagues are talking behind your back? You’ll start avoiding them and acting strangely when they’re around.
Think a juror is against you during trial? You’ll start getting nervous about trying new things and play it safe.
Think your spouse has been in an accident? You’ll increase your stress and may lash out at your child.
It’s nearly impossible to stop making up stories because the brain is wired to make sense of our experiences. So instead, ask yourself, “Does this story serve me?”
If your story causes you stress, worry or anxiety, it doesn’t serve you. So ditch it. Tell yourself a new story.
Maybe your colleagues were sharing a personal story and were embarrassed if others heard.
Maybe the juror has a stomach ache.
Maybe your spouse got stopped by his or her boss on the way out of the office and didn’t have time to text you before getting in the car to drive home.
Are these stories true? It doesn’t matter. The point is, they serve you and your mindset. If you end up getting more information that gives you a clearer picture, great! Reframe your story. But until then, pick a story that serves you.
Here’s a podcast you might enjoy.
His hands shook violently. So violently that the notes he held only served to illustrate the shaking to the jury. His voice cracked as he spoke. I had put him third; my thought was that seeing two other lawyers present to the jury before him might help him relax. But no, he was as nervous as ever. I tried to read his body language so I could give him feedback later; was he in approachable or authoritative stance? His knees were practically buckling; it was impossible to tell. His “stance” was an attempt to not fall over.
This past weekend was our Opening Statement Studio. Six lawyers from all over the United States came to Portland to work with me for four days on increasing their presence, nonverbal intelligence and presentation skills. We worked on storytelling, teaching and how to deal with objections while playing with breathing and body language and a host of other skills.
After a day and a half of prep, the lawyers arrived Saturday morning to face two mock juries. Each attorney had 20 minutes to present his or her opening and then 10 minutes to hear from the jury and get my feedback. The entire thing would be videotaped.
As I watched this attorney present his opening, I worried about whether or not he’d make it through. But as he began telling the story of what happened to his client, things began to shift. Still nervous as hell, he used a single chair to illustrate to the jury the scene where this all happened. He became, before our very eyes, the characters in those chairs and told the story of how a woman’s life was cut short by a negligent doctor. At one point he ran to the door and shouted, “Call an ambulance!” and it was as if we were there on the day it happened. The jury held their breath as they watched him demonstrate a husband performing CPR on his own wife.
As he brought his opening to a close, his hands were still shaking. The jury, however, was now in tears. I, too, had to fight the urge to allow the tears that had just welled up in my eyes tumble down my cheeks.
Once the jury finished their written feedback, I asked them: “Did you notice that the attorney was nervous?” They all nodded. I then asked, “Who here thinks that this attorney is less credible because he was nervous?” Not a single hand was raised. In fact, as the jury began giving their verbal feedback to the attorney they spoke about his incredible storytelling skills, his ability to make the characters come to life, and how after a 20 minute opening in a complex medical-malpractice case they were ready and willing to award him any amount he asked. His nervousness wasn’t even a factor.
1. The attorney didn’t let the nervousness distract him. He didn’t try to shove it down, but he didn’t let it distract him from the job at hand either. And if it wasn’t distracting to him, it wasn’t distracting to the jury. He taught the jury to ignore it, and they did.
2. The nervousness made him real. Jurors are on high alert for any type of manipulation; had this attorney told this story with perfect poise and perfection, I guarantee you that the jury would have viewed it as a “manipulation” and dismissed it out of hand. Because the attorney was visibly nervous the jury found him more credible, not less.
3. The nervousness made him human. We’ve all been nervous at some point in our lives, whether that was when we asked our boss for a promotion or at our 5th grade piano recital. Nervousness is a human condition. When this attorney embraced his nervousness and presented his opening anyway, he communicated to the jury “I’m just like you.” And they loved him for it.
Nervousness only becomes a credibility issue when we let it distract us from the job we’re attempting to do. Instead of dreading it, embrace your nervousness! Being nervous communicates that whatever you’re attempting to do means something. Forging ahead says to your audience “not only does this mean something to me, it means so much that I’m willing to talk about it even if it makes my knees buckle.”
That takes courage.
Taking courageous action increases your credibility. So the next time you’re literally “shaking in your boots” I suggest you see it as a good thing. Take a deep breath, hold your head high, and let your passion for your subject come through.
Sari de la Motte is the CEO and founder of FORTE, a communications consulting firm that specializes in helping attorneys communicate their real selves. Are you working on a case and need help? Schedule a free 30 minute consultation with Sari now!
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