Recognizing Your Limitations As An Orator (Admit It, You’re Not Cicero)

99888I’ve discussed here and here the wonderful primer on trial advocacy Lee Horton gifted to me before he retired. In his discussion on opening statements, he says this:

“In making our opening statement, don’t try to be something you are not. While it helps, you do not have to be a great orator to give an effective opening statement. Practice giving your opening statement until you can closely track your written statement with only a few strategic notes. Emphasize the key points with voice inflection and, where appropriate, by the use of an exhibit, reading a small portion of a deposition, showing a video excerpt or drawing a diagram. Most importantly, be sincere and to the point. If the jury finds you make your points and sit down, they will listen to you because they will grow to expect that the points you make will be important.”

I find this to be solid advice for two reasons. First it acknowledges a truth: that many trial lawyers are not naturally gifted speakers. We obviously come to the profession from a variety of backgrounds, some of which might have included training and/or practice in public speaking. But many of us had only minimal training and experience in persuasively presenting information to an audience of 6-12 before we passed the bar.

The good news is you don’t have to have been born with the gifts of a Cicero, a Churchill or a Kennedy to effectively try and win cases. What is important is that you present the information in a way that both engenders trust and permits the audience–the jury–to follow along.

The other reason Horton’s advice is so valuable is because it highlights how we gain trust from jurors by making only the most important points each time we speak. There’s only a limited window that most of us will pay attention and follow a lecture. Don’t squander that window of time with facts that are not crucial to winning your case. As Horton notes, if you follow this practice from the start, the jury will trust you not to waste their time and attention. Again, “they will listen to you because they will grow to expect that the points you make will be important.”

About Alex Craigie

I am an AV-Preeminent rated trial lawyer. My practice focuses on helping companies throughout Southern California resolve employment and business disputes. The words in this blog are mine alone, and do not reflect the views of the Dykema law firm or its clients. Also, these words are not intended to constitute legal advice, and reading or commenting on this blog does not create attorney-client relationship. Reach me at acraigie@dykema.com. View all posts by Alex Craigie

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