The importance of first impression is well known to all trial lawyers. We know that a trial is a contest or battle for impressions and not one of logic. Jurors, like all people, make up their minds on the basis of impressions they form unconsciously from their values and their emotional response, after which they ratify their decision with their intellect. You never get a second chance to make a first impression and first impressions are long lasting

It’s generally accepted that impressions are formed in a face to face meeting within the first four to six minutes. Impressions from television within the first forty five seconds and impressions on the phone within the first thirty seconds. The one hour of yesterday is now the first thirty seconds of today. News stories are usually not longer than one to one and a half minutes long. The usual formula is thirty seconds to set up the story, thirty seconds of video or interview and thirty seconds to sum up the story. Most television commercials are thirty seconds long. This short attention span accounts for newspapers like USA Today, People Magazine and television trials that are a few minutes long.

We bore easily and are turned off by long winded messages. Instead, we need to work on quality, simplicity and brevity. We should make our point early and often. Clarity, simplicity and repetition are needed for good communication.

We also need to pay attention to our unspoken communications. As a rough rule of thumb, ninety percent of our communication is nonverbal. Sixty percent is by our body language – our facial expression, how we stand and hold ourselves. Thirty percent is by our voice – our inflections and tone of voice as well as general manner of speaking. Ten percent is by the words we speak. Therefore, our dress, posture, demeanor and manner of speaking communicate far more than the words we speak. We need to be aware of the zone of privacy people have. The lawyer who begins the trial leaning over the jurors in the jury box is making a mistake. A podium between us and the jury works to our disadvantage. Eye contact is the single most important fact of our nonverbal communication.

We need to be aware of the way in which people receive information. We know that most people are visual. They prefer pictures and images as their means of understanding communication. Other people are auditory. It’s what is being spoken that counts with them. A less number of people are tactile, that is, they need to touch and feel as a means of communication. Our delivery of the message should attempt to involve all three. Passing an exhibit around is something we need to do when possible. When we speak we should employ all three preferred means of communication. For example, “I’m sure you can all see that…” would appeal to the visual communicator. “It sounds like….” appeals to the auditory communicator. “I know you can feel…would appeal to the tactile communicator.

It makes a big difference as to our method of delivery of the message. To start with we need to know what our objective is before we begin. We need a single clear cut objective. The beginning should have something that grabs attention. Use images and colorful word descriptions. Don’t overlook the proven benefit of  “show and tell” communications. Speak conversationally but with an emotional appeal to the heart. Be sincere, clear and precise. Don’t exaggerate and always keep it short as well as simple. Those are the fundamentals of good communication.


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