For many years jury consultants Starr & Associates, http://starrandassociates.net/ published Insights a newsletter with information about communication with jurors. I saved an article from 1991 entitled: “television has changed the way jurors learn.” The points that were made then are still valid today.
The article pointed out that jurors learn the great majority of their information from TV. Roughly 80% of all Americans get 90% of their information from television. The problem is that communication in the court room and communication through television are vastly different and in fact in some cases conflicting. The differences are illustrated by the examples of trials on television where the examination of the witness is two or three minutes long and final argument is about the same length. A very different situation from the courtroom where there are long delays without anything happening involving the jurors and the information is lengthy, complex and boring.
The article says: “television has four primary axioms of communication: brevity, simplicity, entertainment and visualization. An attorney who applies these axioms to the court room will be a more effective teacher and thus more persuasive.” It goes on to discuss these.
Brevity: Most news stories last no longer than 25 seconds without interruption and the news broadcast itself is interrupted every 7 to 9 minutes with a commercial break. This rhythm changes the attention span of the TV watcher. As noted in the article by contrast the Lincoln – Douglas debates lasted, on average, seven hours per debate. Lawyers like Clarence Darrow would argue for as much as eight or more hours to a jury. Today’s jurors do not tolerate repetition and boredom on the part of the lawyer and reflect this by turning off as well as by adverse verdicts against the offender.
Simplicity: Complex issues and big words result in a perplexed receiver of the information. If it happens on television they change the stations. In the courtroom they simply stop listening and begin thinking about other things. Furthermore almost everything on television is already reduced to its most basic form without argument or the need to think about it. Television results in people who don’t want to explore issues in depth. They want the bottom line and they wanted simply as well as briefly.
Entertainment: When a program is dull on television people stop watching and change channels. They expect entertainment. The television journalist looks for compelling story lines and visuals that are entertaining and captivating. Networks are aware of pace and tempo as well as action and suspense. The presentation needs to be entertaining if you want the jurors to listen.
Visualization: Television has taught the viewer to expect proof and not have to take anyone’s word for it. They want pictures and they want document proof. That’s what they get on television and they expect it in court. That’s why documents, visuals and compelling witnesses are so critical.
The publication also notes that their findings on survey which showed that as jurors people have certain expectations about how to establish facts in a lawsuit. It turns out that they want it in “black-and-white.” For example, 94% expected proof to be by documents and eye witnesses. 79% expected the proof to be by pictures or hard evidence.
Let’s consider some of the other basics of communication. We know that communication is not what we say, but rather what is heard. President Franklin Roosevelt sent ambassador Winant to meet with Russia’s Molotov during World War II. In presenting Roosevelt’s message he opened with a few words of his own. He said he was going to “talk turkey on this issue.” Molotov interrupted with: “Turkey? What does Turkey have to do with the Baltic states?” The ambassador tried to explain patiently that “talking turkey” was merely an American expression meaning to talk seriously, but the suspicious Molotov could not or would not understand, and the meeting ended without any useful discussion of the presidents message. The ambassador never regained Roosevelt’s confidence after that. Communication is not what is said, it is what is heard. We need to employ the most fundamental principle of advocacy which is simplicity and clarity and brevity.
The use of metaphors or analogies is often a persuasive communication tool. In a trial which was then America’s longest civil trial, the issue involved whether or not dioxin which had spilled from a railroad car in Belleville Illinois was the cause of injury to people in the nearby town. Closing arguments took 6 1/2 days. The plaintiffs asked for $35 million in actual damages and 100 million in punitive damages.
The defense was simple and brief: there was not enough dioxin to hurt anyone and no one was really hurt. The defense used this as their key point about this issue during argument by saying: “ladies and gentlemen of the jury, if you had one ticket and sat in one seat in Bush Stadium that is one part per 50,000. So, what is one part per trillion? Well, one part per trillion would be if you had one seat in 20 million Bush stadiums. That’s one part per trillion.”
There was a defense verdict. When jurors were interviewed afterwards they said the one thing they remembered from the arguments was the comparison involving the baseball stadium that proved to us there wasn’t enough dioxin to hurt anyone. Analogies and metaphors are powerful.
To remind me of these communication principles I prepared a one page sheet which I kept in front of me during trial. There is an example following, but I would also add to this sheet three principles or themes I wanted to emphasize throughout the trial. Striving to put on another single letter size sheet all of the themes, defenses and issues in your case is a great way to force you to see the case as a big picture and simplify the issues.
1. Be Calm – Stay calm & confident
2. Be Slow – Pace & timing: “One thought per juror”
3. Be Nice – Always professionally
David’s advice to Solomon:
“Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged” Chron 28:20
- 1. Be Calm – Stay calm & confident
- 2. Be Slow – Pace & timing: “One thought per juror”
- 3. Be Nice – Always professionally
STAND STRAIGHT SLOW DOWN SMILE