We’ve just returned from a twenty one day Four Seasons tour of some 25,000 miles of flying to to seven countries around the world. As a result, I’ve neglected this blog, but I’m back to work even if jet lagged.
Today I’d like to share some wisdom a column I read in the Boston Globe by Thomas Farragher Thomas.firstname.lastname@example.org. He wrote it complaining about long winded commencement speakers, but thought his observations were equally applicable to us as trial lawyers. He begins the call him by saying that he just attended a graduation and the commencement speaker had “told a big fat fib.” He explains that the speaker had assured everyone that he realized how eager they were to get past the speeches and celebrate their graduation but says “then he went on for hours – at least it seemed like hours – in a coma inducing speech about how really, really important it is that we get rid of fossil fuels.” He says that his mind began to wander and he had thoughts about such things as what was the matter with the Red Sox bullpen and other passing thoughts. We know that is exactly what happens when we drag our direct or cross examination out too long or are reckless about talking excessively at any point in the trial – the jurors mentally drift off. Anything that is boring or too complicated for jurors results in their struggling to pay attention, then becoming annoyed and finally just turning off mentally. Nothing is worse than telling jurors you are going to be brief and then do the opposite.
Farragher explains that later he spoke to the speechwriter who served as Pres. Obama’s chief speechwriter about whether he agreed with the golden rule of public speaking: “Be sincere. Be funny. And be seated.” He quotes the speechwriter as saying: “I think 10 minutes is the ideal. 15 minutes is okay.” The speechwriter also advised that speakers: “respect the audience. Recognize that they care more about celebrating educational achievement than listening to some duller – then – dirt policy address.” Another tip from the speechwriter was: “introduce humor, but in a way that does not seem forced or fake. I would advise trial lawyers to be cautious about humor. Have a sense of humor. Laugh at your own mistakes, but avoid making a trial seem less than important by your demeanor.
In this day and age, when the attention spans are so short, people can only absorb one or two or at the maximum three lessons. The speech should tell a story and not just in anecdotes that you use, but you should tell an overall story about one thing.” I would add that a trial is a story. One that is told over and over from jury selection to argument in a variety of ways.
The speech writer advised: “Above all think brevity.” Those of you who know me know that I am obsessive about trial lawyers being brief using simple and understandable words. My motto is short and simple with no more than three points or ideas per subject. Pres. Obama’s speech writer noted that when he conferred with the president about speeches, he would remind the speechwriter that his 2004 convention keynote speech which resulted in him ultimately being nominated and elected president was only 18 minutes long. As a result he says it was their “Rule of thumb” they always tried to follow – no more than 18 minutes.
Farrager relates that a few years ago at a commencement address the speaker walked up to the lectern and pulled out an old-fashioned alarm clock with the two small bells on the top. He promised the audience that he would be through before the bells rang at the 10 minute deadline and set the clock. He relates that the speaker’s concluding sentence ended just before the bells rang and with the crowd going wild in applause and appreciation.
Now that’s an image you should have in your head when you are speaking – the crowd going wild when you stop and sit down!
I’m always being reminded that the most important rules of communication and persuasion are always the simple ones. We should continue to learn, but never forget the fundamentals of communication or be deceived into thinking we are the oratorical exception to the basic principles.