MAKE YOUR POINT IN THIRTY SECONDS

In 1990 Milo Frank wrote a book How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less. I read it when it was first published. I felt then and feel now that it is an excellent source of advice about something trial lawyers need to learn – simplicity and brevity. Paraphrasing generally, Frank advises first, that the average attention span of an individual is about 30 seconds. He notes that almost all TV commercials are 30 seconds. As he says, the one hour of yesterday is the 30 seconds of today. Even the news stories of today average at most 1.5 minutes. That allows the story to be broken up into segments. 30 seconds to set up the story. 30 seconds for an interview or a video and 30 seconds to summarize it. The rule of television news is: “if you can’t say it in 30 seconds you probably can’t say it at all.” We need to learn how to deliver 30 second messages that work.

The first principle of a 30 second message is that you have to have a clear-cut objective, a purpose and a target. Dorothy and her friends had clear objectives. Dorothy wanted to get back to Kansas. The scarecrow wanted brains. The Tin man wanted a heart and the Lion wanted courage. The same principles apply to our messages in trial. The message must have one, single and clear-cut objective.

It begins with something used to get attention, called a “hook” in advertising. It may be a statement a picture or question. But it must capture interest. The subject of the message must explain, reinforce and approve the point that you want to make. Frank refers to this as “the 3K’s.” That is: Katch them, keep them, Konvince them. It involves the basic: who, what, when, where, and why of every good story. In addition, you have to ask to get it. That means a closing or a call to action. The question is: what do I want from my listener? It has to be clear and definite. Appeal to emotion and capture interest by stories.

In order for the short message to work, it has to be said in words that are clear and simple. Listeners have to be addressed at their level of understanding.

Sonja Hamlin wrote a book How to Talk so People Listen.She begins by reminding us that over 75% of all Americans get 90% of their news from television. Television stories are short and use graphics to tell stories. They immediately get to the point. The news anchors are not reading from notes. They’re looking directly at you through the camera and they talk sincerely to you. She also says that we remember approximately 85% of what we see in only 15% of what we merely hear because we are generally a visual society. Television news doesn’t talk, it basically shows. Use visuals to tell your story.

Remember that whenever you introduce a picture or visual, people will stop looking at you and will instantly look at the visual to try to understand it. By the way, she recommends that show only one piece of the visual at a time because people will always read ahead  the words on the visual rather than listen to you.

She suggests that the outline for presenting information. Is:

1. Open with the theme. What you’re going to talk about and why.
2. Tell them why they should listen and how it affects them personally
3. Tell them who you are and why they should listen to you.
4. Outline what will cover – a list of points.
5. After each segment summarize what has been covered.
6. Recap the highlights of the entire presentation and have a concluding closing.

These are admittedly very fundamental ideas which I’m sure you all already know, but my experience is that we don’t stick to the simple and the brief in our practice. Our DNA as lawyers continually pushes us to talk too much and to try to exhibit how smart we are.  While I am reluctant to give any form of approval to the man in the White House, he clearly knows how to talk with people who represent the average juror we deal with. There is nothing intellectually profound or complicated about his messages. In addition, they have two profound qualities: (1) an appeal to emotion and (2) an appeal to self interest – primarily fear for self protection. What is more Reptile than that? However, it must be done honestly and truthfully.

About Paul Luvera

Plaintiff trial lawyer for 50 years. Past President of the Inner Circle of Advocates & Washington State Trial Lawyers Association. Member American Board of Trial Advocates, American College of Trial Lawyers, International Academy, International Society of Barristers, member of the National Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame & speaker at Spence Trial College
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