During the time of presidential debates, NPR had a program “Secrets of Winning the Presidential Debates.” It consisted of ideas and recommendations from political advisors and those skilled in public speaking. Some of the advice include the following ideas:

  • develop a list of three items you MUST say in the debate. Have it in front of you. Use it as a checklist before each answer you give. Try to fit it into more than one answer.
  • In giving responses keep in mind that “punches” are good, but counterpunches are much better.
  • Study what your opponent has been saying in the past. It is likely that 90% of what your opponent has done or argued in the past will be repeated. Be prepared in advance.
  • In order to be seen as candid, honest and responsive begin your answers with “yes” or “no” and then explain your reason.
  • Be aware of body language. Never nod when your opponent is saying negative things about you or your position.Keep your hands apart. Avoid crossing your arms over your chest, behind your back or hands in pockets. Have an open posture towards the camera for the audience. Avoid any defensive posture.
  • When you talk about your opponent or his or her position on issues, look at the audience or the camera not at your opponent.
  • Welcome any question with a smile.

San Francisco trial lawyer Mike Kelly in a talk he gave to trial lawyers had some excellent suggestions on trial communication. Among his ideas were that every persuasive story in opening must:

  • explain the facts
  • explain the reasons for behavior
  • be told by credible witnesses
  • be supported by details
  • be consistent with common sense
  • be consistent with moral rightness

He suggested that people listen to stories because that is the chief way in which we learn, especially as children. Stories give us pleasure and create anticipation. Stories function organize information. That’s why our cases should be presented as a story.    

In 1985 David Ogilvy wrote a book Ogilvy on Advertising which became a classic encyclopedia about successful advertising. Ogilvy was the founder of the famous New York advertising  agency Ogilvy & Mather and what he has to say about successful advertising rules should be read by every trial lawyer. Here are some of the points he makes. As you read them think about your exhibits and PowerPoints, but also your spoken presentations

  • On average five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy. It follows that unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90% of your money. Headlines get five times the readership of the body type. If your headline doesn’t sell, you have wasted your money because body copy is seldom read by more than 10% of the readers
  • It pays to write short sentences and short paragraphs and to avoid difficult words. He sayx he once wrote that Dove makes soap “obsolete” only to discover that the majority housewives didn’t know what  it meant.
  • Open with fire. You only have 30 seconds. If you grab attention in the first frame with a visual surprise, you stand a better chance of holding the viewer.
  • If  the issue is complicated, and it almost always is, simplify as much as you reasonably can.
  • Present your case in terms of the readers self-interest
  • Disarm with candor.  Give both sides of the issue
  • Visuals are the message. Words are no longer the primary message giver. Now pictures tell the story.

These suggestions are not profound nor complicated, but they are effective and have been demonstrated by experience to be solid fundamental communication techniques.

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