Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Writing-Speaking Connection


When I first began working with a young lawyer on her opening statement, I observed a strong correlation between her speaking and writing. When she spoke, she used too many words. She weaved and bobbed her way around getting to the point and as a result never made a clear statement. A closer examination of her writing showed the same messiness. In my experience, comparing how written and oral expression match up is the easiest way for a client to quickly see the problem and embrace an easy remedy.

Editing is problematic, so by way of explanation I usually give my speech on the grade school teacher who whips (grades) her way through a stack of papers with red pen in hand. All too often the paper is returned to the student with a grade of 75 or lower, the written thoughts crumpled beneath red ink. Even worse, with edits made, the grade stands!

Shame on them for using a red sledge hammer and turning untold millions away from viewing writing as a discipline—an art and craft to be nurtured. Editing is crucial to making words work, and the process should be understood and welcomed as an exercise worth doing.

Why is editing important in creating a persuasive opening statement? The jury has the extremely difficult task of hearing and remembering the plot as it unfolds. The opening statement can be brief, but it must be laid out logically and be easy to follow (The normal attention span ranges between 5 and 20 seconds.), understand and remember. It should be clear and persuasive, and it should encompass what the attorney believes he can prove via testimony and evidence.

In these crucial first minutes you are speaking in order to gain the jury’s confidence and establish your likeability factor. The latter should not be taken lightly, as it may have been a significant aspect in the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial.

Begin by writing out what you want to say as well as what you want the jury to understand and remember. Now go back and edit your words. Are they simple, easy to hear and memorable? If so, it's time for the first step: getting on your feet and beginning to practice. How you look, move and use gestures are also very important, but more about that later when we discuss non-verbal communication and invisible punctuation.

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