Bimbo Banter

Commanding and Holding Attention: Insights from Voir Dire

  • Wildcard
  • July 19, 2016
  • by Maddy Madrazo

Jury sketch

Commanding and holding the attention of a large group of people is challenging under any circumstance. However, when those people are in a jury pool, getting and keeping their attention can be almost impossible.

Recently, I was one of that pool. The day began by 8:30 a.m. and after lots of time waiting and a lunch break, we finally entered the courtroom. Both the prosecution and defense had 40 minutes to present to and question the prospective jurors (cue the collective sigh and eye-roll). Though just as restless as my peers, I was interested in the way each attorney would utilize her time and was able to pick up a few key areas of improvement in each attorney’s presentation:

1. Clarity

Attorneys cannot discuss evidence during the juror selection process. On several occasions, the attorney’s scenario was so vague and their subsequent question so indirect that the judge had to step in and clarify before the audience could answer the question.

While attorneys cannot predict the types of people involved in jury selection, Spaeth teaches that the first rule of communication is to know your audience. Using legal jargon complicated their message and distracted from their purpose: open and honest communication with a diverse audience.

2. Voice Volume

After 80 minutes of hypothetical questions and answers, I was eager to be dismissed. Paying attention proved especially difficult during this presentation because the defense attorney was so hard to hear. Not only was this frustrating but also inefficient. Lots of time was wasted re-stating unheard information. This presentation was proof that while a speaker’s voice volume may seem like only a basic presentation skill, it is crucial.

3. Presentation Organization

In addition to each presentation’s heavy subject matter, there was no clear organization. Guideposts (telling listeners what you’re going to cover and what you want them to conclude) would have brought context to the presentations. Each attorney dove right into posing scenarios and asking questions without first expressing their goal. This made it difficult to decipher which of my opinions were relevant to the case.

Ending cues (alert an audience when you’re about to conclude) would also have been helpful. Peoples’ attention spans are generally short, and it would have been easier to remain attentive had the attorneys stuck to a predetermined outline and signaled progress throughout. The judge even had to tell the prosecuting attorney to wrap up when she went two minutes over her allotted time!

The two presentations made during voir dire proved the first of several I would hear from both attorneys because I was selected for the two-day trial. This combined experience showed me how important it is that an attorney master his or her presentation skills. In most cases, it is a combination of the evidence and the effectiveness of an attorney’s presentations that sways a jury and, ultimately, decides the outcome of a case. 

Presenting in front of an audience is hard. Making a high-stakes, effective presentation is even harder.

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