Effective trial lawyers know that to “connect” with the jury and win their case, they need to do much more than simply stand behind the lectern and recite the facts and law. To get the results they want, exceptional trial attorneys script out on paper or in their mind different “anchor” spots in the courtroom they will be walking to and using during different moments of the trial (podcast version)
Why do they do this? Because they understand and appreciate the fact that communication is much more than just standing up and stating your message. In fact, they know that a majority of what they communicate is shared not by what they say, but by what they do. This includes how and where you walk and stand during the course of the trial.
In my last wrongful death jury trial, the lectern was positioned behind counsel table. If you were facing the jury, it was all the way to your left past the end of the jury box. The witness stand was all the way over to your right about 7 feet past the last juror.
During trial, I spent a great deal of time moving from behind the lectern on the far left, and walking back and forth past the jury and witness stand on the far right. During opening statements and closing arguments, I’d spend a few minutes behind the lectern and then walk back and forth in front of the jury moving from one exhibit to another while stopping in between items to face the jury, connect using my eyes and body language, and then make my point.
During the direct and cross examination of witnesses, I’d usually start asking my questions while standing behind the lectern and then walk over and stand next to exhibits I was inquiring about. Sometimes I’d purposefully simply move to a spot just a couple of feet away from the lectern over closer to the jury so that nothing was standing in the way between us.
Not all trial lawyers do this. Sometimes the judge forces the lawyers to stand behind the lectern when addressing the jury or witnesses. However, in courtrooms where a trial judge does allow for counsel to move around, many lawyers will still spend about 90% of their time parked behind the lectern.
Why do they do this? Well, I think lawyers sometimes do this subconsciously because it gives them something to put their notes on. For other lawyers, I think they feel the lectern serves as a bit of a safety barrier between the lawyer and jury. For other reasons altogether, other lawyers just refuse to move and that’s a big mistake whether they realize if or not.
Why are Anchors so Important?
Truth be told, my movement in the courtroom is by design. It’s not always choreographed down to the last step but I generally have a pretty good idea what I’m going to do after I’ve had a chance to check out the venue.
When you’re making a presentation either in court or on stage before a large audience, you should use the full range of your venue to make your point and impact your audience.
Why is this so important? Well, first of all, movement keeps things interesting. Standing still and hiding behind a lectern, desk or table just increases the chances of things getting boring. If you give a presentation before a group of people in the office or, from a large stage in an auditorium or conference, simply standing in one spot and failing to use the provided floor space is a missed opportunity.
When I’m in trial and talking about an exhibit or piece of evidence, I’ll usually start talking (giving my opening or asking a witness questions) while slowly walking over to the item and then standing next to it. If appropriate, I’ll pick the item up and sometimes, even hand the item to the witness or even the jury to touch and feel while I continue with my dialog.
It’s a synergistic process of standing up from the counsel table, talking and walking. Do it right and it flows. Do it wrong and it looks fake and does not work.
If I have a witness on the stand, I’ll intentionally ask him or her to walk over to the exhibit (maybe it’s a large blown up picture or whiteboard) and using a pointer, use the exhibit to help both of us explain the point he is making. Sure, I could have simply had the witness do the same thing from the witness stand using a laser pointer but, by physically including the witness into the conversation, the entire interaction becomes more dynamic and memorable.
Establish Two Anchor Spots
Now here’s a little secret that works really well. While your walking around in the courtroom, conference room or stage, plan ahead of time to designate in your mind, a spot to stand when delivering positive information “anchor spot #1” (good facts or strong points) and a spot to stand when delivering negative information “anchor spot #2” (negative facts or other side’s arguments).
In my trial, I made a point to always be standing near a large propped up photograph of my clients’ deceased son when I talked about facts and evidence relating to the loss of love and affection my clients experienced because of their son’s tragic death (anchor spot #1). Starting with my opening statement, I always made sure I was in the same spot when talking about the love and relationship this family shared.
My movements were always subtle and naturally done during the course of my presentation or examination of witnesses. The tone of my voice was sincere and caring when I spoke from this spot. The reason this is the case is because I sincerely did care. At that particular moment in time, what I was saying was the most important thing in the world to me.
Now, when I had to discuss or talk about issues in the case that I felt were unimportant, inaccurate, and even boring (some of the defendants’ arguments), I would work my way back over to another spot in the courtroom near the lectern (anchor spot #2). There were no pictures and nothing for the jury to get excited about other than watching little old me standing, talking or asking questions.
From this location, my body language showed to the jury that I just wasn’t that thrilled for any of us to have to listen to this part of the questioning or argument. It is from this second spot that I would sometimes show my sarcasm of the ridiculous testimony offered by some of the other side’s witnesses.
Anchor spot #1 was my loss of relationship, emotions, injustice, harm, lack of responsibility of defendants, lack of accountability of defendants, and money damages spot. At the end of my two week trial, this is where I stood when I asked my jury to render a seven figure verdict for my clients which they did.
I suppose you could say that anchor spot #2 was my “sorry to waste your time but we have to cover this” spot. It was my “Anderson Cooper 360 RidicuList” eyebrow raising in disbelief spot. At the end of the trial, this is where I was standing when I argued against defendants’ argument that my clients’ son was at fault for his own death.
You Can Do the Same Thing
In your mind, set up two anchor spots in your conference room or the stage you will be presenting from. At the positive anchor spot #1, place a chair, picture or diagram that you can use to help emphasize your point. Select anchor spot #2 at a location about 15-20 feet away at a location not highlighted by anything important or flashy. A bare spot in the room or on the stage should do just fine.
Go about this process correctly and you’ll start to notice your audience sitting up and paying more attention as you walk over to the location or side of the stage (anchor spot #1) where you’re sharing new information and solutions prefaced with buzz words and captivating headings.
As you work your way back over to the other point on the stage (anchor spot #2) where you deal with negative issues, problems, or your competition, you’ll start to see your audience slump and appear a bit less enthusiastic. Over the course of the evening, you’ll actually be able to control how your audience feels by walking from one anchor spot to another.
I know this is true because after I learned of this technique and got better and better at putting it to use, I’ve seen this happen. I’ve watched the expressions and body language of my jurors change simply by which anchor spot I was addressing them from. In some instances, I’ve even watched opposing counsel and the trial judge also react differently to what I’m saying based upon which anchor spot I was standing near in the courtroom.
Just as I move around the courtroom from one anchor spot to another, you can do the same thing during meetings and presentations. Walking and talking and moving from one exhibit or location in the room to another keeps things interesting and your audience engaged.
Select two anchor points. Use one while sharing positive benefits, facts and issues that will help you achieve your goals. Use the other anchor point for negative or mundane information.
Remember, this method should be combined with others found at this blog to maximize your chances of making an impact and fascinating others. The key to successful communication is to learn and incorporate all of these various to make your point and get the results you are looking for.
If you can, incorporate props in the form of diagrams, pictures or displays to compliment your efforts and to give you a reason to walk over to a particular spot in the courtroom, conference room or stage (anchor spot #1). Make this spot an island that your audience wants you to spend time on.
Pay attention to your jury or audience during the process. You’ll be amazed at how well you can influence and even control their behavior based directly on where you move on the floor. Practice this approach and over time, you’ll be consistently winning over audiences not only by what you say, but also by where you stand during your presentation.