“An idea is a point of departure and no more. As soon as you elaborate it, it becomes transformed by thought.” — Pablo Picasso
The defendant ambulance company made a mistake and our clients’ 21 year-old son died. He wasn’t the first to release himself from improperly applied soft restraints nor would he be the last.
My expert, an active Fire Captain, testified during trial that in 20 years of training and transporting patients, he never had a single person escape from his restraints and that this death should have never happened. Representatives of the defendant ambulance company testified that before the death of my client’s son, 20 other people had escaped from the restraints. What’s worse, they didn’t make any changes to their obvious inadequate procedures and since this death, another 10 had also escaped. My clients and I believed this company was clearly was putting profits over people.
Before trial I obtained all of the documents this ambulance company used to train its EMTs. One of the items contained a paragraph titled, “Stories From The Field” which included facts almost identical to our case. The defendant’s EMTs referred to this story as “The Warning”. Here it is:
Before trial guess what the defendants tried to do? They brought a motion arguing we should not be allowed to talk about or show this warning to the jury. I thought the warning was relevant because it gave notice to the EMTs that this is exactly the kind of thing that could happen if a transport wasn’t done correctly. The judge denied defendants motion and I was allowed to use this warning during trial. Following the advice of Pablo Picasso, here’s how I went about doing so. By the way, click here if you’re interested in reading more about this case.
Step #1: Share the broad brush strokes:
To maximize the impact of this warning on the jury, rather than simply putting the defendant’s training supervisor on the witness stand and asking her about it, I instead took my time. First, I called the supervisor to the witness stand and asked her almost every question you can think of about how and why they trained their EMTs. Patient safety was the theme and I made sure that she acknowledged this need for safety in each of her answers. We talked about the importance of teaching the proper application of a soft restraint and the need to continually monitor the patent during an ambulance transport. Although we briefly discussed the warning, I purposefully didn’t go into details and did not show the warning to the jury during this first step.
Step #2: Elaborate to make your point:
Eventually I made the transition to the second step of this process. I said something along the lines of, “earlier we touched upon the warning you shared with each EMT that you were responsible for training. Let me show you this warning and we’ll go through it in detail with the jury.” I then had the warning projected up on the large screen so everyone in the courtroom could see it. We then talked about why she felt this warning was important enough to include in her training materials. We also spent time going through each sentence that was digitally highlighted in yellow.
From their expressions, I could tell the jury was blown away by the warning and fact that both before and after the death of my clients’ son, other patients had been allowed to escape from soft restraints applied by defendant’s EMTs. Furthermore, even after this death, the defendant did not make any change to its policies or procedures up to the date of trial.
Using the two step approach, I was able to (1) share my concerns and the facts about a particular issue (restraint and monitoring of a patient being transported by ambulance) and (2) elaborate upon these issues by showing the jury and reinforcing my points by displaying and reviewing the actual warning in detail.
Outside of Court
You can use this same two-step approach to make your point. During almost any kind of presentation, structure your approach using broad brush strokes to paint the initial pitcher on one or more important issues. Once you’ve done that, elaborate upon each specific issue sharing more detail. Remember, you’re not repeating what was already discussed. Instead, you’re adding more color, flavor, feel and texture to the discussion for your audience to appreciate and digest.
In this second step, use a model, picture, video or blowup to make a lasting impact. Let them hold the product. Give them a sample to take home and use.
Sometimes elaborating takes the form of what I did in trial. Other times it sometimes best to limit what you say and instead simply share the actual product or picture of your product. Remember how Steve Jobs pulled the iPod out of his pocket when first introducing it to the world from the stage?
In my closing argument I argued that the defendant ambulance company played “ambulance Russian roulette” with the life of my clients’ son. Based upon all the other instances of patients releasing themselves, the defendant knew that because of how they were going about things, there would be a time when the restraints would not work and they crossed their fingers every time they used them –hoping this wouldn’t be the bullet that would kill.
Getting people to pay attention and absorb your position or argument requires carefully crafted repetition without duplication. This two-part approach of sharing an idea and then elaborating upon it allows you to do just that. If done correctly, you’ll have people talking about your presentation, product or service long after you’re done.
It’s OK to be clear and direct when using this two-step approach, especially in the second step. In fact, I’d like to wrap today’s post with a favorite quote:
“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.” — Winston Churchill