Communicate Like President Trump to Grab Your Jury
By: Lisa Blue, Robert Hirschhorn and Kellye Raymond
Simple Messages. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, every trial lawyer can learn from Donald Trump’s communication techniques. For example, one time when he was on the Jimmy Kimmel show, candidate Trump gave a one minute, 220 word answer to a question that Kimmel asked him. Like a master communicator, Trump used 172 words that were one syllable and 39 words contained just two syllables. He speaks on a 4th grade vocabulary level and he uses very simple sentences, often ending in strong buzz words that, when taken together, sketch the theme of his message. Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump was a walking, talking sound bite. He mesmerized and hypnotized his followers with simple, colorful and indelible themes: “Make America Great Again,” “Build a Wall,” “Mexico Will Pay,” “Lyin’ Ted,” “Crooked Hillary,” “Lock Her Up,” and of course, we cannot forget, “Drain the Swamp.” The simplicity in these catch phrases is more important than the substance behind them.
What trial lawyers should take away from President Trump is that simple messages work. How your words and sentences are structured matters and of course, how jurors perceive and remember your message matters. When communicating with your jurors, short sentences with the fewest syllable words are always best. Many lawyers have the bad habit of using legalese and while you may be the smartest-sounding person at a cocktail party, your jurors will likely not understand you. This is especially true the more complex your facts are. When you are communicating directly with a jury (whether it’s Voir Dire, Opening Statement or Closing Argument), an old adage to remember is “the more sophisticated you sound, the less you are accomplishing.”
The more YOU are like the People, the more the People will Like YOU. During jury selection, it is crucial that you be cognizant of not only who your client is, but also who your witnesses and experts are and how they are likely to be perceived. People like people who are like themselves, so having jurors that can relate to a party, witness or expert is crucial. One of the reasons President Trump won the election is because people in the Midwest, mostly Caucasian, could identify with him, his hats and his ideals more so than they could a woman in a Ralph Lauren pantsuit.
If you have a likeable and down to earth client, you have a huge advantage and those cases usually settle. On the other hand, if you don’t have a likeable client, you are at a huge disadvantage and you must address this problem. First, you have to find the things in your client’s life that he or she has in common with the jury. If you can’t immediately identify six (6) things that your client has in common with each and every member of the jury, you haven’t spent enough time with your client, with the jury or both. Have your client fill out the same juror information card that the jury filled out. If you were able to persuade the Judge to allow a supplemental juror questionnaire, have your client fill out the questionnaire. The best option is for you to sit down and spend as many hours as you can getting to know your client. Remember, if you do not know or do not care about the client, why should the jury? If you’re not sure what questions you should ask your client, email us and we’ll be happy to give you a handful of questions that will help you.
Never Give Up. President Trump taught every American that no matter how a particular debate went, and no matter what the press said, he always acted like he had won. He never gave up. What trial lawyers can learn from this display of confidence is belief systems are all about perception. If someone who wanted Trump to win a debate heard from him that he did in fact win, it does not necessarily matter if that was not true because those followers wanted to believe it. This theory is known as confirmation bias. If an individual already believes a certain way, you can just continue to confirm those beliefs. When things at trial look like they are not going your way, change the narrative and find a way back to your simple message. President Trump’s confidence allows him to charge ahead without giving up.
Confidence. Confidence is crucially important because it will reassure those around you. Your confidence not only affects you, but it affects your client, your staff, jurors and opposing counsel. You must always be very self-aware of your confidence level, especially when your case is going badly because it will continue to negatively impact everyone around you. If you have a case that needs to settle, or that does not seem winnable, opposing counsel still needs to believe you are confident in your case in order to obtain a favorable settlement. If the jury senses that you believe you are losing, they will not believe in you and you will have no shot at a favorable verdict. Teach your fact witnesses to carry the same confidence. Teach your expert witnesses to testify with an air of confidence and not cockiness. Teach your trial team to always be upbeat, calm and respectful to everyone in the courtroom, hallway, bathroom, elevator, cafeteria, parking garage and everywhere else in the courthouse. What does having confidence mean? It is seen in your body language, it is heard in your tone of voice, and it is felt when you remain focused, stay on message and when you maintain your composure during the chaos that often occurs during a trial. You want the jury to look forward to when you stand up to speak and not when you sit down.
Alternative Facts. President Trump often sells a feeling, rather than facts and he communicates to his followers in a way that allows people to believe him and to forgive him. President Trump gives his followers something to hold on to no matter how ludicrous it may seem to others. For a trial lawyer, this means embracing your bad facts and getting out ahead of potential problems with your case; doing so will gain you credibility with the jury. It will also allow you to put your bad facts in the context that you want and not the context opposing counsel would prefer. The communication techniques learned from President Trump must be done deliberately and practiced religiously.