When we are speaking, we want to get our point across, so it resonates with the audience such that some, if not all, will take action. If we are not successful, we will not achieve our objective. But suppose if you are a prosecutor and your objective is to put bad guys away. If you don't resonate with the jury in your rebuttal argument, you could lose the case. Bad guys go free. You don't get a second chance.
We all remember the famous OJ Simpson trial. The trial lasted for eleven months. In the famous closing argument, Johnny Cochran, OJ's lead attorney, exhorted to the jury that "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit." Cochran was referring to the botched effort by the prosecution to have OJ try Aris Light gloves. Since OJ was wearing latex gloves, it didn't fit. That failed demonstration helped acquit OJ since the jury saw it and OJ made sure the jury saw it. And Cochran made sure in his closing argument that the jury did not forget that the gloves didn't fit.
The jury didn't forget. They deliberated less than four hours to find OJ not guilty. What Cochran did was he did not make the jurors think too hard. The jurors saw with their own eyes that gloves didn't fit; hence, they ignored all other evidence. Though prosecution had better facts, it did not have a better story. And that is often the difference between winning and losing since both sides are persuasive in their arguments.
A prosecutor gets to make the rebuttal argument. It is the last argument the jurors hear before deliberating. The challenge the prosecutor faces is to come up with an argument that is simple, clear, and memorable so the jurors can latch on to that and come up with the justification they need to find the defendant guilty. And it has to better than the one defense attorney uses to acquit their client(s).
So how do you make the jury not think hard? One way to do it is by using a children's poem. Anything a children can understand then adults are certainly going to understand.
Jason Masimore, a prosecutor in the Southern District of New York (SDNY), used a children's poem to convict Republican State Senate majority leader of New York, Dean Skelos. Preet Bharara explains this in his book Doing Justice.
Skelos was a powerful man in New York politics. He abused his position by extorting money from businesses that went to his son, Adam Skelos. The SDNY, led by Preet Bharara, charged Dean Skelos with conspiracy with his son.
The SDNY had strong evidence against both the father and the son. Still, Bharara did not want to take any chances. Some jurors could be sympathetic to defense's best argument that Dean Skelos was just being a good father by helping his son.
To game-out this argument, SDNY hired a jury consultant to see what the focus group said during the deliberation. Most in the focus group were not persuaded by the father-son argument, but some did bring it up. So SDNY had to come up with a better story in their rebuttal argument.
And they did.
Jason Masimore had read to his son a poem "gorilla" from Shel Silverstein chidren's book Where the Sidewalk Ends.
In the poem, this kid goes to school riding on top of a gorilla, and everybody is nice to him. He gets presents. He gets all As. Life is really good for the kid because others know that if they piss off the kid, then he will unleash the gorilla on them. No one wanted that to happen so they did whatever it took to satisfy the kid.
Adam Skelos did not have to say anything or do anything to extort money from businesses to pay him. Businesses knew how powerful his dad was.
Masimore explained to the jury: "The gorilla in this case that you heard about, it's the power of the office of the senate majority leader." This children's poem was a perfect metaphor since it got to the heart of how an abuse of power works. The use of it helped convict Dean Skelos and Adam Skelos.
This example shows that whenever you are making a case, you need a better story than your competitors to persuade decision makers. You need an argument that is simple, clear, and memorable. If this could work in a high stakes criminal prosecution, it will work in business or anything.
Jay Oza is an author, speaker, executive coach. He makes people thrive on high stakes stage whether it's for a job interview, a sales presentation or a high-stakes speech. He is the author of a practical book Winning Speech Moments: How to Achieve Your Objective with Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere. You can get this book on Amazon for 99 cents for a limited time. Please download the free speech checklist that you can use to help you create a winning speech for any situation.
Please contact him if you would like to have a two 75 minute coaching session on job interviewing or high-stakes speaking. If you are interested in inviting him to give a talk on job Interviewing or high-stakes speaking. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.