So, why do so many of us fear public speaking? We’ve all been there – your hands are shaking, your heart is beating and your mind is racing about your initial presentation to the jury.  As your time gets closer and closer, your focus shifts from the content of the opening you’ve rehearsed countless times to whether you are competent to deliver it. Research tells us more than one-third of public speakers will experience excessive anxiety when speaking in front of strangers. Among their greatest fears: shaking or showing other signs of anxiety, your mind going blank, doing something embarrassing, the inability to be able to continue talking, not making sense and a splendid combination of the aforementioned worries. Who wants to do something embarrassing and follow that up with your mind going blank? 

Cicero wrote that every piece of communication, no matter what the purpose, needs three components. It must Charm, Teach and Move. These ingredients to successful communication should be delivered in order, and every step is required.

To get the attention of the jury it is helpful to give them an overview of your story so they know how it begins and ends and will therefore be primed to learn about everything in between. According to Cicero all communication is meant to, in some manner, stir the listener into action. In essence, what Cicero advocates is that when you speak or put your pen to paper, you ought to have a purpose for the communication.

Research tells us that jurors are predisposed to remembering only what matters to them most. Some studies suggest that an hour after even the best lawyer makes an impassioned opening, the best listeners retain only about 60% of the message; at day’s end retention is down to 40% and by end of week retention is down to 10%. You are fighting an uphill battle to ensure your presentation is remembered, so what can you do to make your opening statement memorable and have key information and themes get through?   

These three steps can help:

One, viewers expect a multimedia presentation. Your voice isn’t enough these days, as most of your jurors are accustomed to digital media, streaming (to many even email is a thing of the past) and constant daily distractions. An opening statement that incorporates slides or video can increase audience retention more than six fold. Just look at any cable news channel and notice the “tickers” and “updates” that continually inundate the viewer with visual stimuli. 

Two, gain credibility with your audience. Some proven tips to gaining credibility include: using few words per sentence, fewer syllables per word and diverse language. Use a more conversational tone that can be easily listened to. Rely on factual statements and references to experts and individuals.

Third, know your audience. Not all audiences are created equal and knowing the intricacies of whom you are talking to goes a long way towards improving your likelihood of success. You may have to tweak your opening depending on who ends up getting on the jury. Talking to a group of MBA students is not the same as talking to assembly-line employees (this is an extreme example as you wouldn’t of course have a bunch of MBA students on the jury).  Age and gender also play significant roles in your effectiveness and can provide insight on your method for ensuring you “charm-teach-move”.

Speaking of age, there are generational differences for how individuals prefer receiving information, attain feedback or deal with conflict. Younger audiences are accustomed to getting information instantly and rapidly processing that data. They want and expect instant gratification, so they prefer hearing and seeing major summarized points presented first, followed by the supporting details for each point. Conversely, older generations prefer building arguments with specific details included as they build to the climax. You may have to adapt a hybrid approach to make sure you are connecting with all members of the jury.