Attorneys spend the majority of their time concentrating on what to say to the judge and jurors rather than how to say it. Yet we know from research that the way you say something is crucial to your persuasiveness. Unless the body language looks right and the voice sounds right, people will not listen to the words.

Marshal McLuhan wrote some years ago that the medium is the message. From that point of view, your body language and voice is the medium of your message. When you interact in the courtroom, you are on television. If the picture is boring, or the sound muffled, no one will listen to you, no matter how brilliant you might be. They will turn to another channel, which could very well be opposing counsel.

How can you make sure that you are using your nonverbal language to effectively communicate your verbal message? What is the key to a winning presentation style?

This article will outline six nonverbal attitudes which will help establish your leadership in the courtroom. They communicate trustworthiness and confidence to your jurors. When you adopt them, you will open the jurors to your persuasion.

Show an Open Posture to Jurors

The first step in winning your case is to establish the trust and confidence of your jurors. This can be done nonverbally - without ever saying a word - by showing a physically open posture to them. Your physical openness reflects a psychological openness, indicating that you are prepared to be honest and above-board with your jurors and you, in turn, expect them to reciprocate by giving you a fair hearing.

When you want to project an open, honest, cooperative posture, adopt the following attitudes and gestures:

Keep your abdomen exposed

We have a natural tendency to protect our soft, vulnerable organs - located in the abdomen – when we are in a stressful situation. We put all sorts of things in front of our stomachs - arms, pin-striped vests, suit coats, legal pads, desks, lecterns, tables, books, papers. But putting these obstructions between our audience and us - in this case, the jurors, closes us off to them, creating a psychological distance.

When you do not cover-up your torso, you will feel exposed and vulnerable. For that reason, you see few attorneys in the courtroom who approach their jurors "unprotected." But an open abdomen is a courageous posture, reflecting self-confidence, fearlessness and an open, receptive mind. So be daring. You will find that as you open yourself physically, you will begin to feel more open psychologically, and actually become that fearless person.

Avoid addressing the jurors from behind any physical obstruction. Get rid of the podium. Move from behind counsel's table. Keep your arms away from your chest; unbutton your jacket; do not wear a vest; avoid any kind of self-touching, even holding a pen in your hand. Put your pad of paper down. The imperative is to strip away the physical barriers between you and your audience.

When you open yourself physically to your jurors, you open yourself psychologically. And they, in turn, will open to you psychologically and to your persuasion.

Show your hand

A second part of the body we tend to hide when we feel vulnerable is our hands. Many people approach life like a poker game: cautious, leery and holding their hands close to their chest, so no one can see what's up their sleeve. Although this attitude is sometimes appropriate, in the courtroom it is not.

So keep your hands visible. Don't hide them under the table, in your pockets, inside your vest or behind your back. Be ready to show that you come before the jurors with an open hand, ready to tell the truth. So show them an open hand.

The open palm is an especially appropriate way to express your honesty and trustworthiness. We show our palm as a friendly gesture when we greet people, shake hands, and ask for understanding. Don't hesitate to use it as a expression of your good will, and when asking for the jurors' good will in return.

Address the judge, jurors, opposing counsel face to face

A third visual sign of cooperativeness is body orientation. When we feel uncomfortable, we tend to pull away, turning our body slightly sideways, offering only a partial view of ourselves. We do this unconsciously, but we are communicating a strong message, i.e., 'I don't want to face you.' We turn away from people usually out of aversion or timidity. We can "turn a cold shoulder" to someone we don't like, or we can "hide ourselves" from someone who intimidates us. Whatever the motivation, body orientation is significant. Make sure you orient yourself to your audience appropriately.

In the courtroom, meet your audience face to face. When opposing attorney addresses you, give him/her a clear frontal orientation. When the judge addresses you, give him/her a frontal orientation. When you are examining your witnesses, address them face to face. And when you are speaking to the jurors, give them a frontal orientation. These subtle, unconscious messages can make a significant difference in the courtroom; they are your tools for establishing rapport and winning your audience.

Show a relaxed demeanor

The fourth sign of an open posture is lack of muscle tension. Where do you hold your tension: In the eyebrow? mouth? shoulders? hands? Holding onto tension takes energy, energy which should be going to your jurors. When you are holding onto yourself, you cannot be open to them.

Try to meet the jurors showing a relaxed demeanor. According to research, power is perceived as expansive, casual and relaxed. A great deal of President Clinton's victory can be attributed to the way he successfully met the barrage of assaults hurled against him. He never seemed to falter. He met each attack forcefully, sometimes even with humor; he never cringed or showed despair. That kind of nonverbal response communicates power and leadership. We want our leaders to be in control; we don't want to see them worried. If they are worried, then we wonder what will happen to us.

So whether you agree with his politics or not, President Clinton, like his predecessor Ronald Reagan, is a good role model for the winning demeanor: Calm, relaxed, open, expansive and in charge. When you are in the courtroom, therefore, fearing the worse, do not let opposing counsel or the judge or jurors sense your anxiety. Take a deep breath and relax. Release the tension from your brow, jaw, mouth, shoulders. A relaxed demeanor, coupled with an open body, spells leadership. Opposing counsel will be dismayed by your confidence; the judge will be impressed by your calmness; and the jurors will translate your demeanor of "relaxed excellence" as being self-confident and thoroughly prepared.

Keep in Visual Control

"Looking" is not just a matter of eye contact; it is a political behavior, and your success in the courtroom depends on knowing the rules of the game.

Maintain steady eye contact

Eye contract keeps you in control of your interactions, so maintain it. When you look down to refer to your notes, for instance you break the contact with your audience, and for those few seconds, lose control of the interaction. Everyone is looking at you, but you can't see them. You put yourself in a "victim" posture because you have no idea what they might be doing falling asleep, pulling a gun anything seems possible these days. So avoid this situation whenever possible, and when unavoidable, keep the breaks short.

This imperative does not mean to suggest that you should stare at the person with whom you are having an interaction. Maintaining steady eye contact means staying in visual control; it does not mean using your eyes as an assault weapon.

Giving eye contact not only keeps you in control, but is a nice gesture. By giving visual attention you are "touching" your audience and saying: "I think you are important." Consequently, touching the jurors with your eyes is your most powerful communication tool in the courtroom.

When you approach the jury box, do not skim over the jurors' faces; do not address the air over their heads. Look into the eyes of each juror, one at a time, for 4 seconds at a time. Research tells us that a 4 second eye contact establishes a connection between you and your listener. Throughout the trial, therefore, address each juror individually with your eyes, make the connection. Giving this kind of visual attention puts you in "touch" with each juror. It converts a preachy style into an interpersonal one; changes a monologue into a conversation.

Giving 4 second eye contacts is difficult because it demands that you know exactly what you want to say; otherwise, your eyes will shoot up into the sky looking for the right words. For this reason, the gesture is so powerful. When you can give that kind of visual attention to your jurors, it means you are 100% concentrated on them. As you touch each one, you are saying: "You are the most important person in this room."

Win jurors, not arguments

When a hostile witness is answering a question and you do not believe a word he/she is saying, do not snicker and look away. Some attorneys use that technique in cross-examination to try to un-nerve and discredit witnesses in front of the jurors. But be careful not to discredit yourself in the process. You can easily be perceived as arrogant, pushy and bullying.

The safest demeanor is the assertive, rather than aggressive, one. Listen. Give the witness your visual attention. After the jurors perceive that you are polite and ready to listen, then you can attack the witness' answer. After you have established yourself as a fair and receptive person, the jurors will be fair and receptive to you. When your witnesses give their testimony, look at them; pay visual attention.

When jurors talk to you during voir dire, look at them; pay visual attention. And when you are through with one juror's voir dire and are ready to go to the next, say "thank you" before moving on.

The idea in the courtroom is not to win arguments, but audiences. Your powers of persuasion do not come from winning people to your point of view, but from winning their faith in your leadership. The war in the courtroom is to win the leadership position, so that the jurors will follow your persuasion, rather than your opponent's.

Rehearse the rough spots

We often lose eye contact when we don't know how to respond to a question or answer a verbal attack, dropping our eyes just long enough to think of an appropriate comment. In that split second, when we lose visual control of the interaction, we can well lose our credibility. A good opposing counsel will pick up on the hesitation and nail us to the wall with it. An observant judge will see our weakness and overrule the objection.

To avoid losing control, go over the weak parts of your case and rehearse your arguments. Be so familiar with your responses that when challenged, you will be able to deliver them without faltering, i.e., without losing eye contact. Do not allow your opponents to guess your weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Answer their assaults head-on, without flinching.

Maintaining eye contact under assault makes you look invulnerable. Jurors often do not understand the verbal power ploys that take place between the judge, opposing counsel and you - around objections, for instance - but they do register the nonverbal messages that are taking place. And anyone who meets a verbal assault without "batting an eye" communicates power and authority. So when the judge overrules your objection, acknowledge him/her visually, say thank you, and smile confidently. How you respond to the objection is the message, not the objection itself.

Avoid eye contact with friendly witnesses who are submissive

Some of your witnesses might be shy, and no matter how much you coach them, they can't take their eyes off the floor. If this is the case, help them maintain their credibility. Avoid direct eye contact with them.

If you look at them while their eyes are down, they become the victim in the interaction and you become the aggressor. By looking away, slightly to the side, you give your witnesses space and take the pressure off of them and yourself. By reflecting their nonverbal postures, that is, by not looking at them while they are not looking at you, you show that you are listening and attentive to their feelings. The jurors see how polite you are, which gives you extra points, and your witnesses' credibility is maintained.

Maintain eye contact with hostile witnesses who are submissive

Suppose the submissive witness is not your witness, but your opponents'. How should you monitor your body language in that situation? One way to respond, if you want to discredit this witness, is to continue looking at him. Put him in the victim posture of being watched, of being out of visual control. Your looking at him, when he is looking down, puts you in the power position.

But be careful. Do not turn your glances into stares. Do not talk loudly or fast or otherwise intrude into his space. If you are perceived as too aggressive, the jurors might turn the witness into the underdog and you into the persecutor.

Maintain a Balanced Stance

The further away from the face you go, the more the body leaks its true feelings. We can control facial expressions and fool people with fake smiles, for instance. We are not so aware of our hands, however, and will often reveal a nervousness by unconsciously fidgeting with our fingers.

But rarely are we aware of our feet and what they are doing. So when you want to know what is going on in someone's head, look at his feet. They are so far removed from the brain physically, that we easily forget them. Meanwhile, they are "spilling the beans," if only we knew how to decipher the message.

Keep your feet steady and weight balanced

Very often, the feet express the nervous tension that is not getting out through the mouth and hands. Foot tapping, leg swinging and toe thumping are common ways nervous energy comes out in the feet.

Other ways the feet leak: When you are not ready to move, one foot will stay up in the air; when you don't know what direction to move in, one foot will point one way and the other will point the other way; when your head is going around in circles, your foot will make circular patterns in the air; when you are mulling things back and forth in your mind, your weight will shift from one foot to the other.

When presenting in the courtroom, therefore, plant your feet firmly on the floor; you will feel more grounded. Point them in one direction; you will feel more directed. Keep them still; you will still your mind. Keep the weight evenly distributed on both feet; you will feel more steady on your feet. Indeed, when the weight is not evenly distributed you are out of physical balance, "an easy push-over" for someone on the attack.

Avoid shifting your weight from one leg to the other. Shifting makes you look shifty. Be aware that your feet will shift from side to side when you do not feel on solid ground intellectually. The key is to maintain a steady stance and keep in balance.

Control Your Leanings

The way you physically lean, forward or backward, indicates what you are thinking, or in other words, your "leanings."Learn to control your leanings to be more effective in the courtroom.

Lean forward when presenting

When addressing the judge and jurors, successful attorneys reach out physically by leaning forward, talking at a steady, sure pace and using gestures to communicate their message more emphatically. These gestures communicate that they are engaged in the interaction, ready for action, sure of their direction and thoroughly prepared. When presenting in the courtroom, therefore, project your energy outward to your audience. Lean into the interaction. You can't be dynamic when you are leaning away from your audience.

Keep out of retreat

Attorneys who lean away from the jurors, sit back in their chairs, hold their hands behind their back, hold their voice back by speaking slowly, softly and ponderously, imprison the body's energy and keep it from reaching the jurors. These physical postures of retreat represent a psychological retreat, communicating reserve, skepticism and passivity. Jurors might even interpret them as aloofness and arrogance.

Leaning back is appropriate when in a listening mode, because you are not ready for action. But when you are trying to get the jurors to move in your direction, lean towards them, in their direction. The ideal picture is when you and the jurors are leaning into each other. That configuration means you are in psychological synch with each other, a sure sign of your persuasive powers.

Negotiate in neutral

An upright posture, where the energy does not move one way or the other, is a neutral position. The head sits straight, the body sits straight and the hands rest at the side. The overall attitude is detached and uninvolved.

Neutrality is a powerful posture in the courtroom but difficult to maintain for anyone who has "leanings" one way or the other. The body will want to express its feelings, and to restrain that natural reaction demands a concentrated effort.

For example, judges try to stay objective and neutral, but even they give away their biases by the direction they lean in. Your own posture shifts are dead give-aways. When you want to communicate neutrality, concentrate on maintaining a neutral posture, even when your feelings are clearly biased. Keeping cool is staying in neutral gear.

In summary, lean slightly forward when presenting and trying to engage your audience and persuade them to move with you; stay in neutral when negotiating or trying to communicate a noncommittal position; and stay back when you want to express your hesitation, skepticism, lack of involvement or whatever emotion you are feeling which makes you unwilling to move forward.

Watch the judge's leanings

When the judge leans toward you, she is trying to get closer to you and the interaction. She might be getting closer to the interaction in order to "attack" you - i.e., make an objection, rule against you, send you back to the library. Or, she might be moving closer to you because she is interested in what you are saying and wants to become more involved in the interaction. So leaning forward indicates a surge of involvement in the interaction, which can be either negative or positive.

On the other hand, when the judge leans away, she is retreating from you. Perhaps she wants to mull over some facts you have just offered and needs some "space" for thinking. As the attorney, you will hope that after hearing you out, she will move back into the interaction, shifting direction toward you. This would indicate her resumed involvement in what you are saying.

If she does not re-enter the interaction, but continues to stay back, away from you, you have probably lost her with that particular argument. So shift gears. Try another argument, until you find one which "moves" her back into the interaction. If you watch the judge carefully, you can discover which arguments motivate her to move toward you and which send her into retreat. In this way, you can discover the "leanings" of your judge and adjust your strategy accordingly.

Take Up Your Personal Space

An important ingredient of a winning professional style is to project self-confidence. Self-confidence is communicated by the way you use your personal space. The more space you take for yourself, the more important people perceive you to be. The more important people perceive you to be, the more space they give you.

Expand your gestures

The first imperative in expanding your personal space is to broaden your gestures. Avoid holding your arms close to your torso when you gesture. Get them away from the body; spread your wings. By freeing your arms from your side, you can begin to reach out and take up the space around you.

Other ways to take up your personal space are to stay out of symmetrical postures where both sides of the body are identically positioned. Symmetrical postures keep your space limited. Fill up your chair, for example, by sitting in asymmetrical postures, one hand on the chair arm, the other on the chair back; one leg extended, the other back.

Keep a substantial amount of imagined space around yourself; don't let opposing counsel "walk all over you" by approaching you too closely, for example, or "push you aside" by cutting in front of you.

To practice expanding your personal space, stand in the middle of an empty elevator and own the whole space; make the imaginary boundary around you as big as you can. As people step into the elevator, watch how close they stand to you. The amount of space they give you will tell you how important they perceive you to be. See how you can adjust your nonverbal postures to get them to give you more space. But careful, now - no fair pushing!

Claim your territory

The second imperative in projecting an image of self-confidence is to claim the territory around you. Take up the whole courtroom by physically moving around in it. Don't get stuck in a corner. Spread your visuals out. When you are through with a poster board, put it aside, but do not turn it around. Keep it facing the jurors, until opposing counsel turns it around. Don't let opposing counsel close a part of the courtroom off to you. Mark your territory and guard it. The courtroom is the battlefield. The more territory you can claim, the more importance and power the jurors will give you.

Avoid stepping into other people's territory

On the other hand, be careful about taking up too much space and intruding onto others. Getting too close, pointing, talking loudly, staring are nonverbal weapons used to violate a person's personal space. When you interrupt an opponent's witness on the stand, you are aggressively walking into his territory. This behavior is perceived by jurors to be unintelligent, unfair and not allowing the witness to present the evidence.

In some situations, when your opponent is being unreasonably aggressive, you might choose aggressive tactics in return. They can be executed as subtly or overtly as you deem appropriate. But be careful. If the jurors perceive that you are bullying your opponent, they could turn on you. Depending on the situation, taking up too much space in an aggressive way can undermine your authority as much as taking up too little space.

Reach Your Audience Through Gestures

We have three channels of communication to our audience: Our eyes, mouth and hands. Using our hands not only enhances our style and projects a more attractive presence, but increases persuasiveness. We know from research that people who gesture more are more persuasive.

Use illustrators to punctuate your point

So use your hands. Some attorneys literally "tie their hands up" in closed postures because they want their words to be the most important message and are afraid hand movements might detract from the substance of the message.

But words communicate information. Gestures communicate feelings. Words without gestures are cold abstractions. They are also boring to listen to. When you do not involve your body and your hands in the verbal message, jurors perceive you as detached, uncomfortable and uninvolved. So use gestures to demonstrate your involvement with your subject matter and your audience.

One way to create interesting gestures is to use your hands as illustrators to visually describe your words. A "V" for victory is an illustrator. Holding up your forefinger to illustrate "number one" is another example. Making a circle with your third finger and your thumb to mean "zero," is yet another example. Punctuate your presentations with these visual descriptions. Research tells us that power is communicated by strong illustrators, coupled with a low voice.

Use gestures to anchor your message

People remember gestures better than words. A good technique, therefore, is to use gestures to anchor verbal messages. For example, if you want to emphasize how fast the defendant was driving when he hit plaintiff's car, you might choose to anchor that message by slamming your fist in the palm of your hand, then saying clearly, "Seventy miles an hour. He was driving 70 miles an hour." Repeat the gesture a second time, and anchor it again with the words: "70 miles per hour."

By the third time you repeat the gesture, you don't have to say the words. The words have been anchored in the gesture. The jurors will automatically think: "70 miles per hour" and know that you are talking about the speed of the impact in the crash.

Using gestures to anchor important points in your case can play a vital part in dramatizing your testimony and making it more visually interesting.

Avoid self-touching gestures

Your hands are an invisible connection to the jurors. Reach out with them. Keeping them to yourself cuts you off from the people you need to reach. Self-touching gestures like stroking your chin and face, holding your hands, folding your arms, touching your tie or hair, scratching your head, drumming your fingers, buttoning and unbuttoning your vest or jacket keep the energy internalized and imprisoned. The persuasive communicator projects the energy outwards.

Communication is touching others, and your hands like your eyes are vitally important in making the connection. So no matter how comfortable you feel shoving your hand in a pocket, clinging to a pad of paper, clasping a pen, grabbing the edge of the lectern, touching the table, or embracing yourself, make the extra effort to let go and reach out to your jurors instead.


In summary, I have discussed six imperatives of a winning presentation style and ways to incorporate these nonverbal attitudes into your courtroom presentations. Of equal significance is how to counsel your witnesses to incorporate these attitudes into their courtroom testimony. Their challenge is to communicate credibility and trustworthiness to the jurors, also, but under different rules.

In summary, therefore, the six ingredients of a winning presentation style are:

1. Be open to your audience
2. Keep in visual control
3. Maintain a balanced stance
4. Control your leanings
5. Take up your personal space
6. Reach your audience through gestures

These nonverbal behaviors are designed to win the trust and confidence of the jurors by presenting a style of authority, openness, control, balance and power. Your nonverbal messages are the means by which you establish leadership in the courtroom and win successful outcomes. They are crucial to getting your verbal messages across. So when you are in the courtroom, make sure you use your nonverbal language persuasively, to project the style you choose, not merely the one you fall into.

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