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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
Maintain a Balanced Stance
space. If you are perceived as too aggressive, the jurors
might turn the witness into the underdog and you
into the persecutor.
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
Keep your feet steady and weight
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
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"
or the other. The body will want to express its feelings,
and to restrain that natural reaction demands a
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
Take Up Uour 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.