Emphasis & Impact Devices Are Your Palette

As lawyers, we are very good at emphasizing the written word in our briefs through a variety of literary and stylistic devices such as italics, bold-faced font, and underlining.

However, we sometimes struggle to do with the spoken word what we do with the written word. We must emphasize important points orally in the same way that we emphasize written words. Emphasis is what allows your points to “stick” and dominate the conversation during jury deliberations. Cases are lost because the jury does not know how important something is and does not remember the point.

The challenge is, “How do we do this without a keyboard and without a neon highlighter?” From day one of my acting training, I learned that an actor is like a composer: that what you read in the script is only the merest indication of what you have to do when you really act the part. After all, anybody can read lines.

Emphasis may be gained in a number of ways from outright telling the jury how important something is to harnessing the power of our voice in ways that we never dreamed possible. Here, tone, voice inflection, pace, and silence are our tools.

As the great Gerry Spence once said, “Words by themselves are not the expression of truth. The emotions communicated in the sounds of the words are the only truth!”

Here are some ideas to consider:

# 1: By adjusting the pitch and vocal inflection of certain syllables in important words, shortening your sentences, slowing down the pace, pausing to allow for important points to “sink in,” your words will resonate on a deeper level.

# 2: Don’t overlook the mannerisms and phrases that you use to convince people in everyday life. These will bring you closer to the goal of being real and natural in front of the jury.

# 3: Voice work is an often overlooked but invaluable tool for the trial lawyer. Simply put, it helps you free your breath, develop resonance, loosen jaw and tongue tensions and wake up your full vocal range. When this happens, your voice will drop into your body. Tip: Relaxation and release is essential to opening, freeing, and ultimately strengthening your voice.

Speech devices that are enormously useful and that have withstood the test of time include:

  • Quotations
  • Analogies
  • Similes and metaphors
  • Illustrative stories
  • Painting word pictures
  • Repetition
  • Triplets like “battered, beaten, and abused”
  • Parallel structure like, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
  • Enumeration like, “There are five facts showing negligence: (1) … (2) …. Etc.

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