We plan our movements and gestures when we are in front of a jury with uncanny precision. Herein lies the problem. Strategies or plans to move around the courtroom can lack the fluid motion of natural movement. As a result, it becomes artificial and contrived.
Let’s take a short digression. Michael Chekhov analogized the body to that of an instrument. Our instrument is the same body that carries on a life: it eats; it sleeps; it laughs and cries; it experiences pain and anguish; it dies.
Experience comes to us through our bodies as sensations. Our bodies record this as knowledge. We speak a language of experience that we are comfortable with, using word pictures that are absolutely connected to movement.
Sadly, we seem to have lost a connection to the original statements. What do we mean when we say, “she fell into despair,” or “fell into confusion,” or “fell in love” or “fell asleep?” How can these things be connected? Do we really “fall” into them?
Behold our common language of movement. We say we are either “moved” or “not moved” by things. Our hearts go out to others, or they break, our chins drop, we rise to the occasion and swell with pride, we shrink in fear, or firmly stand our ground.
We feel others out, put our heads together and touch upon the problem, sidestepping the real issue until we are able to draw conclusions and then are finally rest assured.
Movement is at the center of these statements so it should not be overlooked: the movements we make, the ones made around us, and the ones happening within us.
Actors never “wander” around the stage. Every move is done with purposeful intention to emphasize, draw attention to, or offer “subtext” to the script or content. When an actor moves from place to place on stage, it’s called a cross. Crosses are precise, clear movements from one place to another. Each movement should be done with purpose, at a specific point in your presentation.
Wandering, pacing or even unconscious weight shifting is distracting and takes your attention away from where it should be: the jury. It weakens the impact of your speech. By moving to a specific point in the courtroom, you can punctuate a point. For example, if you want to make a strong point, taking three steps forward will alert the jury you are about to say something important.
Think Like a Director
Just as a director looks at the stage to see the areas of strongest impact for the audience and sets the stage for the scene, so should we as lawyers. We should do with the courtroom what a director does with the stage. As a public speaker, you should always think about the courtroom from the juror’s point of view, keeping it balanced and visually interesting.
Look at general areas of the courtroom as points to reach your jury (all of your jury) on as many levels as you can. For example, you may move closer to the jury box to get closer to one or two jurors, or keep your distance in order to take in all of them.
Look carefully at the placement of furniture (lecterns, tables, screens, projectors) in relation to YOU and where you are in relation to the jury’s line of sight. Make sure you are not “upstaged” by an unnecessary piece of large furniture, which unconsciously draws the jury’s attention away from you.
The following theatrical techniques will help you stage your opening and closing in a way that uses movement to enhance content.
Upstage and Downstage
Directors block the movements of actors to emphasize dramatic meaning and to maintain clear sight-lines.
The downstage area, closest to the audience is a strong position and is the best place to present the most important content of your speech. However, you don’t want to live there.
Upstage, away from the audience is less powerful but can be used effectively for reflective pauses.
Moving from upstage to downstage in order to make an important point is highly effective.
Stage Right and Stage Left
In American and British theater, “Stage Right” and “Stage Left” refer to the actor’s point of view.
The position Downstage Right is perceived by western audiences as having intimacy and importance (probably because we read from left to right). Not surprisingly, in theater romantic scenes, monologues, and narration are usually performed Down Right. Taking a page out of the actor’s playbook, public speakers use this position for their most important content, or for stories that have a strong emotional effect.
Downstage Left traditionally has a conspiratorial feel to it, a place for plots and discussions in the theater. Humor in a speech is often very effective when delivered from this position.
- Follow your instincts. Be led by those jurors who seem to beckon for your attention. You’ll see it; you’ll feel it.
- Make solid eye contact with each individual juror. Do not leave anyone out.