“Being in the moment” is a drama term indicating that your argument is happening right now. It lives now and will never be done the same way again. One cannot be in the moment if one is thinking about how one prepared last night or trying to remember what one memorized.
Here’s the thing about oratorical skills and presentation. Whether you’re playing golf, delivering a keynote to a large audience, or acting on stage there is no past and there is no future.
You must live in the present. And the present dictates terms to you that you may not have expected and that you just have to be ready to adapt to on the fly. Pre-determining what you are going to do before it happens is the antithesis of living in the moment.
For actors, being in the moment is vital to creating the illusion of reality. Audiences demand utter spontaneity. The “real” Romeo and Juliet had no script. They uttered what were later to become some of the most famous lines of English poetry spontaneously and impulsively.
Acting is about getting the audience to believe that it’s happening for the first time. To do this, actors have to make it appear as though they don’t know what’s coming next.
This is easier said than done. As the actor, you know what’s coming next because you’ve memorized the script and rehearsed the scene hundreds if not thousands of times. But as the character, you don’t have the foggiest idea. So how does the actor behave? He behaves as if it’s happening for the first time. In this way, the words flow off of the tongue without sounding rehearsed.
Once you’re in touch with those feelings and that ability to be impulsive, you’re in the moment and you’re creating the illusion of reality. So the audience is wrapped up in what they’re seeing because you, as the actor, are seeing it for the first time as if it’s the first time. And when you sprinkle underneath that a sense of humanity, you have a solid foundation in what real actors do when they are working at their best. As my acting instructor says, “when your response to something truly surprises you, then it will also surprise other people.”
The famous glove scene in “On The Waterfront” was improvised by Marlon Brando himself. It looks real because he is living the moments right before our eyes; there was no planning or fixing.
I learn so much when I watch Brando. His ability to stay in the moment and deal with what is happening “right here, right now” is a reminder that I must take that path in everything I do. To me, there is nothing more exhilarating than being in the moment and living unencumbered by thought.
Returning to the courtroom, here are a few practical tips that you can immediately put to use to be in the moment:
- When you are rehearsing your opening statement, plan for objections. This way, when they happen, they will not throw you off or freeze you up. Instead, you can allow them to pass by like cars on a freeway without creating a mini-drama out of them. This will keep you focused with your eye on the prize. You’ll be unflappable.
- A recurring question is what to do about the adversary who adopts a scorch and burn strategy of objecting continuously during your opening statement and/or closing argument to the extent that it disrupts your flow and puts you into a frenzy. First, be honest with yourself and ask yourself, “Is what I said objectionable?” If so, be proactive and refrain from saying it altogether or phrase it in a way that it will not be objectionable. Of course, there will always be adversaries who object for no other reason than to “throw you off,” while couching the objection in terms that seemingly appear that you have run afoul of the rules of evidence.
- Do not underestimate the jury. They are smarter than you think. If you are telling a compelling story and an avalanche of objections continue to spew from your adversary’s mouth like lava erupting from a volcano, the jury will become annoyed at your adversary for not letting you speak. They’ll ask: “Why won’t he let him talk?” In other words, this strategy might backfire by coming back to bite your adversary in the butt because the jury will view it as “unfair.” Your adversary will do nothing to endear himself to the jury. Instead, the jury may turn against him entirely.