Using The Senses

Regardless of your style, your story must be clear, well-organized, and engage as many of the five senses as possible. When you involve the senses, the jury has something to latch onto to experience what you’re describing right along with you. With that in mind, do not forget to engage the five senses when preparing your opening statement and closing argument.

Playwrights emphasize that if your story can enter the listener through the senses, the listener can experience the story in real time and as if it were happening to them.

The five senses are:

  1. Sound
  2. Smell
  3. Touch
  4. Taste
  5. Sight

Sound

Remembering sounds can help to access the emotions they trigger inside you. Does the ringing of a classroom bell bring back feelings of being out of place and alienated, as you felt in middle school? Does the sound of an ambulance siren scare you, causing you to remember the day that your grandmother died? Does the sound of a brook running make you feel peaceful?

Instead of saying, “He was jealous of her work habits,” you could say, “Her constant typing got to him … ticka, ticka, ticka, ticka … the sound of only one of them getting things done.”

Now you’ve got the jury hearing that typing in their imaginations. It gives them a more direct link to his annoyance.

Smell

A smell can help open up the personal emotions you need to feel. The stench of garbage might make you feel nauseous. The fragrance of lilacs or roses could make you feel the stirrings of romance.

Instead of saying, “He had a drinking problem,” you might say, “She met the alcohol steaming out of him before they ever shook hands.”

Now the jury has the victim’s alcoholism up in their nostrils – not in reality but in their experience of the story.

Touch

Does sand trickling through your fingers transport you to a beach? Does the touch of fur make you feel sensuous? Does a cool breeze blowing through your hair remind you of the day when your husband proposed to you?

Instead of saying, “She liked him,” you could say, “He smiled and little by little, this tingly feeling began to fill her chest.”

Nothing brings emotion into a story quite like the physical manifestation of emotion itself!

Taste

Does the taste of a bitter pill, rancid milk, or liver make you want to throw up? Perhaps the taste of vanilla icing makes you feel loved and special, as you did when your mother would make a birthday cake just for you with her special vanilla icing. Or, maybe the sensation of a dark piece of chocolate melting in your mouth creates primal, sensual feelings.

Instead of saying, “She didn’t like him,” you could say, “It seemed like his mere presence put a taste like spoiled eggs in her mouth.”

Now her not liking him is more palpable, more concrete for the jury, because they associate it with an unpleasant sensation.

Sight

A Hawaiian sunset, an abandoned house, a dead carcass on the highway, an intimate candlelit room or a flag-draped coffin. What visuals create a response in you? Explore different images to see which ones move you. Chances are they will move the jury too!

Instead of saying, “He was nervous,” you could say, “He glanced down and saw he’d bitten his index fingernail so low, it was bleeding.”

Now the jury sees that blood in their mind’s eye and as they do, they get nervous with your client!

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