Closing Argument Conversations

Recently I was helping a friend draft a cover letter.  If you’ve ever spent much time reading resumes and cover letters, you know that most of them say something along the lines of, “Me!  Me!  Me!  I’m awesome!  I’m amazing!  I’m the best!”

But here’s the problem…  Employers don’t care about you.

They don’t care how awesome you are, how smart you are, or how skilled you are.

What they really care about is what you can do for them.  They want to know if you can successfully handle the job, whether you can help make them more profitable, or solve the problem that they need fixed.

That’s why good letters start off by entering the discussion that’s already going on in the employer’s mind, and position the prospect as the solution to the employer’s problem.  For example, here’s something you might want to read if you were hiring a receptionist:

“When you hire a new receptionist, one of the biggest concerns you have is whether or not that person is qualified to handle your QX-4700 AT&T phone system.  Dropped transfers and misrouted calls are not only annoying, they cost you business.  That’s why you want a receptionist who is an expert on the QX-4700.  For the past 7 years, I’ve worked exclusively with the QX-4700 and have trained 14 new attorneys how to set-up their voicemail and use the QX-4700 system.  My experience with the QX-4700 will ensure that your calls are routed properly and that your business operates at peak efficiency.”

That letter will probably generate a lot more interest than the typical, “I’m awesome, you should hire me” cover letter that most prospects send out.  More importantly, the better that the prospective receptionist can define the employer’s problem, the more likely he is to hire her.  If he picks up her letter and thinks, “Wow, she really understands the problems my office is facing,” then he’s probably going to assume that she’s the perfect solution to his problem.

brainThe same technique applies when you’re trying to persuade jurors and win trials.

If you can get inside their heads and understand what they’re thinking about, you’ll do a much better job of structuring your closing argument and addressing their needs.  To persuade jurors, you need to enter the conversation that’s already going on in their minds.  So ask yourself,

  • “What are they thinking about?”
  • “What concerns do they have about the case?”
  • “What’s going through their minds when I stand up to deliver my closing argument?”

If you can answer those questions, your closing will be more valuable to your jurors.  They’ll see you as the guide they can trust, the person who will help them understand the evidence, and the person they can rely upon to help them through the case.

Some jurors will feel offended if you presume to know what they’re thinking, so rather than assuming that you know what they want, you might want to preface your arguments with a statement like, “One question that a lot of jurors ask is…” and then asking the question on behalf of your jurors.  For example:

“One question a lot of jurors ask is, ‘How am I supposed to fill out the verdict form?’  Here’s how you fill it out:  One of you will be selected as the foreperson.  You’ll be responsible for signing and dating the form.  At the end, that person will sign their name [here] and print the date [here].  You’ll also check the verdict form [here], finding the defendant not liable for Ms. Jones’ injuries.”

“One question that we often hear is, ‘I’ve heard all of the testimony and seen all of the exhibits, but what am I supposed to with it?’  That’s why the judge is going to read you special instructions about the law.  He’ll tell you exactly how to apply the facts you’ve heard to the law.  One of the instructions he’s going to read you will talk about the issue of expert witnesses.  Here’s what he’ll say…”

“One thing that you might be talking about in the deliberation room is, ‘What do we do if we think both parties are partly responsible?’  Here’s how to answer that question…”

Regardless of whether you’re applying for a job, talking to a judge, or addressing a jury, it’s important to get inside the mind of the person you’re addressing and enter the conversation that’s already taking place inside their minds.  If you can define the problem they’re facing and provide the solution, you’ll be far more persuasive than anyone else in the room, and you’ll be the person they can trust when it comes time to make their final decision.  Good luck!

Let us know what you think

1 Comment

  • yuval

    February 5, 2010

    great article.
    I like the notion of entering the conversation that’s already taking place in other people’s minds.

    I often use the cogwhell as an example: strong as it may be – it will never move anything if it doe’snt first and formost connect to the other one.

    best,

    Yuval Kaplinsky
    Jerusalem, Israel

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