Show, Don’t Tell, During Closing Argument

Closing argument is your final chance to sway jurors. This is the last time you’ll be able to address the jurors and show them why your client deserves to win. If any of the jurors are sitting on the fence, this is your last, best chance to move them to your side. So why do so many lawyers squander this opportunity? Many lawyers spend their entire closing argument making arguments like this:

?Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, there’s no doubt that we have proven this case. We have proved that the Percolam X1000 Chicken Baster is faulty and that it caused over $287,000 worth of damage to Ms. Psalgraf’s kitchen. We also proved to you that she suffered emotional damages and will never be able to look at a chicken again without thinking about this tragedy. We’ve proven to you that her pain and suffering is significant, and that she is entitled to $200 million in additional damages.?

All of those statements may very well be true, but so what?!? Why should anyone care? Those conclusory statements aren’t persuasive. Arguments like these fall upon deaf ears because they ignore one of the basic guidelines of persuasion. Think about it… Do you like to be told what to think? Do you like to be told what to do? Do you like people forcing their opinions and beliefs upon you?

Neither do your jurors.

As sales authority Jeffrey Gitomer describes it, ?People don’t like to be sold, but they love to BUY!? If you try to tell your jurors what conclusions they should reach or tell them what they should think, you will encounter resistance. Sometimes the resistance becomes so strong that you’ll find them actively arguing against you and thinking of new reasons why your conclusions must be wrong.

To be more persuasive during closing argument, don’t tell the jurors what to think. Instead, show them why your conclusions are correct. Help the jurors reach the conclusion on their own. They will cling to the conclusion much more strongly if they reach it on their own. Jurors are proud of their own ideas. They will tightly hold onto those ideas and refuse to let them go. When you let the jurors put the facts together for themselves, they’ll sell themselves on the outcome. When it?s ?their? idea, they will believe it and reject any contrary explanations.

In your next closing argument, evaluate your statements to the jury. Are you trying to force an idea down their throats using conclusory language? Or are you leading the jurors in the direction of your conclusion, but then allowing them to take the final steps on their own? Find a way to present your ideas so that the jurors think it’s something that they came up with (rather than you), and your closing arguments will immediately become more persuasive.

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2 thoughts on “Show, Don’t Tell, During Closing Argument

  1. I get what your saying Elliot… its the age old advice of not getting ahead of the jury during the witness examination where you want the jury to connect their own dots . . . but the closing can be where you tie the ribbon on the top. So do you tie the ribbon and tell them in conclusive terms what they saw over the trial or do you re-state the facts that came out during the trial & let them tie their own ribbon.

    I kind of like the latter approach. . . in the closing, we can SHOW them our story [without any interruptions] and let them come up with the moral & the ending.

  2. Easier said than done!

    It can be hard to strike a balance between leaving enough unsaid that they “fill in the blanks” themselves telling the jury exactly what you want and why.