One of my favorite Super Bowl commercials is Budweiser’s “Puppy Love” (2014), an adorable tale of a Labrador puppy and a Clydesdale who become best friends. If you don’t immediately know what I’m talking about, hop on YouTube right now and take a quick peek.
What, you may be asking, do adorable puppies and Budweiser have to do with the art of lawyering? That’s easy: persuasion.
Budweiser (well, its ad agency, most likely) masterfully used something called the AIDA method—a cornerstone of marketing—in hopes of persuading us to purchase its beer:
- First, they grabbed our attention (Who doesn’t love a puppy?),
- Then, they maintained our interest (We wondered what would happen to the puppy),
- They tapped into a desire or feeling (happiness/lump in throat/concern), and finally,
- They hoped our feelings would cause us to act (putting a six-pack of Bud into the shopping cart).
AIDA in the Law
The AIDA method, so effective in selling everything from beer to Chryslers, is equally applicable to lawyers.
As a jury consultant, I focus largely on persuading juries, judges and arbitrators. But even for those rarely inside a courtroom, persuasion is still an important skill. Almost every aspect of lawyering involves some degree of persuasion: pitching a prospective client, negotiating settlement terms, rallying colleagues to vote for your favorite partner candidate, and, of course, motivating the jury to render a verdict favoring your client.
Here are a few ways to incorporate AIDA into everyday persuasion:
1. Start strong.
Research suggests it takes us seven seconds to size someone up. You literally have mere seconds to convince whoever you’re trying to persuade that whatever you’re “selling” is worth their continued attention. Yikes.
Don’t waste the first few precious moments of a speech, pitch or opening statement with platitudes and credentials. In some circumstances, this applies to written product, too. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box; start with a bang and grab people’s attention from the get-go — but don’t go rogue. If you are completely off the reservation, people could decide that you’re weird, question your credibility and disengage, which kills your persuasive power.
2. Include the audience.
Most presentations aren’t true give-and-take conversations, but participants still want to feel included and part of the process.
The trick is to get them to mentally participate. Engage their brains throughout your presentation (or writings) by asking rhetorical questions, asking for a show of hands, putting a multiple-choice question on the screen or simply asking folks to imagine a scenario to retrieve a memory. When listeners are able to reflect upon their own personal or professional experiences, they are much more inclined to care about what you have to say. Which means they’re more interested in your message than their iPhone and email.
3. Create “snackable” content.
Combining your personal stories with small doses of statistics or narrative evidence will help validate your content. And the more valid your content, the more persuasive you are. Sharing a war story, a challenge you’ve overcome or a hypothetical scenario not only includes your audience and makes things interesting, but also it sets the stage for the substantive content you want to share, such as case law, verdict research, industry trends, statistics, or evidence.
4. Use powerful visuals.
I dare you to find an audience outside or inside the courtroom that doesn’t expect technology during a presentation. Juries and judges expect graphics and digital display of documents, so programs like “Trial Director” are (in my opinion) on the don’t-leave-home-without-it list.
Visuals are a vital element of persuasion even when you’re presenting a conference speech or a pitch to a small group.
The most persuasive visuals are simple, concise and memorable. Nobody is going to remember 50 words on a page, but they will remember a graphic image, key phrase or a few essential takeaways. Less is truly more.
But hear me loud and clear: PowerPoint slides are not a substitute for effective communication. The primary messenger should always be the speaker, not the screen. If your slides are more compelling than you are, you are no longer perceived as someone with an important message; you are simply a person with a clicker.
5. Practice, practice, practice.
You’ve invested a ton of sweat equity in creating great content, but to truly maximize your persuasive power, you must allocate time to practice. And I don’t mean reading over your notes on the way to the courthouse or thinking about what you’ll say during your commute. I literally mean practicing your speech out loud and on your feet. More than once.
Yes, it feels dorky to walk around the room talking to yourself, but a recent study showed a significant memory advantage to saying words out loud and hearing them in your own voice. So, practicing out loud not only helps you remember the content, it also helps you fine-tune your delivery, which builds confidence. And confident, prepared speakers are more persuasive speakers.
One of the most basic and most powerful human needs is to connect with others and create a sense of fellowship, even if only for 30 minutes. To speak to others—to share your knowledge, to try to influence them in some way—is to reveal something of yourself, and that can be a tad scary.
But, when done well, it can be a powerful experience both for the speaker and for the audience.