If you’ve devoted years to a case and have prepared intensively for trial, you’ve probably memorized all the relevant data so you won’t need to refer to notes for your opening statement and closing arguments. At least you hope so! Going off notes is key to capturing and holding the jury’s attention. If you can memorize what you want to say, the jury will more likely remember what you did say.
Some people are just better able to memorize data than others. And it’s not uncommon for attorneys who are new to opening statements and closing arguments to suffer memory lapses due to the stress of talking to the jury.
Try these four techniques to make it easier for you to memorize your opening statement and closing argument:
- Use chronological order. Because the opening statement is primarily a narrative of events, their chronological order largely governs the sequence of materials presented. Chronological order also serves as an excellent memory guide. But despite its advantages, don’t be a slave to strict chronological order; sometimes it should be interrupted to emphasize or make a special point.
- Label digressions. When you “digress” within a narrative, label in alphabetical order—A, B, C, etc.—each major event in its order of occurrence that you cover in the digression. It’s then useful to frame a truncated declarative statement summarizing the event so that it starts with a word whose first letter matches the order of the alphabet.
- Number your points. Closing arguments are much less dependent on narrative order, but plaintiff’s counsel should make sure to argue all the evidence from which the jury can infer the existence of ultimate facts. Numbering all the evidence points and then listing the numbers for the jury is an aid to memory. Similarly, if the defense is based on offering rival facts to those asserted by plaintiff, or a different interpretation of those facts, defense counsel may also want to number points.
- Use concept associations. Memorization techniques are based on the principle of associating the unfamiliar with the familiar in an organized way. For example, orators in Greece and lawyers in Rome who memorized entire speeches aided their memories by attaching a mental image to each thought, usually a striking and unusual image, and placing each image in an imaginary structure, e.g., each in a particular room in a house. Build your own “house” and take advantage of the striking image technique to impress your story on the jurors’ memory.
The presentation of openings and closings requires all the tools of the actor’s art, including mastering memorization techniques. Experience before juries can help an attorney acquire these skills, and lack of such experience leaves many novice trial attorneys at a considerable disadvantage. It may be worthwhile for the aspiring trial attorney to invest in acting lessons, as well as advocacy seminars.
If you are a poor memorizor who worries that you’ll go blank under pressure, consider using visual aids—they can assists the jurors’ comprehension and memory, as well as give you a memory boost if you need one.
For more practical tips for developing and presenting opening statements and closing arguments, including samples to learn from, turn to CEB’s Persuasive Opening Statements and Closing Arguments, chapter 2. Also check out CEB’s program Effective Opening Statements and Closing Arguments As Taught By California’s Top Trial Attorneys, available On Demand.
Related CEB blog posts:
- The Key to a Persuasive Opening Statement: A Strong Outline
- Don’t Go There in Your Closing
- Telling the Jury a Compelling Story
- Be a Strong Closer: 3 Tips for Your Closing Argument
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