The most important concept to remember in organizing your statements to the jury, whether during opening statement or closing argument, is the “rule of primacy”: Jurors tend to believe what they hear first and most frequently.
What someone believes first is hard to change or dislodge. That’s why going first gives the prosecution in a criminal case or the plaintiff in a civil case a distinct advantage.
But regardless of whether you speak first to the jury, you can use these “rule of primacy” techniques to get them on your side:
Take advantage of your opening. The opening statement is made when jurors usually are the most attentive. Using a clear theme and reinforcing it with strong language chosen to produce a specific perception in the minds of jurors can help you persuade jurors even before presentation of the evidence. If a plaintiff gives a compelling opening statement, it’s absolutely imperative that the defense’s opening statement eliminate or minimize the effect of the rule of primacy. The task is made somewhat easier by the fact that jurors tend to forget much of what’s said to them. The defense opening should take advantage of the fact that what people do remember is what they hear at the beginning and end of a presentation.
Tell them what you are going to tell them; tell them; and then tell them what you’ve told them. This presentation organization is used by teachers with students and preachers with congregations. The trial format itself echoes these principles. The opening statement provides the first opportunity to “tell them what you are going to tell them.” Then, when you present the evidence, you do “tell them.” Finally, in closing argument, you “tell them what you’ve told them.”
Use opportunities for repetition when you get them. The opening statement and the closing argument should be used as vehicles for repetition. The use of repetition, along with strong, confident language selected for its most favorable emotional appeal, can be an extremely effective way to reinforce a party’s perspective in the eyes of the jurors. This is especially true when the same theories, facts, and phrases are used in the opening statement and closing argument. Jurors tend to remember and believe what they hear most often.
For many more expert tips on preparing and presenting statement and arguments, turn to CEB’s Persuasive Opening Statements and Closing Arguments, chap 2. And check out the expert authors of this book in CEB’s program Persuasive Opening Statements & Closing Arguments, available On Demand.
Other CEBblog™ posts on opening statements and closing arguments:
- Make Your Opening and Closing Memorable: 4 Memorizing Tips
- Outlining a Defense Opening Statement
- Expert Tip: Use Jury Instructions in Your Opening and Closing
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