Cordell Parvin Blog Developing the Next Generation of Rainmakers

Presentations: Tell Real Life Stories to Keep Your Audience Engaged

Posted in Client Development

I recently wrote: One Great Way to Open a Presentation, suggesting that you can get your audience engaged by telling a story.

Shortly after that blog post, I met with Jon Shoebotham, a Thompson & Knight Houston based litigation partner. Jon told me about a presentation he and Austin based associate, Danley Cornyn had recently given to one of the firm’s clients.

After being asked by the client to give the presentation, Jon and Danley came up with the creative idea to base their presentation on unusual trial situations. They and their client enjoyed the presentation so much that I asked Jon and Danley to share their idea and experience with you.

One of our best clients recently asked us to give a presentation at a conference that included about 300 of its claims managers and outside lawyers from across the country.  The client asked us to speak about what appellate lawyers wished trial lawyers would do during trial to avoid problems on appeal.

Rather than give a generic error-preservation presentation, we decided it would be more interesting to focus on real-life “appellate nightmares” that had happened during trial.  In advance of the conference we asked lawyers who would be at the conference to share some of their stories with us.  We included those stories in the presentation, mentioning the lawyers involved by name.

After each problem we identified, we then provided a suggested appellate solution.

Some of the stories were incredible.  For example, in the middle of one three-week trial, the jury showed up all wearing pink.  No one knew why.  But the pink did match defense counsel’s “signature” pink tie color.  Another day, the same jury showed up all wearing sunglasses.  No one said anything about this during the trial.  After the trial, the jury informed counsel that they wore pink to show they were siding with the defendant, and they wore sunglasses to signify that it was an open and shut case and they were ready to start their vacations!

In another case, one of the attorneys bowed his head and prayed during his closing argument.  He first thanked God for helping him to discover the evidence and the witnesses in the case.  He then thanked God for bringing him this jury.

In another “appellate nightmare,” exhibits marked “for the court’s eyes only” were mistakenly sent back to the jury room along with the trial exhibits for the jury deliberations.  No one knew this had happened, and the jury returned its verdict.  When the lawyers were talking to the jurors after the trial, one of the jurors mentioned that not only had they seen the court’s exhibits, one of the documents had actually persuaded two of the jurors to change their votes.

These unusual trial situations, like most error during trial, required prompt and timely objections by counsel and a ruling from the trial judge on the record.  They also required counsel to describe on the record any occurrences that would not be evident from the transcript—such as an attorney bowing his head during closing argument or the jury all wearing pink.  With these basic actions, even appellate nightmares like these are manageable on appeal.

Using real-life stories proved to be a good approach for our presentation. Our client appreciated us including stories from the audience members, many of which involved cases they had tried for the client. The audience also enjoyed the presentation, and it provided a topic of conversation during the rest of the conference. In fact, several people approached us after the presentation to share their own stories about unusual events that had happened during trial. As a result, we have even more real-life appellate nightmares to include the next time we give the presentation.

I know from my own experience that whenever you can fill your presentation with stories to make your key points, you will engage your audience and keep their attention. If the stories are about true and unusual situations, you will likely have your audience asking for more stories when you conclude.