The Texas Prosecutor, July–August 2018

Reluctantly liking The Articulate Advocate

When I began to read The Articulate Advocate, I expected to hate it. There is no shortage of books that promise to reveal the secrets of body language and tricks for increased persuasiveness. I believe those books mostly trot out the same tired advice we’ve all seen regarding public speaking: Did you know that eye contact is important? Have you ever heard about this thing called nonverbal communication? And I know that no one reading this has ever heard that it is important to appear confident—that said, always be yourself! Ugh. Yes, all of those are things—but they are not things that merit an entire book. I believe almost all of the valuable information contained in most “Lawyerin’ for Lawyers” books could be edited down to a three- or four-page article or even condensed into some sort of “faculty handbook” nonsense.1
    In The Articulate Advocate, authors Brian K. Johnson and Marsha Hunter initially cover a lot of the same ground you might have seen in those other books. There are the usual drawings of lawyers in suits standing in a variety of positions and moving their hands all kinds of ways (none of them obscene). The depth of the authors’ coverage, however, turns what would otherwise be clichéd garbage into meaningful guidance on perfecting your persuasive skills. This is more than a list of dos and don’ts. Here, Johnson and Hunter take presentation errors, discuss the underlying causes, and then give practical methods to prevent making those mistakes.
    I particularly enjoyed reading the authors’ early direction on appearing natural. Even though I’ve advised speakers to “just be natural” many times, I can’t help but what wonder who has ever benefited from that advice. (Does anyone think appearing unnatural is a good way to convince a jury to return with a guilty verdict?) Here, the authors make the point that the most natural thing in the world is poor advocacy. Think about it: We have adrenaline pumping through our veins, we are conscious of everything we are doing, and we are desperately trying to control all of it. With all that going on, of course we look inhuman. I for one have a bad habit of just starting to speak without any warm-up—I’m amped and excited to be in front of an audience. Sometimes it works out fine, and sometimes I fumble for a couple of minutes until everything comes together. But from now on, I am going to absolutely adopt a performance ritual as discussed in the book. Like a batter who religiously taps his cleats, straightens his helmet, rolls his shoulders, takes a deep breath, and finally takes the same number of practice swings before stepping into the box for every pitch, I can develop a consistent pattern of pre-talk behavior to increase focus and control breathing. By approaching the start of a presentation thoughtfully and with purpose, I can work to avoid future bouts of beginning bungling.
    You will definitely see things in this book that you have seen before, but think of it like a travel guide. If you are going to Bora Bora, every book you read is going to tell you that your flight will land in Motu Mute Airport. But you can’t bring every book with you. You want to bring the most complete, most helpful book with you. The Articulate Advocate is a complete, helpful book. The authors address every ridiculous thing I’ve done while speaking and the things I’ve overlooked. If you say “OK” after every answer you receive from a witness, that is discussed. If you are monotone, if you pace, or if you can’t speak while seated (that’s me), it is covered in this book. And it is covered by authors who have an expertise in persuasive speaking that is apparent in every bit of guidance offered. Even the most accomplished advocates—and skeptical ones, like me—will find something to like in this book.

Endnote

1  TDCAA’s training team produces such a publication for our speakers. Keep an eye out for it on our website in coming months.

The Articulate Advocate: Persuasive Skills for Lawyers in Trials, Appeals, Arbitrations, and Motions by Brian K. Johnson & Marsha Hunter, published by Crown King Books, 2016.