Monthly Archives: July 2015

Big Words Don’t Make You Sound So Smart

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By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

Most attorneys understand the obvious and immediate downside to using big words at trial. A key component of effective persuasion is comprehension. Audiences need to understand what you are saying. This drives action. People act on things that are easy to understand and re-articulate. Consider the results of one study where researchers found that consumers are more likely to buy products that describe features with simple language than they are products that describe features using complex language.

In another study, researchers found that the fluency (ease with which it is pronounced) of a company name impacts whether or not people are willing to buy stock in that company. The authors note “fluently named stocks robustly outperformed stocks with disfluent names.” Continue reading

Less is More When Preparing Witnesses for Deposition

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By Thomas M. O’Toole, Ph.D.

There is a popular 3M study that is often used to support the argument that attorneys should utilize more graphics in trial. The study found that audience members retained as little as 10% of the information three days later if the presentation was oral only; however, when presented the same information through both oral and visual presentation, the retention rate jumped to 65%. While this study is most often used to support the argument that presentations need a visual component, its implications can be applied to other areas of litigation. One that comes to mind is witness preparation for deposition. Many attorneys meet with witnesses a few days in advance of their depositions to review the relevant case documents and tell the witness what to do. In some instances, a jury consultant will participate to help the witness overcome barriers to effective communication.

One of the most common problems I have observed is information overload. To be more specific, many attorneys spend time in these sessions providing the witness with extensive tips on how to deal with different issues in the case, strategies that might be used by opposing counsel, and a variety of other random thoughts. This may appear reasonable since the attorney is simply trying to get the witness up-to-date and prepare him or her for all of the nuances of the case that may be addressed in the deposition. Continue reading