‘…a man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts…Modern English…is full of bad habits which spread by imitation, and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step…’. George Orwell – Politics and the English Language.
Think before you speak:
Before you speak, think carefully about what you want to say, and how you say it.
In January 2017, Jonathan Paige wrote an article in the Times entitled: ‘Speakers who take their time say much more’.
Professor Uriel Cohen Priva of Brown University, USA, published a study in 2017, in which he made findings eloquently summarised by Paige ‘…that fast talkers are not as efficient as those with a more ponderous delivery’.
Although the study was limited on the one hand, to everyday telephone conversations analysed, and 40 interviews including the speech of 398 people, some of his observations and findings, give food for thought.
It is all very well to communicate in dolphin-like terms, but does the person you are communicating with, take in what you say?
Placed into the context of a courtroom, what you convey to a Judge and jury alike, as an advocate, is essential to making your argument presentable, plausible, and irresistible for the court not to accept.
Cohen Priva observes that there are constraints as to how much information per second is transmitted by a speaker, if the speaker wishes for the recipient to take in what is being said.
Cohen Priva’s study measured the same information and date as to what was said and how it was put, in terms of time. The factors were complex, taking into account constructions of sentences, words used, age, gender, and speech rate.
From his study, he observes that between genders, men convey more information than women at the same speech rate and suggests that this is so because women are more concerned with ensuring that what they say is understood by those they are speaking with. This is not the case in the context of a court of law where everyone who speaks regardless of gender is duty-bound to put their client’s case across in the best interests of their client.
In court, when presenting a case, you cannot go too wrong, if you keep calm, and articulate carefully what needs to be said in short sound bites, with pauses, focusing upon your tone, volume, and pitch.
Watching the speed of a Judge’s pen, or the clatter of keyboard strokes is a good indication that what you are saying is meaningful, and relevant. A fair observation to make is that a Judge who falls asleep or starts to yawn is unimpressed by your presentation.
A point well made, should be made succinctly. Rambling and dwelling on a point, may be cause for annoyance and impatience.
There is no need to continually make the same point. Indeed, doing so is likely to weaken your assertion that you really do not have too much to say.
For me when advocating, I like to convey my points in threes. Make three points at a time, if possible. It follows grammatical rules of beginning, middle, and end. The arguments flow, as does the logic. It will attract the ear of those listening, and hopefully make your argument so irresistible that a court would find it hard not to agree with you…unless of course your fellow advocate adopts the same pattern of speech, in which case….do not then start rambling.
Keep a cool head. Be confident in what you have said and how you say it. Even if you think you are losing the argument, behave as if you are a winner.
Quidquid agis prudenter agas et respice finem: Whatever you do, do cautiously/wisely, and look to the end’.
By way of an afterthought, I was reminded of my late grandfather’s compassionate and stoic reference to the above quotation, after he learnt of 1,000 lines being given to me as a punishment whilst at City of London School for speaking out of turn and given the following line: ‘Whatever I do or say must not be stupid but must be truthful and straightforward’.
Professor David Rosen is a solicitor-advocate and principal of David Rosen & Co. He is a member of the Society of Legal Scholars, and regularly lectures at Brunel University in drafting and advocacy amongst other subjects.