Sir John Gielgud was known for waiting to learn dialogue until he had stage direction. He needed to know where he would be on stage when delivering lines. This is the mind-body connection.
To make this connection, I do start with the written word. However, I say it out loud as I am writing. Why? We tend to write in a different manner than we speak. If I just sit at my desk and write in silence, I am wordier. My sentences are more complicated. I do not use the best words. “Know”—a word with power that I would use while speaking—suddenly becomes the more passive “aware of” on the written page.
Saying it out loud while I write results in better phrasing. If I write in silence, I do not get the rhythm or the natural pausing I use when speaking. Great advocates know that silence is their friend. Silence helps with emphasis and retention. The great pianist Artur Schnabel said, “The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes—ah, that is where the art resides!”
Use Your Phone
Once you finished writing while saying it aloud, grab your phone and start dictating segments that you can repeat easily. Leave enough silence between each segment so that you can say it back out loud before the next one. My largest line load on stage was as the narrator in the play version of A Christmas Story. I used this technique. Every day, while driving, my phone was with me, and I was practicing dialogue.
As advocates, we do not need to be as word perfect as actors. I am not urging that. However, these methods help you remember your major points, the rhythm, and the pausing. Abandoning notes and delivering perhaps only 80 percent of your words well is better than reading 100 percent of your words off a legal pad.
Create Your Memory Palace
Moonwalking with Einstein recounts the author’s journey from reporting on the 2005 U.S. Memory Championship to winning it the next year. Speed cards require participants to memorize the order of a deck of cards. One method is to assign a visual to each card. The visualization Moonwalking with Einstein may represent, say, the three of clubs. It is easier to remember a crazy parade of pictures marching past than 52 individual cards.
We remember pictures better than we remember words. After writing the words as I speak, I then convert the written words into bullet points. Those bullet points are turned into pictures or visualizations. A picture is truly worth a thousand words.
For example, if the plaintiff did not go to a hospital immediately after the accident, in my notes I would draw a building, put a hospital cross on it, and then with a red pen draw a circle with a line through it over the hospital.
I then take my pictures and put them into my memory palace. Your memory palace is a visualization of a building you know very well—usually your own home. This technique works not only for opening or closing but also for witness examinations.
I remember the cross examination from a dart-out case decades ago. My client was fortunately driving very slowly when the plaintiff ran out from behind a parked car. So I visualized walking into my home and the floor is not wood. It is asphalt. The plaintiff is lying there. Her three friends surround her and shout:
“Sara, do you want us to call an ambulance?!”
“Sara, do you want us to take you to the ER?!”
“Sara, do you want us to take you home?!”
Sara responds, “No!” to each. Then one asks, “Well, what do you want?!” Sara jumps up, exclaims, “I want to go to McDonald’s!” and pulls out the largest McDonald’s sack you have ever seen. The wilder you make it, the better you remember it.
To be clear, I had notes at trial. With these methods, I could set them aside and concentrate on the judge or the witness. When finished, I would ask for a moment, check my notes, and clear up anything I had missed.
Another great method is to use the exhibits or visuals that you create as your notes. You know your case. You’ve lived with it. All you need are cues to make your next point. Just order the exhibits and use them as cues for questions or argument. Finally, on flip charts I would write “stealth notes” in faint pencil that only I could see as cues for my next point.
These methods will help you avoid the judge peering over the bench and intoning, “Mr. Drummond, if you’re just going to read what you’ve written on that legal pad, just hand it on up here—I can read.”