A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with Kim Watson, one of our interns last summer, who retruned to help with a couple projects in her spare time this summer. She was talking about experiences from her first year in Law School ath the University of Illinois. After our conversation, I asked her to write a guest post for the blog.
That post follows. I’ll add a couple comments at the end. . .
How do you stand out?
How do you persuade others of your ideas?
As continual learners, we are always looking for ways to become more persuasive and communicate our ideas. We read books on persuasion, attend training to improve our communication and more. Have you ever looked to the legal field to learn about their persuasion tactics? Probably not, but I think you would be intrigued at a certain Justice’s persuasion tactics.
Justice Scalia is the most mentioned current Supreme Court justice in law review articles.
I remember in Constitutional Law study group my peers would say ok what do the justices think on X topic and the response especially at the beginning of the year was always, “I don’t know about the other justices but I know what Justice Scalia thinks.”
How can that be? How is it that most law students remember Justice Scalia’s opinion but not the other justice’s?
Let’s find out.
1. His writings are highly readable.
He keeps his audience entertained by adding quotes from West Side Story and being the first justice to cite Oscar the Grouch in a court opinion. He makes the reading exciting. People want to enjoy themselves. Justice Scalia can make extremely dull areas of the law entertaining, and that is one of the reasons people remember his words.
He also avoids lengthy, convoluted legal jargon. If someone cannot understand your speech or writing, you have immediately lost him or her. In today’s world people want something they can understand quickly. We are impatient.
Justice Scalia also knows his audience. He claims he is writing for the future generation and for law students. I know as a 22 year old law student I enjoy reading his outrageous statements when I’m reading for class regardless of whether I support them or not.
When you are preparing for a presentation or writing a proposal, ask yourself these questions.
- Can someone who is not educated on my topic understand what I am writing/saying?
- Am I going to entertain people? Do I have any stories that I mention or analogies to movies, celebrities etc.?
- What is the culture like of the organization you are speaking to? Would they be receptive to entertaining analogies?
2. Know what you want
Bryan Garner who collaborated with Justice Scalia to write Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges was told by a judge that 80 percent of lawyers do not know what they want when they are arguing a case.
If you are not clear on what your goal is or what you want, how can you possibly persuade anyone?
Ask yourself before you start writing:
- What is my goal? What do I want to accomplish out of this writing/presentation?
Then, after you have written your material ask yourself:
- Is my goal clear? Am I persuading people to follow my goal?
3. Be efficient in your communication
Justice Scalia likes to write clearly and succinctly and likes to read briefs that are quick and to the point. He is impatient and wants the important material right then and there.
Aren’t we all a little impatient to get the goods? Think back to a meeting where the speaker talked for an hour when he or she could have gotten to the point in 20 minutes. How did you feel?
Did you start to ignore the speaker and look at your smartphone or think about your tasks for the day?
Your communication needs to move the ball forward. If certain sentences or slides do not progress your ideas they need to be taken out.
Really analyze your writing or presentation and ask:
- Does this material progress my idea? Is it moving the ball forward?
Even if you are not an attorney, know about Justice Scalia or support his ideas these three tips will improve your communication skills today if you focus on them.
In Justice Scalia’s book, there was a quote from T.W. Wakeling.
“Experience is undoubtedly a great teacher, yet it may be counterproductive if what has been cultivated and refined are bad habits.”
Regardless of how many times you have given a speech or written a proposal, you need to ask yourself these questions today to improve your communication skills. Simply continuing to make presentations or write will not tap all of your communication potential.
Kim makes great points here and shares an example I would never have been able to share with you.
Think about your next communication opportunity (which, as a leader comes moment to moment!) And think about how you can apply the lessons of Justice Scalia, as tranlated so well through Kim Watson.
A final note – some of the points Kim makes are explored in depth in our Creating Compelling Communication learning package. If this post speaks to you, that product will be a great addition to your personal, or organizational learning library.