Attorney James Earhart had done an admirable job defending Karen Sypher. For those unaware, she is the the woman who was accused of attempting to extort money from Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino. However, according to jurors, Mr. Earhart inexplicably went off-script at the end of the trial and lost them. The following excerpt from an article in the Courier-Journal says it all…
…in his closing argument, James Earhart seemed to abandon his carefully scripted defense, Elder [the foreperson] and other jurors said. First, the defense lawyer admitted that [Pitino] had been the victim of extortion, after previously arguing that it was Pitino who bribed Karen Sypher. Then, Earhart abruptly offered up a culprit for all the threats delivered to the coach — Tim Sypher, Karen's then-husband, Pitino's longtime aide and equipment manager.
“It was a surprise,” Elder [said] “It was the first time we had heard it. There was no evidence to support it. It almost was like it was an after-thought.”
Many overestimate their ability to perform “on the fly” or “off the cuff,” but still choose to attempt it. Some say the delivery of an impassioned speech is more “organic” or “real” when put together at the last minute. Others just like the adrenaline rush or are serial procrastinators. No matter the rationale, those who think a closing argument (or opening statement; or direct examination) is more powerful and effective without practice are mistaken.
This paper out of the University of Miami utilized quantifiable measurements to demonstrate that practicing speeches in front of an audience is very helpful to performances. Moreover, it found that the larger the practice audience, the more adept the speaking presentation in front of a real audience. So, while it may be more comfortable to stand in front of your bedroom mirror, it would be more useful to gather your family or co-workers.
Don’t have anyone to use as a practice audience? No worries. Researchers from Washington State University have shown that even simple visualization can substantially aid in the delivery of speeches. Not only did those subjects exposed to visualization perform better than the control and placebo groups, but they also had significant reductions in trait and state communication apprehension.
Some people may feel like they are “special” or have a “unique ability” to deliver presentations extemporaneously. That is certainly possible. However, those who have read Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers will know of the “10,000-Hour Rule” which suggests that the key to becoming an expert in any discipline includes thousands of hours of practice (and some luck). How many of us could claim to even having 1,ooo hours of “off the cuff” speaking experience in high-pressure situations like a trial?
I realize that preparation levels vary by the importance of the performances (a deposition interview is not an opening statement). However, I would suggest that we all sometimes cut corners under the belief that practice is unnecessary. This is especially true when we are confident about our subject matter feel connected to it. With that in mind, I leave you with this clip of testimony from a Santa Cruz City Council meeting. This woman was passionate and felt like she had to make a strong case for her position, however she obviously skimped on the preparation. As you can see, it didn’t quite work out. (Miss Teen South Carolina has met her match.)
Blogger: Matt McCusker