Music in Trial

The Psychology of Music in Trial

From the first day when a client walks through the door and begins telling us their story, we are listening for the best way to present that story to a jury. We are listening for bad facts. We are listening for facts that will draw out the emotion that we need to persuade a decision maker to help our new client. We are listening for themes, and we are developing a theory of the case from day one. We listen for trilogies because we know that a good trilogy is one of the most powerful linguistic tools at our disposal. Trilogies stick in a person’s mind and they can drive home our most persuasive points in a permanent way. How much more powerful would our key phrases be if they were delivered with musical notes that would stick in a person’s mind like a jingle? Sound ridiculous? We don’t think about it, but when we speak we are speaking in notes. Often the notes are flat, monotone, and difficult to distinguish, but they are there nonetheless. Why not use them?

Actively listen to yourself as you prepare and deliver lines that you anticipate using during trial. Practice speaking more expressively when delivering the key phrases that you want the jurors to remember. Try different phrases with different intonation until you settle on the perfect expression that brings out the perfect union of pitch and message. Create a jingle. Practice delivering your key phrase with the same combination of notes until it flows naturally. Practice weaving that phrase into your anticipated conversations with the jurors, in opening statements, cross-examinations, direct-examinations, and closing argument. Practice it in front of people, whether it’s a mock jury, people that work in your office, or just family and friends. Don’t tell them what you are doing, but then get their feedback on whether anything stood out to them, stayed in their minds, and whether the presentation flowed naturally.

Still sound ridiculous? In the audio clip below, Professor Dianna Deutsch talks about how she sometimes creates a loop of her presentations so she can listen over and again to soften the s’s and ch’s and hard consonants in her studio. So one day she is working on a loop that is part of a sentence that says “sometimes behaves so strangely,” and she accidentally leaves it running as she goes into the kitchen. She is sitting in the kitchen drinking a cup of tea and thinks she hears music, but it is the loop still playing in the next room. When she re-enters the studio, with the loop still playing on repeat, she realizes that this phrase with its particular musical intonation is now stuck in her head. Like a jingle.

Of course, Prof. Deutsch has an expressive speaking voice, a lovely British accent, and the loop has clearly definable notes. But it does stick in your head. I still hear it in my head as I sit here typing this. I immediately thought how powerful this could be if the words “sometimes behaves so strangely” were replaced with “she just wanted him to stop,” or whatever phrase encapsulates our client’s story. The notes that you articulate would be whatever notes flow naturally from your expressive voice. Listen: