Monday, April 6, 2009

Presentation Special Case: Going to Court

I spent Friday morning at Small Claims Court. I didn’t know if this would be more Judge Judy or Night Court. Not only was it both, it was a classic learning example for presentation skills.
Which story would you rather hear?

Option A: It was a Tuesday, and I went to have my nails done, because I always go on Tuesday. So I was there and there was a bunch of talk about the ants, and you know how those ants can be. So anyway, she came over and sprayed something, I think it was Raid, and I told her not to because that’s so irritating. So then I left, and I tripped – oh now I remember, it was that generic Costco ant spray – and I fell to the ground. So I left and went home, and I was at a family gathering the next week and my knee was so bad, but I couldn’t think what I had done to it. So I got an x-ray – that was at Kaiser. And then I had to get another type of medicine and that was also really expensive. And when I called the salon they said they hadn’t sprayed any ant spray and so I decided not to deal with them and come here to you.

Option B: Your honor, I was at the salon on June 23rd. When I left the salon I slipped on some liquid, and fell. As a result, I incurred $4K in medical bills, which I believe the defendant should pay.

Option A was quite entertaining. The judge did a great job balancing the person’s need to express with his need to get the actual facts of the case. However, after the 3rd case with similar organization problems, I started to get a bit frustrated. Appearing in court is a type of public speaking. The rules don’t go away just because the audience is different. In fact, some rules become even more important.

  1. Organize your statement. Tell it from A-Z. Practice it before you get to the hearing.
  2. Focus on the most important parts. No one cares if the salon uses Raid, Simple Green or just plain water – unless it affects the case.
  3. Give detail where needed. If you need to describe multiple calls, or trace the history in detail, do it. But closely watch if the details enhance your story, or just make it longer.
  4. Provide documentation – but make sure it’s organized and easy to follow. (HR people are always advising you to keep records, this is the time to use them.)
  5. Brainstorm possible questions from the judge or from the defendant, and be prepared to answer them.

Appearing in court isn’t a time when you want to be memorable. It’s a time when you want to be focused and convincing. Invest in the preparation upfront so you can have the best chance of winning the case.

[Image courtesy of Joe Gratz]

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