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Litigators: How Powerful Is Your Pause?

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

For litigators, practicing what you're going to say is as much about practicing the presentation as it is reviewing the merit of your statement. Arguing in court and examining witnesses requires some level of theatrics, after all there is a live audience.

And while speaking clearly and at a reasonable pace are two simple and obvious things that a lawyer can do to ensure the audience at very least hears the words you're saying, there's one thing that some lawyers simply forget to do, and that's take a breath or brief pause at the right times while presenting.

Properly placed pauses can be critically important. Below, you can read about a few examples of when and how to use the so-called "pregnant pause."

After Lots of Logic, or Facts, Pause

When asking hypotheticals, or going through facts in evidence to preface a question, before you ask that question, take a moment to let the preface or hypothetical sink in. This isn't just for the benefit of the witness, but also for the judge and/or jury. If there's a logical conclusion, a pause will give the audience a chance to get there before you ask the question.

When Emotions Run High

Sometimes a witness examination or argument can be emotional. If you notice the witness, your client, a member of the jury, or even your adversary, having an emotional moment, take a moment of silence. Displays of emotion can be powerful and leave lasting impressions, so if one starts that could benefit your case, taking an extended pause while seeming to reflect quietly could play in your favor. Notably though, if the emotions seem to be favoring your opponent, you should still pause as rejecting valid looking emotions can cause you to appear callous or cold to a jury. Remember: Body language matters.

When You Get Mad

Things go wrong all the time, and sometimes it can be beyond frustrating. It's okay to get mad, but letting anger take control isn't okay. If you feel yourself getting worked up, take a moment of silence, take a few deep breaths, and, as their wont to say across the pond, keep calm and carry on.

Before the Big Reveal

If your case turns on a big reveal, like those frustratingly timed commercial breaks in your favorite primetime television, a pause before letting the cat out of the bag can help ensure your big reveal feels big to the audience.

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