My friend Jennifer spent most of last week fulfilling her civic duty, serving as a juror. We talked about the human drama of the courtroom. I’ve been called for jury duty three times. The first time, I brooded about giving up an entire day to sit at the courthouse. Then it dawned on me that it was a privilege, and it was also a chance to unplug and observe the dance of jury selection.
What can you learn from watching jury selection?
Sitting in the pool of potential jurors, I’ve watched people go up one at a time and field questions from the attorneys as they try to select a jury that’s unbiased to the particulars of the case. The majority of the prospective jurors who are business people don’t want to be there. It’s obvious.
In fact, many try to sound just a little bit biased in their answers, so they can be dismissed and get back to their emails, lunch meetings, and deadlines.
These folks look preoccupied and restless; they use filler words such as “um” and “uh;” and they don’t connect with their eyes. I don’t think anyone out and out lies, but they send signals of zero commitment.
How does my experience with jury selection translate to your trustworthiness when you give a presentation, run a meeting, or have a high-stakes conversation?
It’s not what you say that communicates sincerity.
UCLA Professor Albert Mehrabian studied the way people “read” your non-verbal communication back in the 1970s. His ground-breaking study found that 93% of your sincerity and genuine presence show up in the way you look, move, and sound–not what you say.
Your behavior and message need to sync up if you want people to trust you. When you are not present, you are absent, uncommitted, and untrustworthy. In our worst presentations, we are so distracted with our words we don’t connect with listeners.
We say we’re “excited” with a pan face. We say we put “people first” while we check our notes to make sure we get the company’s core values right. When someone with a different point of view asks a question, we clip the end of their question because we have memorized the perfect answer or key message.
Here are six ways to show up with sincerity, in or outside of the courtroom:
- Be intentional, be present. Focus on the value you are there to offer.
- Don’t depend too much on your notes or memorize complete sentences as though people actually talk that way. You will sound canned and insincere. Say things in your own words.
- Don’t give lectures. Learn to be a facilitator of dialogue. Ask questions of people in the audience and draw them into the conversation.
- Be aware of your body language. If you stay in the moment you can counteract restless habits with purposeful movement. Fidgeting draws negative attention.
- Lighten up, be spontaneous, and tell a brief story. We trust regular people who can kick back a little.
- Recognize and appreciate the people in the room. It’s not about you. Don’t come with irrelevant content that proves your lack of commitment.
People “read” one another 24/7. We are sensitized to body language and vocal presence. When there are nanoseconds in which someone’s behavior doesn’t sync up with their words, the mismatch registers with us. Something just doesn’t feel right. We lose trust.
Some Closing Thoughts
As said by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you are saying.” To present yourself as sincere in every situation — including jury selection — be intentional with your words, be conversational, be aware of your body language, relax, and remember to align your behavior with your words.