Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Stealing Thunder: say the worst, but say it first

Some presentation tactics go against common sense. Suppose that you are giving a panel presentation about a controversial topic. You know there is a weakness in your case - negative information that would damage your position.

Should you:
[1]. Make sure to bring it up before your opponent does.
[2]. Ignore it and hope that he or she does not bring it up.

Trial lawyers know that the correct answer is [1]. Being proactive with bad news in order to soften its impact is known as “stealing thunder”. (Psychologists call it inoculation. Lawyers do it because it usually works, as has been shown in research by Kipling Williams.

Examples of this tactic show up on TV shows such as “Law and Order”. Sam Waterston, who plays District Attorney Jack McCoy, said that he not only has to make the prosecution case, but also has to make the defense’s case before they do.

Stealing thunder is 300 years old. The cartoon showing Daniel Webster stealing Henry Clay’s thunder is somewhat younger.

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