Credibility in court is the degree to which the Judge or jurors believe a witness. For a testifying officer to be effective, she must be found credible. In several past articles (web links below), we've looked at different aspects of courtroom credibility for the testifying officer.
This month, we're going to look at how vivid details can boost a witness' credibility.
Made to Stick
In Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, the authors, brothers Chip and Dan Heath, say,
We wrote this book to help you make your ideas stick. By "stick," we mean that your ideas are understood and remembered, and have a lasting impact - they change your audience's opinions or behavior.
That's not unlike what an officer must do in court. The facts she testifies to must be understood and remembered. Those facts, along with any other evidence, must change the jurors' opinions from presumed innocent to guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Made to Stick is a book I recommend to anyone who must communicate persuasively with others in a non-tactical situation. It would not replace Verbal Judo but it's a superb book for leaders, trainers, trial advocates, marketers, pastors, school teachers, public relations personnel, etc.
After extensive research, the impressively qualified Heath brothers (who do not come across as overly impressed with themselves) found that ideas that "stick" share six principles. One of those principles is credibility and they examine how to ensure that the messenger and message are believed by people.
Paint a picture because seeing is believing
Details are a way to boost credibility. Details give internal veracity to your account of something.
Vivid details create a striking, distinct mental image. Describing exactly what someone was wearing, where exactly they were, how exactly they were standing - even if those particular facts are not necessary to the case - creates a concrete picture in the jurors' minds that makes them think that what you are saying is credible. Seeing IS believing.
Also, if we can say it, show it, and prove it in the details, people are more likely to remember what we say.
Studies have shown that vivid details, even ones that aren't essential to the core message, have a dramatic and positive impact on how information is digested.
Consider these two possible ad lines from Six Keys to a Viral Message that Sticks: Part 4 - Carry Credibility (web link below):
- Fact based: Duracell batteries last fifteen percent longer.
- Vivid detail based: Using Duracell batteries in your portable DVD player will give you an extra hour and a half of play time. On the long drive to Grandma's this Christmas, that means an extra hour and a half of peace and quiet in your car.
In a criminal trial, the core message is the essential elements of the crime(s) charged and the facts necessary to prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt. Let's look at how vivid details can boost witness credibility in court.
Credibility and the Darth Vader Toothbrush
The Heath brothers relate an experiment conducted by Jonathan Shedler and Melvin Manis in which they simulated two trials. Such experiments have been replicated. (See, Social Psychology, Kenneth S. Bordens, Irwin A. Horowitz (2001), p. 213-14, relating a similar experiment in a construction contract dispute and Vivid Persuasion in the Courtroom, Brad E. Bell; Elizabeth F. Loftus, Journal of Personality Assessment, Vol. 49, Issue 6, 1985, Pages 659 - 664.)
In the Made to Stick account, two groups of subjects playing the role of jurors were given transcripts of a (fictitious) trial to read. Jurors were tasked with assessing the fitness of a mother, Mrs. Johnson, and deciding whether she should keep custody of her 7-year-old son.
The transcripts were designed to be closely balanced - each had 8 arguments for and 8 arguments against Mrs. Johnson. All the jurors heard the same arguments. The only difference in the two trials was the level of detail in the arguments.