What’s really the elephant in the room?

What’s the Elephant in the Room? Six Steps to Help You Build Trust During Your Next Presentation

I’ll be picking a jury a week from Monday in a difficult and tragic wrongful death case. I approach jury selection as a chance for me to get to know the people who will ultimately serve on my jury and to try and figure out if they will be a good fit for my case. I want to make sure that after hearing all the evidence, they’ll try to render a fair and impartial verdict in our case.

So how do I pick my juries and what can you take away from this process?

Well, one of the first things I do is to try and figure out what’s going to be the elephant in the room. I’ve had one or more elephants in every single case I’ve tried over the last 30 years and the chances are good there’s an elephant in your next presentation room too.

While each case is different, I always try to quickly determine if I will be dealing with a single large and noisy elephant or an entire herd of elephants running all over the place.

I do this because the fact is, it’s getting harder and harder for people to connect with other people. Sure, technology makes it easier for all of us to interact but truth be told, the attention span of today’s audience (my jury and your sales prospect) is only about 9 seconds — less than the attention span of a goldfish.

The point is that you have a very short window of opportunity to gain someone’s trust. You simply can’t say or do something that’s going to interrupt the process. You need to gain trust as quickly as possible and if you avoid the white elephant in the room, everyone will know it.

There’s probably no more difficult of a place to gain trust than in a courtroom with 12 random jurors who, prior to trial, you’ve never met. I guess what I’m saying is that in light of the above, if these 6 steps work for me in court, they’ll most certainty work for you during your next presentation.

But first, I’d like to share the following…

The Elephant In The Room By Terry Kettering

There’s an elephant in the room. It is large and squatting, so it is hard to get around it. Yet we squeeze by with “How are you?” and “I’m fine… And a thousand other forms of trivial chatter. We talk about the weather. We talk about work. We talk about everything else… Except the elephant in the room.We all know it is there. We are thinking about the elephant as we talk together.It is constantly on our minds. For, you see, it is a very big elephant. It has hurt us all. But we do not talk about the elephant in the room. Oh, please, say her name. Oh, please, say “Barbara” again. Oh, please, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. For if we talk about her death, Perhaps we can talk about her life.Can I say “Barbara” to you and not have you look away: For if I cannot, then you are leaving me alone… in a room… with an elephant

The Gerry Spence Approach

Many years ago I learned 6 steps to selecting a jury from legendary trial lawyer, Gerry Spence. He showed me how to deal with the elephant in the room. You can use these same steps to make a presentation, select a sales team or close a deal. I hope you find these steps useful.

But before we get started, I want you to understand and appreciate this critical point…

You need to be in the moment when going through these steps.

When talking about and dealing with the elephant, rather than worrying about what happens next (my verdict or your customer purchasing your product), embrace this particular moment in an honest and transparent way. Genuinely listen and interact during each of these 6 steps. Do this and good things will happen.

Step 1

Figure out what the challenging issues are. What exactly is the elephant in the room?

In a civil lawsuit, it might be the issue of tort reform or a jury’s reluctance to award large money damages. In a criminal case, it could be the race or social background of your client. Everybody in the courtroom knows what everyone else is probably thinking but nobody is talking about it. Understand this reality and figure out what the elephant is and you’re one step ahead of everyone else.

In the computer software business, this issue may be the high initial expense to the customer purchasing your product or, additional infrastructure upgrades and training needed to run the more powerful software.

Regardless of who you are and what you’re doing, these issues are not difficult to figure out. You already know what they are. You just have to be brave enough to listen to yourself and internalize them. You need to pay attention to what you’re thinking about and feeling. These are the things you need to eventually discuss with the other person or audience. It’s not always easy but it is always necessary.

Step 2

Give serious thought and reflection to the elephant. Figure out how these issues make you feel and why.

In my trials, I try and figure out what issue, for whatever reason, will be controversial or may hurt us and I make an effort to grasp exactly how that makes me feel. What makes me uncomfortable about my case or the process? What might make one or more of my jurors uncomfortable? Only by going through this process am I able to understand and appreciate how the same or similar issue might make my jurors feel.

In a sales situation, a high initial purchase price might make a customer think twice before buying your product. Give some thought as to why he might feel that way. Is it truly a money thing or is it really a “don’t rock the boat” with company policy kind of thing? Deep inside your core, explore and internalize the issues behind the how and behind the why. Invite and explore your feelings. Open your mind and heart to understand.

Only after you’ve considered and internalized steps 1 and 2 do you move to step 3.

Step 3

Open up a bag of peanuts and coax the elephant out in to the open. Share your feelings with the other person.

When selecting my jury, I’m very open about how and why I feel the way I do about certain issues. Sometimes I’m a bit embarrassed for doing so but, by being transparent, I’m being real. By being genuine I’m showing my jury that’s it’s OK to be honest and open and to share our thoughts, concerns and even fears with each other. It’s about leading by example and starting a real and honest dialog. It allows us to get to know each other. It begins the trust process.

We talk about the elephant in the room. I’m open and up front about money damages or any other sensitive issue. I keep the conversation simple and human. No big words or fancy legal terms. Just having an honest discussion with my jury. I want them to express their feelings on the subject. I want to talk about it (which is much different than lecturing someone about how they should feel about something).

In sales, you to should share your feelings. Talk about the issues and challenges you’ve developed in the first two steps. Your prospect isn’t going to be ready for your honesty. And that’s what makes you and your approach special.

Step 4

Ask the other person to pull out a peanut and feed the elephant. Ask him to share his feelings and talk about the elephant.

I might ask my jurors, “Am I the only one who feels this way?” I put myself out there. Sometimes it takes a while but eventually a juror will raise her hand and we’ll start talking about the issue or what we’re both afraid of. She may not use the words, “I’m afraid” but the fact is, we’re talking about the elephant in the room.

It’s real, raw and genuine. It’s something many people are not use to seeing from a lawyer. Once the first juror becomes engaged, others will always follow.

In sales, you can do the same thing. Invite the other person or audience to interact with you about their feelings. Maybe something like, “spending this much money on our software has got to be a bit nerve racking. Initially, I’m not sure I’d be comfortable doing this. Am I the only one who feels this way?” Once you get people to start talking openly and honestly, magic happens.

In jury trials, I trust jurors who engage in this kind of conversation. There’s a bond that is formed based upon the fact that we’re all here for the same reason. We all want to do the right thing. But before we do, we need to get to know the “truth” about the other.

Step 5

Accept and place value on what the jury tells you about the elephant.

Once you open yourself up to this kind of conversation, you are going to hear things that will disturb you, bother you, and even hurt your feelings. The elephant is going to step on your toes. But that’s OK. That’s the point. Keep moving forward.

Continue the conversation and be real. Share your peanuts and discuss but never lecture.

In trial, there’s a huge advantage to getting opinions and issues out in the open during jury selection and before the trial starts. Finding out how someone negatively feels about the elephant in the room only after you give your closing argument and the jury retires to the deliberation room is way too late in the game. By then, there’s nothing you can do.

In sales, you need to know what’s really on the mind of your prospect before he goes back to his CEO to make a recommendation. Like I do in trial, you may only have one shot of closing the deal. Using this approach will help you maximize your chances of at least doing so on a level playing field.

Step 6

Hop up on the back of the elephant and continue sharing your thoughts and feelings.

Now that you’ve got people talking and being honest with each other, go with the flow. Embrace the conversation and be engaged. Ask open-ended questions and listen much more than you talk. Use your body language to tell your jury that it’s OK for them to say what they’re saying and to feel how they’re feeling. Ask for a show of hands or a group “yes” or “no”.

Look, I’m not standing before my potential jurors trying to hide anything. If I’m afraid or concerned about something, I want them to know. It’s a trust thing. Jurors will take care of you and your client if they know you are being straight with them and empower them to help you. They’ll respect you for not bullshitting them. It’s a simple concept that frankly, most people just don’t get, understand or appreciate.

Creating an honest and trustworthy relationship with your jurors is what a trial is all about. Acknowledging the elephant in the room, sharing peanuts and giving it a big group hug builds trust and bonds me with my jury. Make sure to bring your bag of peanuts to your next presentation. Understanding and talking about the elephant in the room will help you too!


Mitch Jackson is a 2013 CA Lawyer of the Year and a 2009 Orange County Trial Lawyer of the Year. When he’s not in court trying cases, he enjoys showing professionals, business owners and entrepreneurs how to use social media and live streaming to disrupt, hack and improve their relationships, businesses and practices. Connect with Mitch on Twitter @MitchJackson and at his law firm MyLawyerRocks.com. His daily live streams are shared at Streaming.Lawyer and his popular weekly video talk show is TheShow.live