When you advocate for your big idea, you need to consider how your jury (your clients, your customers, your team etc) wants to feel. Because if you can use words, questions, tone and body language to help your “jury” feel good, you will win.

Words make us feel, and feelings make us act. I saw that for myself when my boyfriend’s  word choice led to our breakup.  We’d been dating a few months when he started answering the phone by saying “Speak to me.” And it drove me crazy.

He claimed that he didn’t understand. What was my problem? I told him it made me feel bad. Then he offered to say “talk to me” instead. Of course, that was no better. When he answered the phone that way, he made me feel dismissed. He made me feel unimportant and rushed. And if he was trying to win my loyalty, attention or engagement–he lost. That was 20 years ago and while our relationship didn’t last, the lessons I learned did.

I learned that the words we choose matter. Every word you choose has an impact on the listener and how they feel. And if you are using words to advocate for your big idea, your team, or yourself, the listeners are your jury. They may be customers, clients, team members or partners, but they are the ones to decide whether you are going to get whatever it is your big idea needs. And how you make them feel will be key to your wins.

Jurors, customers, clients and teams make decisions based on emotions, because that is what humans do. Antonio Damasco is a professor of neuroscience at USC and he’s studied how humans make decisions. He studied patients with damage to the part of the brain that processed emotions. Those patients were not able to make decisions. They’d go on for hours, weighing all of the cognitive data involved in the decision but never able to actually decide. Neither available option won.

When you’re advocating for your big idea, you want your listener to choose your big idea.  And that means you have to make that choice feel good. Words help to make people feel good.

I used what I learned from that failed relationship when I became a trial attorney. Many attorneys put their clients on the stand and say “talk to the jury about your background and experience” or “speak to the jury about your background and experience”. But I remembered how that made me feel. I chose different words. “Speak with the jury about your background.” “Talk with the jury about your experience.” Did that choice of words contribute to all of my wins? We’ll never know, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

If your “jury” is going to make decisions based on how you make them feel, know how you want your jury to feel and then choose the words that help them feel that way. Choose your language (body language too!), your tone, your facial expressions and your energy intentionally. When you’re advocating to win funding, attention, loyalty or engagement, every word matters. Choose carefully when you’re speaking with your jury–and start adding up your wins.

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