You are an advocate. You publicly support your family, your ideas, and ideally yourself. And you have your “juries”, whether it’s your clients, your customers, your investors or your team. For over 20 years as a trial attorney I’ve given witnesses the tools to step into the witness box, turn to the jury, and advocate for themselves. The most important piece of advice I give is the reminder I whisper right before they walk to the stand to advocate–“Listen.”

It’s not what they expect. Whether I’m working with my clients as a trial attorney or my consulting clients who want to learn to advocate for their big ideas, they never want to focus on listening. When I’m sharing the tools to help my clients become better advocates, they always want to know the same thing. “What should I say?”

The what is up to them. For my sales or leadership clients, the what is their big idea, and they know it better than I do. And for my legal clients, it would be unethical for me to tell them what to say. Whenever I’m teaching someone to advocate to win, my job is to help them with the how. How can they share that big idea in a way that their jury will understand, appreciate and want to embrace? First we work on the message–how can we overcome the curse of knowledge, share the idea 7 times and 7 ways™ and tell a story that will win? Then we work on the messenger–their body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. This is how my clients learn to advocate to win.

But none of that works if they don’t listen. My legal clients have to listen to the question. The worst witnesses are always those who don’t listen to the question, but instead tell the jury what they want to say. They lose credibility with the jury. It makes them seem confused, evasive and in the worst cases, arrogant. These witnesses are afraid they won’t get their chance to speak. They rush to tell their story and in the process make that story much less persuasive. But when they learn to listen, they realize that the questions can help them tell their story. The questions give them insight into the best way to tell the story. In the courtroom, listening to the questions is the only way to win. And the same is true outside the courtroom.

My consulting clients come to me to help them advocate for their big idea. Together we work on how to hone the message and how to ready the messenger. But it all begins with listening. If they can’t learn to listen, they won’t learn to advocate. They have to listen to their clients, their customers and their teams. They have to see that listening makes them powerful, and put as much work into listening as they do into speaking. When they’re willing to receive, what they have to give is so much more likely to resonate.

In the moments before one of my legal clients walks up to take the stand, puts his hands on the Bible and swears to tell the truth, I whisper–“just listen.” I then hold my breath to see whether they remember the work we’ve done on listening. They know how to listen with their ears, their eyes and their hearts. If they remember this knowledge, I know we’re that much closer to winning. If you remember to listen–to your clients, your customers, your team and your investors, you will get all you need to prepare your message and yourself to advocate for it. First you listen. Then you advocate. And then you win.

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