On October 4, 1957, a 34-foot-tall Soviet rocket lifted off the Earth from a Cosmodrome in present-day Kazakhstan. It’s payload, a shiny silver globe with four external antenna masts to broadcast a repeating radio chirp back to Earth. The Soviets called it Prosteyshiy Sputnik 1 — “Simple Satellite 1.”
The world’s first successful orbiting satellite was tiny, just 22 inches in diameter and weighing 184 pounds. But it’s “beep-beep — beep-beep” signal was rebroadcast everywhere, and easy to pick up directly by shortwave radio. Sputnik could also be seen in orbit by the naked eye, the sun glinting off its polished shell. In the moment a person first heard or saw Sputnik, they were catapulted into a new and different world. For 21 days Sputnik circled our planet, captured our imaginations, re-shaped American national priorities, and changed the order of our lives. The Space Race began. NASA opened for business one year later. Within twelve years, Apollo 11 delivered two Americans to the Moon.
Back to the present-day Planet Earth. You are a lawyer on a jury trial. Opening arguments begin tomorrow. How will you capture the attention of your audience of jurors? How will you get them to pay close attention, to focus on what matters most for your client? Even the best storyteller struggles with this. And to be honest, many trial presentations are, by their nature, not exactly heart-stopping. Plan for that. Find an element of the narrative that commands attention from the jurors, that challenges them to think deeply and to care genuinely about what is going on in that courtroom. Capture the jurors’ attention in that moment, and you can have it again later, coming back to that moment when the story struggles to engage the listener. Give jurors that moment they crave, that leaves them changed by something they just heard or saw. Make jurors feel that the trial matters in someone’s life, even in their own lives. Mark the spot in the case that separates life “before” and life “after.” What is your “Sputnik” moment?