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What is the Power of a Question?

November 5, 2018 // Law

By: Amy Singer, Ph.D. and Kristina Denius, J.D.

“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom.” -Socrates


How many times have you found yourself frustrated by jurors who are confused about the facts and issues of your case, jurors who couldn’t grasp the forest for the trees? Persuasion Research Technology tells us that by identifying and tapping into what juror’s want to know, and the order they want to know it in, you can guide the juror through your case with a decision-mapping strategy to a favorable result. How is this accomplished? By focusing on two types of questions, questions that educate and questions that persuade.


Questions that educate tell you what must be answered in order for a person to make a decision. These questions generally come from analyzing participants questions in pre-trial research. These questions reveal the key things that you will need to educate jurors about at trial. Learning why these questions are important to the research participant, and ultimately you and your case, is the basis of Decision-Navigation®, a vitally important component in determining what the juror’s need to know to make a decision. Questions jurors want to know segue into the second type of questions that are vital to your case, rhetorical questions.


Questions that persuade are usually rhetorical questions. Rhetorical questions are asked not for the answer, but for the effect.  At trial these questions are posed to imply opinion and judgment, subtly influencing the decision-makers final conclusion. These questions also make very effective demonstrative aid titles because they diffuse responsibility onto the decision-maker. The goal is to use rhetorical questions through the trial to lead the juror to a verdict in your favor.


For instance, in the Casey Anthony trial, it was discovered in live-streamed (via Wizpor™) research that the participants’ queries were focused on who was ultimately in charge of protecting little Caylee. Casey wasn’t working, so who was supporting this child? And Casey’s mother Cindy was working all the time to make ends meet as a nurse. By all accounts, Casey was a good mother, but she was also a young, single, stressed out mother and the parenting was shared with the grandparents, George and Cindy. Also, it became clear that this was a highly dysfunctional family. But, was anyone in the Anthony family really capable of murdering a young child they all seemed to love and dote on so much? The participants’ questions made it clear they wanted to know who ultimately was responsible for Caylee’s safety.  


Some participants’ questions revolved around the Anthony family’s routine.  Who bought the blanket Caylee was found wrapped in? Who fed Caylee her breakfast? Who bought Caylee her clothes? Where did she sleep? Who put her to bed at night? Who was ultimately responsible for protecting Caylee in Anthony home?


Other questions focused on physical items in evidence. Who left the ladder down on the pool? Cindy. And how do we know this? Cindy told someone at work… Who owned the duct tape? George. Who owned the car that smelled like a dead body? George. Who was babysitting that fateful day? George. So, what happened? Was this an accidental drowning on a hot Florida summer day, or cold-blooded murder? What are the chances that other than a cold-blooded murder, this was a tragic accident? That instead of murder, this was an incredibly dysfunctional family’s dysfunctional reaction to a tragic accident, that in George’s own words “snowballed out of control?”


Using the feedback from the questions garnered during our live-streamed (via Wizpor™) research we were able to educate the jury that this was an accident, and nobody was at fault. By weaving rhetorical questions throughout the trial presentation and with demonstrative aids, the jurors were able to see the forest for the trees. This lead to a subsequent jury verdict of “NOT GUILTY.”


So, questions anyone?

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