Have you ever seen a trailer for a movie and immediately thought, “I need to see that movie right now!”? A good trailer grabs the audience’s attention, tells them what they need to know about the movie, and gets them excited about that movie.
That’s exactly what your opening statement will do: it will get them interested, tell them what they really need to know about the case, and makes them want to hear more from you.
1. The Standard Opening Statement Formula Isn’t for Everyone
Most mock trial opening statements are super predictable. First, there’s a dramatic introduction, followed by a story, which usually incorporates a theme that often feels forced. And then the opening statement describes witnesses one by one, telling the audience what each witness will testify to.
If your team can do this in a way that feels powerful and convincing, go for it!
But maybe you find yourself struggling with a dramatic hook or with a theme, or you feel awkward trying to be dramatic. Don’t worry; you’re not alone. Here’s how to prepare an effective opening statement that is true to you and true to your team’s case theory.
2. Use Your First Few Sentences Wisely
Instead of telling the entire story at the beginning (and losing your audience in the detail), summarize it in just a few sentences. Then come right out and tell the audience clearly what your case theory is.
Here’s an example:
For as long as he can remember, Defendant Jack Miller had a crush on his next-door neighbor, Katie Khan. On the day Jack finally mustered up the courage to ask Katie out, DJ Schafer tied Jack’s shoelaces together, making Jack trip as he walked over to Katie. Jack was mortified, but the next day, he sought revenge by attempting to strangle Schafer with a shoelace.
Here, the story is that Jack had a huge crush on Katie, so he was embarrassed when he was tripped in front of her. The case theory is that this embarrassment motivated him to take revenge on Schafer by trying to strangle Schafer. (That story turned dark quickly, didn’t it?)
3. Then, Give a QUICK Preview of the Evidence
Introduce each witness with 1 or 2 sentences. Just give their name, their role in the case, and what are they going to say to support your case theory. For example:
- Schafer was very lucky to have survived the attack. He will take the stand first and tell you that after his prank on Jack, Jack shouted, “You’ll pay for this, Schafer!”
- Lana St. George, Jack’s long-time friend, will testify next. She will tell you that just minutes before Schafer was attacked, she saw Jack running through the halls carrying a pair of sneakers that were missing their laces.
- You’ll hear from Dr. Jackie Spero, a forensic analyst. She will explain that the threads found under Jack’s fingernails on the night of his arrest perfectly matched the thread of the shoelaces used in the attack on Schafer.
4. Then, Give Your Audience Some Details
It’ll take about one minute to do what I’ve described so far. This one minute does everything your opening statement needs to do. Your audience understands your case theory and how each witness’s testimony will support that theory. And because you haven’t been speaking for too long, your audience will still be engaged.
So what do you do with the rest of the time you have left for your opening statement?
You can introduce more detail. Or tell more of the story. Or dive into your theme a little more. Or you can give your audience a preview of the evidence your opponent will offer, while suggesting that that evidence is not reliable.
5. Give Your Audience a Signal That You’re About to Wrap Up
Most times, an opening statement ends with something like “The Prosecution will ask the Court to deliver the only just verdict… guilty on all charges.” I recommend using a line like this to give your audience a heads-up that you are about to end. It’ll get your audience to pay close attention.
Then, re-present your case theory in a sentence or two so that your audience keeps it in mind as they hear from the witnesses.
As soon as you have your opening statement written out, practice saying it. Do this as soon as possible and as often as possible.
What we’ve discussed here is just an approach to preparing your opening statement. When you feel that you’ve prepared a solid opening statement and want some more specific tips, check out: 5 Things NOT To Do in Your Mock Trial Opening Statement…And What To Do Instead.