May 2, 2011 Argument

I am writing of concrete details, not building materials. I am a strong believer in making our presentations as concrete as possible. The problem with lawyers is that we make abstract arguments instead of concrete ones. This comes from our law school education. We argue the law in the abstract and forget that we can’t do that with facts. Concrete facts always win over abstract generalizations. As a side note, I always tell my law class that to become a good trial lawyer you have to overcome three years of law school.

I am writing this today because of President Obama’s monologue at the White House Correspondents dinner last Saturday night. Obama made fun of Donald Trump and his campaign while Trump was in the audience.

“All kidding aside,” Obama said in deadpan, “obviously we know about your credentials and breadth of experience. For example—seriously—in an episode of Celebrity Apprentice, at the steak house, the men’s cooking team did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks,” the president continued. “And there was a lot of blame to go around. But you, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership. And so ultimately you didn’t blame Little John or Meatloaf. You fired Gary Busey.  And these are the kinds of decisions that would keep me up at night.” The crowd couldn’t contain its laughter which quickly grew into a deafening roar. “Well-handled, sir! Well-handled!” Obama added, hitting him right in the gut.

If instead of this satirical story Obama had said, “I do serious stuff and The Donald only has a silly reality show,” it would have been forgotten as soon as it left his lips.  But a concrete story?  It is all over the web and TV.  It will be on news shows all week because the use of vivid concrete images drive memory.  (Albeit as I write this the news just announced we killed Osama Bin Laden so no doubt that will preempt the President no matter how concrete he was.)

The lesson once again is that concrete trumps abstract every time. Our brains are wired to retain concrete images. Language is abstract, but life is not.  It is hard to understand an abstract idea, and that is why we always look to examples and analogies to fully understand a new idea. If you can examine it with your senses, it is concrete.  The lesson:  turn your message into something concrete.