The Words I Overheard that Changed My Career

The Words I Overheard that Changed My Career

April 27, 2021

Sales run the world.

Every business survives and thrives based on sales. Without them, the company must fold.

This holds true no matter what type of business. It could be sales to customers, fundraising with investors, or even entities who rely on grants or government funding. Each of these pose unique challenges but they also contain core principles that guide success.

It’s not the best product or idea that wins. It’s the one that captures a market and makes the most sales. What this means is that sales drive everything. Yet, over the years the idea of sales turned into a bad word amongst most people.

The narrative shifted into just giving things away and demonstrating value. Don’t push on the customer or they will go away. They will turn their back on the company.

Creators are told to put out all of their best thoughts on Twitter, their website, or in a weekly newsletter. All for free.

Entrepreneurs and founders have to fear push back from telling the world about their amazing product or service if it includes a price tag.

After all, isn’t it just easy to go out and get funding from the VC world. Just take their money and give it to the customer for free. Or so it sounds like too many times from people these days.

Remember, raising capital means selling too.

Salespeople talk about their process or deals they landed and are met with a mixed of reverence and hatred. The world is upside down.

But one thing still holds true. Sales still run the world.

I learned this as a trial lawyer. My job as a trial lawyer came down to sales and negotiation on a daily basis. In most ways negotiation is just another form of sales.

How does a trial lawyer sell?

The biggest sale for any trial lawyer is when they stand in front of 12 jurors and try to close them that their side is right. In my world as an Assistant District Attorney it meant selling a jury that I proved my case beyond a reasonable doubt. There are no do-overs. Once the jury makes that decision, it’s final.

Most of my cases involved violent felonies and child abuse cases. The consequences ranged from 10 years up to life in prison for most of my cases the last three years of my time in this role. Jurors looked for any possible reason to say no to me.

What makes it even more interesting is that the defense attorney provides an alternative theory and vigorous defense. So not only did I need to close the sale beyond a reasonable doubt, but I also needed to do it against active competition in the moment.

Every time I looked into each jurors eyes and delivered my final sales pitch, I knew they were searching for a reason to tell me no.

And early in my career I ran into a situation where I overheard a jury say something that changed the trajectory of my career.

I tried a Driving While Intoxicated case in my 8th jury trial. I was less than a year into my career so still at very low stakes work. I tried a solid case and put forth all the right evidence, facts, and logic. Everything in that trial said the defendant would be declared guilty by the jury.

He even testified and told the jury “I made a mistake. I feel bad for the choice I made that night. I’m sorry for not being more responsible.”

He admitted to drinking. He admitted that he shouldn’t have been driving. He all but said he was guilty to the jury.

I delivered my closing argument. Except I didn’t treat it like a sales pitch at this point. I just gave them the facts, logic, and law.

So as I sat and waited for what I knew would be a quick deliberation, I began preparing my victory tour in the office. I would let all my colleagues know how I tried such a clean case. I would share all the details and take in the praise that I knew was coming.

Sure enough after just about 30 minutes the jury light came on. A verdict had been reached.

They came out and took their seats. Then the judge read the verdict.

“We the jury find the defendant, NOT GUILTY.”

Stunned and in shock I sat there. My brain started going a million miles an hour. I could hear the defense attorney and defendant congratulating one another.

The defense attorney walked over and shook my hand. Told me great trial. I thought to myself “of course he thinks so. He won.” But I simply responded with thanks, you too.

That’s when I saw the jury walking out into the hall. Normally a jury sticks around to talk to the attorneys. Not this time.

So I followed to see what the rush was and that’s when I heard it.

“Now listen here, you know you were guilty and we know you were guilty. But we believed you and we felt like you meant it when you told us during testimony that you felt bad and made a mistake. We wanted to give you another chance. Don’t do it again.”

In this moment I learned virtually everything I would need to know about sales.

The jury didn’t care that I was right. They didn’t care about my logic and reason. They only cared about one thing.

How they felt.

This is when I realized I had so much to learn. So much to study. I had a very long journey ahead of me to become the best in this legal world and at selling.

That chance conversation that I heard had a profound effect on my career. I studied everything I could. I went deep down the rabbit hole. I never wanted that feeling again. Being right isn’t good enough.

Through this lesson I forced myself to learn every persuasion technique possible. I dove into what makes storytelling so effective. I learned about pre-suasion and how to properly frame issues. I studied the two different opening statements in the OJ Simpson case to understand what went wrong in the criminal case and what went right in the civil case.

I looked at ads and watched talks. I met with lawyers, salespeople, and speakers who succeeded day in and day out. I picked their brain.

Because I knew sales run the world.

Landing new jobs requires selling. Negotiation is all about selling your position. Getting a table at the packed restaurant when everyone says it’s impossible, sales.

Day in and day out I practiced. Refined. And ultimately became very good at selling. But none of this happens if I hadn’t lost that case. None of it happens without hearing those words from the jury.

Selling isn’t a dirty word. It’s not a dirty concept. And doing it well makes you unstoppable.

Lucky for me, overhearing one conversation transformed my career and my life.


Want to talk more?

I'm the founder of Performative Speaking. This speaking philosophy developed over my career as a trial lawyer in 102 jury trials including murders, capital murders, and child abuse cases. I also teach persuasive speaking to law students at SMU and coach the national mock trial team.

I regularly speak about sales and communication strategy. I coach and consult founders, entrepreneurs, executives, and other speakers around storytelling, leadership communication, and overall speaking strategies.

You can find my newsletter at

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