Screenwriter/former stand-up comedian (and executive producer of the affable heist show Leverage) John Rogers wrote a great piece five years ago on how Democrats–then the party in the political wildnerness–needed to "Learn to Say Ain’t." I’m linking to the whole, but the nutshell version is: Rogers, a Boston-raised physics geek, was having trouble winning over audiences in heartland comedy clubs until an experienced road comedian named "Boats" Johnson gave him two concrete pieces of advice:
(1) Bring a beer with him onstage and sip from it during his set, and
(2) Learn to say "ain’t."
After that, Rogers didn’t die onstage so often, because both of these things signalled to his audience that, no matter what the jokes he made, he shared some common ground with them. Or, as he put it:
My bigger point, leaving all the fancy policy stuff to the wonks who delight in them, is that the art of politics is convincing people to connect with you. When you have an idea, and the other guy has an idea — if you don’t connect in some primal way with the listeners your idea is never even going to get considered, no matter how much better it is on a rational level.
(Emphasis in original.) Rogers made this point even more effectively in a follow-up post a year later:
Learn to Say Ain’t isn’t about being something you’re not, or all things to all people. (and if that’s how you read it, you were really just looking for something to disagree with in order to reinforce your own beliefs. Sorry.) what Boats taught me back then is that we all have common ground, and if you want to communicate your idea clearly, you need to start with the common ground of your audience and then get them to meet you halfway. It’s about boiling your idea down to what really matters. This is not about lying — this is about telling the truth in a more effective manner.
(Emphasis in original.) Rogers has expressed surprise at how popular this post has been. He shouldn’t. It’s one of the best examples of practical rhetoric out there. This is a guy who did standup in small clubs far from home for years; he had to learn the practical stuff.
Rogers was talking about politics in particular, class-action lawyers could benefit from this advice as well. Complex litigation is, for lack of a better word, complex. A lot of lawyers, when they’re briefing or arguing a class action get caught up in the minutiae of the argument, and lose sight of the themes that are going to make sense to a judge (or, should the case progress, a jury). Plaintiffs’ lawyers in class actions have a few natural advantages: for example, their cases often loosely fit the "David versus Goliath" story. Defense lawyers–whose main point often boils down to "it’s more complicated than that"–will have a harder time figuring out what really matters. But that hardly means they should stop trying. Paradoxically, the best way to explain why a case is too complicated to try to a single jury is often to find a simple theme that unites the various problems with trying the case.