How to Speak as Well as David Boies
by Marsha Hunter
David Boies spoke outside of the United States Supreme Court after the decisions on DOMA and California’s Proposition 8. He is, of course, one of America’s most prominent trial lawyers, and a remarkably well-spoken one. It was fascinating to hear him shape his thoughts about the decision, without notes, and with only two very small fluency errors. It was so interesting, in fact, that I transcribed it and crunched some numbers for you.
Boies spoke for 5 minutes and 25 seconds, using 688 words clustered into 144 distinct phrases. The average number of words he used per phrase was 4.7. He spoke at a rate of 123.6 words per minute.
The interesting statistic here is that he parsed his language into 144 phrases! Frankly, I was surprised. I’m a big fan of speaking in phrases, but I did not think that 688 words would break down so beautifully into so many phrases—I would have guessed there were fewer. But listen as he makes it easy for his listeners to hear and process every single word. There is barely a wasted syllable, except when he repeats one two-word phrase and re-pronounces one word. (This is an average number of fluency errors for articulate speakers.)
His phrases are all about four to five words long. Many are two or three, and a few are just one. His longest phrase is sixteen words, and include words that trip easily off his tongue:
“that when that case finally does come to the United States Supreme Court on the merits”
His delivery is completely clear, with crisp consonants, elongated vowels, and sentences that end with emphatic words. He includes the themes from the case, provides an overview of the strategy he and Ted Olson used, and manages to weave both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence into his message.
Boies gives a perfect demonstration of how to be well-spoken. If you want to be articulate, speak in phrases.
Listen to his comments while following the transcript below.
1 This is a great day for America.
2 Ten years ago
4 the United States Supreme Court
5 in Lawrence against Texas
6 took the first important step
7 to guarantee that all Americans
8 regardless of sexual orientation
9 are equal citizens under the law.
11 the United States Supreme Court
12 in two
13 important decisions
14 brings us
15 that much closer
16 to true equality.
17 In the decision
18 striking as unconstitutional
19 in the so-called DOMA or Defense of Marriage case
20 the United States Supreme Court
21 held that there was no purpose
22 for depriving
23 gay and lesbian couples
24 of the right to marry the person they love.
25 There was no legitimate
27 for that.
28 As Justice Scalia noted,
29 that holding, that principle,
31 the right of every individual
32 in every state
33 to marriage equality.
34 In the California case
35 the Supreme Court held
36 that the proponents of Proposition 8
37 did not have standing.
38 What that means
39 is that in that case
40 the Supreme Court could not reach the merits.
41 But everything that the Supreme Court said
42 in the Defense of Marriage opinion
43 where they did reach the merits
45 that when that case finally does come to the United States Supreme Court on the merits
46 marriage equality
47 will be the law throughout this land.
48 Our plaintiffs now
49 get to go back
50 to California
51 and together with every other citizen of California,
52 marry the person they love.
53 And the next step
54 is to translate
55 the promise
56 that was in Lawrence
57 and that was reaformed—reaffirmed today
58 in the DOMA case
59 that every citizen
60 in every state
61 has the right to marry the person that they love.
63 is important for another reason.
64 When we started out in this case
65 we said we were going to prove three things.
66 We were going to prove that marriage was a fundamental right,
67 and the other side accepted that.
68 We said second we were going to prove
69 that depriving
70 gay and lesbian citizens of the right to marry the person they love
71 seriously harmed them
72 and seriously harmed the children that they were raising.
74 even the opponents
75 agreed with that.
76 And third
77 we said
78 we were going to prove
79 that allowing
80 everyone to marry the person that they loved,
81 regardless of sexual orientation
82 did not, could not
83 harm anyone.
84 And not only
85 did the proponents on cross-examination
86 have to accept that
87 but today the United States Supreme Court
88 said as much
89 because they said the proponents
90 have no concrete injury.
91 They cannot point
92 to anything that harms them
94 these two loving couples
95 and couples like them throughout California
96 are now going to be
97 able to get married.
98 And so this is a
99 this is a wonderful day
100 for our plaintiffs,
101 it’s a wonderful day
103 everyone around this country and in California in particular
104 who wants to be able to marry
105 the person they love.
106 But its a wonderful day for America
107 because we have now taken this country
108 another important step
109 towards guaranteeing
110 the promise that is in our Constitution
111 in our Declaration of Independence
112 that all people are created equal
113 and all people have the inalienable right
114 to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
115 So this is a great day,
116 we thank the Supreme Court,
117 we thank all of you
118 and perhaps most important
119 we thank all of the people
120 who devoted so much
121 to this battle
122 over so many decades.
123 People who did it at a time
124 when it was not as easy as it was
125 for Ted Olson and myself
126 to go into court.
127 The only thing I regret today
128 is that my friend and colleague Ted Olson can’t be here.
129 He has been a leader in this battle
130 for the last four years.
131 He is unfortunately today
132 in another court
133 in another part of the country
134 arguing another case.
135 But his spirit is here
136 and he will be with me tonight
137 and we will celebrate
138 because this is a victory
139 not just for us,
140 not just for the Plaintiffs,
141 not even just for the people who worked for this
142 so many decades,
143 but for all Americans.
144 Thank you.