Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse

It’s almost time for Comic Con in San Diego. The convention started in 1970 and now draws 130,000 plus attendees to the San Diego Convention Center. But I’m not going to talk about the madness of trying to get into Hall H, where all the premier panels happen, or squeezing past Predators, Steampunks, Captain Americas and scantily-clad cosplayers in the Exhibit Hall .

download

I’m going to share one of my favorite memories of recent years and it involved The Walking Dead. A few months before the 2012 Con, I was at my computer one morning and got an email proclaiming there would be the opportunity to “run with the zombies” in an event they were calling The Walking Dead Escape. You had three options: 1) Be a spectator, 2) Be a zombie and have Greg Nicoterro’s award-winning makeup team transform you into a “walker,” or 3) Try to make it through an obstacle course set up in Petco Park, our local baseball stadium, alive. Participants would get the 100th Comic of The Walking Dead.

WDlogo

Did it matter that I was out of shape and riddled with injuries? No! I had to do it and as a “survivor.” I told my then-16 year old daughter about it and she turned me down. Flat. No way was she going to participate. I was bummed, but it didn’t stop me from signing up right then and there.

My scheduled time to make the run was 6:20 p.m. I spent most of the day surviving the madness of Comic Con before making my way, already tired, to the bridge that took me to Petco Park. I began to think that the theoretical idea of participating was much better than the reality.  As I waited for my daughter, who’d ditched me to do other things during the day, I watched as a “zombie” chased some of the participants along the viewable edges of the stadium. My first thought was WTF? I’d read the details about how zombies were supposed to act. They were supposed to shamble, lunge, stroll…but this one was flat-out sprinting after people. Would my bad knee and foot hold up if I had to run full-tilt away from a zombie who thought he was in the 28 Days movie instead of The Walking Dead?

Petco

When Kat caught up to me, she also watched people and zombies running along the edges of the stadium. I wheedled, I cajoled…and she agreed to give it a go with me. If I was going to “die,” I wanted a companion. I paid her fee, around $80, and we went to the staging area where we signed a thick manifesto of waivers that I appreciated as a lawyer. We were given a participants lanyard and a tracking device to wear, presumably so they could find us if we were dragged off by a zombie horde and eaten so they could return what was left to our families. The goal of the whole escapade was to make it through the run without being touched by a zombie and “infected.”

There were young, testosterone-fueled men who’d already ripped off their shirts and strutted about, bumping chests. There were couples, usually with one of them looking terrified so you know they’d gotten roped into it against their will. We talked to a college professor and his nephew who seemed fairly steady and tried to ignore the hysteria as our “wave” waited.

military

Finally, it was time. We were taken into an area surrounded by a chain link fence that had black material covering it so you couldn’t see out. Ahead of us were gates. To our right was a cage full of zombies and there was a zombie being paraded around by a “soldier” who held it by a pole attached to a neck collar. “Military personnel” used bullhorns to announce that there had been an outbreak, but everything was under control. Yeah, right. We’ve never been big believers in the government party line.  I quietly told Kat “Let’s move to the side opposite where the zombies are.” I was pretty sure they were going to get out. So we did.

fencedzombies

Little did I know, when the zombie being led by the collar predictably attacked the military guy and the zombies got loose, it wasn’t them I should have been concerned about. The personnel slowly opened the gates in front of us so we could begin our run to freedom, but people panicked (more accurately described as freaked the hell out) and the person behind me shoved me to the concrete floor with all their strength. Both my knees hit the pavement and ripped open, as did both my hands. I then had to get up and run for it, bleeding profusely.

bloodyhands

Once through the gates, trailing along behind everyone else who was screaming and running, we pounded through a fog-filled room dodging zombies and came to some stairs that led to closed glass doors covered with ripped construction paper. There were personnel there who told people to wait as a group. They were letting 2-3 people out at a time. I found Kat and showed her my injuries. “Let’s let the mass hysteria movement go ahead of us,” I told her and she agreed.

SAMSUNG

A zombie peered at us through a rip in the paper, waiting to eat us just outside the door. Blood coursed from my hands and I wiped it on my shirt and tried not to think about what my knees looked like. Then a zombie came from behind us and there was nowhere to go. Fortunately, only a few of us remained so no one did something incredibly stupid and the group around us merely screamed. A soldier came in the nick of time and killed the walker.

Then it was our turn to run and we got out the doors, past the zombie and saw that ahead of us was a rope ladder to be climbed. Lucky me. Climb up, walk over a platform where zombies reached up from below then slide down mats to where a group of zombies waited at the bottom.

ropes

Here’s the thing about zombies. It’s all about timing and sacrificing other participants to the cause. Kat has a black belt in taekwondo and would fake one direction then turn the other way, slipping past zombies. I’m just old and crafty. However, despite our best efforts, Kat tripped on a curb and went down, injuring a hand and I had to jump away from another crazy participant and smacked my arm on the ground.

There was a “breather” area where participants walked up long ramps. No zombies were visible, but it was scary to think they might be waiting around the corner.  Ah, mind games.

At the mid-way point, there was a water station and bathrooms. One teenage boy was throwing up from stress. An older man had wrenched his ankle so badly he could barely walk. I washed the blood off my hands and thought about those waivers we’d signed. As we continued our quest, my hands kept bleeding and so did Kat’s.

Our next obstacle had zombies banging bloody arms and legs on top of a place you had to crawl under. The problem was, neither Kat nor I could crawl given our injuries. We didn’t want to get infected in reality from dragging our cut hands along dirty ground. We had one option: Sneak behind the zombies. This was a dicey proposition since they could turn at any time and touch you and the space wasn’t very wide behind them. We made like ninjas, waited for their attention to be on other participants scrambling under and got past them.

crawling2 crawling

Next up was a zombie horde area decorated with real cars, strewn suitcases and an opportunity to panic. I dashed in and ducked behind a car. A zombie saw me and turned in my direction, then it became a game of run around the car, watch out for the numerous other zombies and try to get out. After some starts and stops, I made it. I was really glad I didn’t see the fast-moving zombie.

horde

Kat and I joined up between obstacles and made sure neither of us had been touched. Participants ran past us or strolled along drinking alcohol, not caring about anything. Camera crews went along with news reporters narrating the scene. Spectators watched while enjoying food and drink.

As we neared the end, we came to an area packed with zombies and about two feet to get past them. I waited. I watched. I timed it until they’d shuffle- turned away from the space I needed to speed by and flat-out ran. As I did, a zombie on the other side of a fence said “Great job!”

Finally, we neared the end. Climb up, cross a rope bridge where zombies lunged at you trapped in nets on either side and from below. We lifted ourselves up to avoid them by grabbing handrails and made it through, ducking and dodging. (Look under the A in the photo and you’ll see the bridge)

bridge

At the end of the run, we were taken into tents and scanned to see if we’d been infected. We weren’t. We’d survived. I heard later, if you’d been “infected,”  you were taken into another tent and either “shot” or given the opportunity to flee and spread the plague across humanity. It was unnerving to learn most people fled.

After we picked up our comics and wondered where our survivor medals were, the adrenaline rush stayed with us. As we walked to our car we scanned the parking lot for zombies and jumped at every noise. We celebrated our victory by having Thai food for dinner where I discreetly blotted my still-bleeding hands with a napkin.

don'tpanicwd

The Walking Dead Escape had 15,000 participants and I heard only 1% made it through as survivors. Most people that participated, survivor or zombie, got injured.  It continues to operate every year, but I choose to let other people give it a try. Once was enough. The lesson I learned, though, is if there is a zombie apocalypse, it’s the people you have to be scared of. Choose your friends wisely.

walkingdeadgovernormeme42

Prosecutors and Sex Crimes: What Year Are We In?

The other day I was reading the Huffington Post and came across an article titled “Prosecutors Rarely Bring Charges in College Rape Cases.” It detailed how an LA County prosecutor informed a victim that he wasn’t going to proceed with her case because jurors “have no experience in any kind of sex crimes occurring in their life” and would have problems convicting beyond a reasonable doubt. Sound plausible to you?

Well, the offender confessed. CONFESSED. Read the full article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/17/college-rape-prosecutors-press-charges_n_5500432.html?utm_hp_ref=email_share

When I read this, I wondered: What year is this? It’s 2014, right?

Image

In 1990, I was a prosecutor and had been assigned a rape case to evaluate. The victim, a Philippine immigrant, was 22 years old. She was engaged to a Marine who was getting ready to head out to Iraq in the first gulf war. The night before their wedding, she stayed with a friend who was going to assist her in putting on her dress the next day. The friend’s boyfriend, who she’d never met, joined them and they toasted the wedding. He drank a lot. In the middle of the night, he came in and raped the bride-to-be. She lay there in shock, doing nothing. When he’d finished, she fled the apartment, called her fiance and went to get a rape exam. Then she got married to him the next day.

I found the victim to be credible and decided to file charges…to the consternation of fellow prosecutors. What was I thinking? How could I win this case? I was even bet by a colleague that I’d lose.

That was 1990. I’d look around me and see prosecutors refusing to issue cases, not because they didn’t have enough evidence to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt, but because they were afraid to lose. If it wasn’t a “slam dunk,” they wouldn’t do it. They also worried about jurors and whether they could put together a group who would convict. Trust me, if you’ve studied jury selection enough there’s an intelligent way to find a good jury.

The issue the defense chose to bring forward at trial was not consent, but that the victim wasn’t reasonably afraid. I brought in an expert on frozen fear to discuss why she hadn’t struggled. My trial team supervisor came in to watch me put on this evidence and I convicted the defendant.

The judge seemed concerned about the issue of fear. Why? I’m still not sure, but when the defense appealed, three justices of the 4th District Court of appeals agreed there was a problem. Their opinion, reversing my conviction, said the victim “should have screamed.” They also said “Why was she afraid? She didn’t know (the defendant) and didn’t know he’d be violent.” Hmm…what if you weigh 90 pounds and some 200 plus man comes in the middle of the night to rape you? Would you be scared if you didn’t know him that well? Also, there’s no resistance requirement in California.

Six years went by. SIX YEARS before the case went to the California Supreme Court. My conviction was unanimously reinstated due to the stellar work of a deputy attorney general and amicus briefs by women’s groups and the San Diego Lawyer’s Club. Here’s a link if you want to read the opinion, People v. Iniguezhttp://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=4186831821555556151&hl=en&as_sdt=6&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr

Image

Every year, there are close to 250K victims, older than age 12, of sexual assault in the United States. Statistics show that sexual assault has decreased by more than half since 1993. However:

  • 60% of rapes aren’t reported and the figure goes up to 95% if it’s a college rape.
  • 44% of victims are under the age of 18
  •  80% are under the age of 30
  • Two-thirds of the rapists are a known to the victim and 38% are a friend or acquaintance.
  • Four out of 10 sexual assaults occur in the victim’s home.

Here’s a link to RAINN, the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network for more information: https://www.rainn.org.

Image

Now, moving forward to what happens with prosecution of rape cases. CBS News reported in 2009 that the arrest rate in 2008 for rapes was just 25%- a fraction of the rate for murder which was at 79% and aggravated assault at 51%. That means only 1/4 of all rape cases lead to arrests by law enforcement. Then the cases are evaluated by prosecutorial agencies. How many cases are actually filed against rapists?

Sure, there were rape victims I evaluated who weren’t telling the truth. That happens, and some cases have evidentiary problems. But, years ago, I saw the same problems with prosecutors not moving forward as there appears to be today. These cases can be complicated and no one can ever guarantee a result, but should they be abandoned entirely due to conviction rate concerns? 

If you want to read more about the problems with prosecutorial agencies, I highly recommend Sex Crimes by Alice Vachss. She was on the cover of Parade magazine in the early 1990′s for her work on tough sex-crime cases no one else wanted. Then she got fired by the Bronx DA’s office. She felt prosecutors were more interested in convictions than justice and was outspoken about it.

Image

 

Read more at:

http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2199&dat=19930801&id=b2oyAAAAIBAJ&sjid=puYFAAAAIBAJ&pg=5451,220609

What is it going to take for this to change? Get involved, become aware and lobby for change.

We’re in 2014, right?

WHAT I LEARNED FROM VOLUNTEERING ON A POLITICAL CAMPAIGN

 This past year, I worked on a local campaign for a non-partisan candidate who had never run for office. It gave me some insight into politics and the problems people face if  they try to unseat an incumbent or not be affiliated with a political party.

1. People really don’t understand government

My candidate was running for the office of the District Attorney. The District Attorney is a county-wide position overseeing all felony and misdemeanor cases. This is different than the City Attorney, whose office typically handles civil matters and misdemeanor cases within their city’s borders.

If only I had $1 for every time I heard this: “I can’t vote for your candidate because I don’t live in (city). ”  This was said by voters I approached within the county.

Image

Think about it.  Most people don’t even understand one of the most important positions in local government, the District Attorney, who is responsible for prosecuting anyone within the county, including elected officials. It’s arguably one of the most powerful positions in local government but a vast group of voters don’t even know what the office does.

Do you know who your City and District Attorney are? Supervisor? State Assemblyman? State Senator? Judges?

We all complain about what’s happening in government, but do we even know the basics about the structure and who is representing us?

2. Incumbency Trumps Issues

There’s a term for what happens in elections. It’s called “The Incumbency Advantage.” It isn’t just name recognition, it’s established financial and party structure that helps an incumbent get re-elected.

Twelve years ago, we had a problem with the local District Attorney. 96% of his prosecutors had taken a no-confidence vote against him, two women had won a lawsuit against him (myself included) and he had other issues. The press was all over this and the paper, radio and television media talked about it night and day. When it came time for the election, he ultimately lost. By 1% of the vote!

Once a person is in office, what does it really take to get them out? If they’re affiliated with a party, do members of that party vote blindly for the person even if they’re doing a bad job?  Do voters take the time to truly educate themselves about the issues or simply mark the box for the incumbent because it’s a familiar name and easy decision? Are voters aware that parties are dumping loads of money into that person’s race to assist in keeping the office? Are voters swayed by the broad brush stroke attack ads into voting for or against a candidate rather than exploring the facts and learning the truth?

Image

Granted, many of the positions being sought for are outside voters’ areas of expertise. Those directly affected typically pay more attention, but voters need to take the time to educate themselves. If an office doesn’t have the best person running it or the best representative sitting on a council/board, the effect trickles down and causes issues that spread to other areas of government.

Are you complaining about what’s happening in government? If you are and want change, do you realize that trying to get a worthy person in office is like tilting at windmills because of the advantage held by incumbents and the apathy of voters?

3.  Knocking on Doors Can Teach You a Lot.

Walk precincts sometime if you’d like to connect with the voting public. First, it’s always difficult to knock on someone’s door on a weekend. Who wants to be bothered when it’s time off? I greatly appreciated people who took time to listen and ask questions about the issues, even if they favored the other candidate.

Dogs are everywhere! The biggest lesson I learned is that if you’re not home, your dog isn’t very well behaved. I always knew when someone wasn’t there because of the insane barking and throwing of bodies against doors and walls. You should get a nanny cam just to enjoy viewing the insanity of your pet in your absence!

Image

Please don’t be rude.  Precinct walkers already feel bad enough about bothering you. I did see a direct correlation between rudeness and people who don’t vote.

4. HONK at people who wave signs!

I spent six hours each day for two days with another volunteer holding signs and waving at people at a busy intersection. Please don’t scream obscenities at sign holders or flip them off as you speed past. If you don’t agree, vote otherwise.

Image

Thanks to everyone who waved, even if you weren’t voting for my candidate. Or honked. That always gives a fatigued worker a little boost of energy. So, if you want to make the day for people who twirl signs for businesses and anyone working such a thankless job– give them a little honk.

5. Please Educate Yourself and VOTE

Sometimes there’s so many candidates and propositions it can make your head hurt trying to figure things out. Because I’m a lawyer, people contact me to ask about who to vote for in the judge races. You can educate yourself about judges by reading their reviews in TheRobingRoom.com. Or take time to look online to see if there’s been problems with them.  It’s like that with any position because the Internet has so much information about that person or issue that’s coming up for a vote.

Image

 

IMPROVING YOUR LIKEABILITY FACTOR

In the past week, I’ve had two people tell me that I have a rare quality: likeability.  One of these people proclaimed it loudly to others, delighting me, of course.

Some people are instantly likeable. They have an easy manner, a ready smile and their energy is attractive to others. It’s been shown that people who have this characteristic go far in life, from politicians to employees.

Image

 The good news is it’s something you can learn.

You see, likeability isn’t something that came naturally to me. It’s a skill-set I’ve been working on for quite awhile. I began life painfully shy and introverted.  I also have a face that, when resting, looks like I’m contemplating the darkest problems of the world.  The Joker would definitely ask me “Why so serious?”

Image

Being a former prosecutor hasn’t helped. My tone of voice can become so intense it occasionally sounds like I’m trying to convict the person I’m speaking with of some heinous crime.

Here are a few ideas on how to improve likeability:

1. Connect with Others

When you see someone, friend or stranger, smile at them. Ask them how their day is going, then don’t settle for the standard answer of “Good or Fine.” Ask some follow up questions. A friend recently told me about a study where participants spent five hours on a plane solely asking questions about their seat-mate’s lives.  Participants would always turn the conversation back to the person and never gave any information about themselves. After the trip, when asked what the seat-mate thought of the other person, they invariably said “They’re the most interesting person I ever met!” Even though they knew nothing about them.

Image

Davy Rothbart, an author and filmmaker, told a story about how he and his dad would eat at a diner somewhere and, over the course of the meal, his dad would start asking their waiter about their life. Where are you from? What are your interests? What do you hope to one day become? His curiosity was so kind, genuine & gentle, it was never long before the server glanced around for the manager and sat down. By the time they left, his dad had a new friend. He wasn’t trying to promote anything or network. He just believed our lives are made richer when we can engage strangers and take time to connect meaningfully with people who cross our paths in everyday life. He always seemed to effortlessly, magically befriend people who crossed his path from waiters to a person in front of him in line at the grocery store to a ticket scalper outside a football game. Simply by asking questions about who they were and what made them tick. These encounters left both his dad and the people in brighter spirits.

2. Be Present

We all do it. Someone is talking to us and we’re thinking of what we’re going to say or other things.  We stop looking into that person’s eyes and giving them our undivided attention, our minds elsewhere.  We’re jonesing for our smartphone, which we haven’t touched for 2 seconds. There’s probably an email or text waiting for us. Or a move to make in Words with Friends.

Image

Stop. Focus on the person in front of you and really, truly listen.

3. Care

Recently I saw a former colleague and noticed he wasn’t quite his usual happy-go-lucky self.  When he saw I genuinely cared to find out what was going on in his life, he disclosed that his  niece had been in a car accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury. She’d require 24 hour care the rest of her life. When I saw him again a few weeks later, I made sure to ask after his niece.

We all have problems. We’re all wrapped up in getting through our days and figuring out our lives. The thing we have to remember: so is everyone else. Take time to notice.

Image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

When I was a kid my dad would lift me out of bed at around 2 a.m. and place me in the backseat of our station wagon. My parents had put down blankets and a pillow for me, no worries about seatbelts. They’d also loaded in luggage, food in coolers, up to four poodles, two cats and a rabbit. The animals were never restrained and roamed freely throughout the vehicle.

Image

The reason for our early departure time was the summer heat. We lived in the deserts of California and would be traveling across Southern Arizona.  The high temperatures could fry an egg on the sidewalk .

Typically my dad would travel separately in his pickup truck and he’d usually leave ahead of us to get our cabin in the White Mountains of Arizona ready for our arrival. The drive from our home was about eight hours but always felt like forty. Mainly because most of the trip looked like this:

Image

Here are some of the highlights of our annual excursion:

Looking for pieces of the remnants of the Old Plank Road sticking out of the sand dunes. It was built in 1916 as an East-West route over the Algodones Sand Dunes, linking Southern Arizona to San Diego through the Imperial Valley.

ImageImage

 

The Yuma Territorial Prison. Situated high on a hill near the Colorado River, it was opened in 1875. It remained open for 35 years and housed prisoners from murderers to polygamists. When tuberculosis raced through the prison, infected inmates were put in cells in a special wing. If they died, a nail was placed on a wood board over the door to keep track. I used to stare at hundreds of nails above each cell. Guards would chain prisoners in a round room with a hole in the ceiling and drop in rattlesnakes for fun. The main guard tower housed a Gatling Gun.

ImageImage

 

Gila Bend. Founded in 1872, we spent a memorable weekend there when my dad’s truck blew a gasket.

Image

I always wanted to stay at the Space Lodge, a futuristic looking establishment.

Image

 

Where we got stuck looked more like this:

Image

I survived on comic books that were fortunately available at the local market.

 Stuckeys!  That pitched blue roof was the sign of a roadside oasis and emporium for weary travelers. Gas up the car, browse for souvenirs,  have cold drinks, hot snacks and pecan roll candy. Now the closest one is in Texas.

Image

Picnics: In the days before political correctness, we would stop at a picnic area near Bloody Tanks wash outside of Miami, Arizona. There was a large billboard showing a uniformed soldier battling an Indian who held a knife. It has been gone for many years now, but it commemorated a particularly vicious battle where Captain Woolsey opened fire on Apache warriors, women and children. At the time he was viewed as a hero and committed to “extermination” of Indians. Fortunately, I was too young to understand this when I’d eat my ham salad sandwich in the shadow of that billboard. Now, even the rest stop is gone.

Salt River Canyon. This beautiful canyon had winding, two lane roads with no guard rails. I would look out the window at rusted car carcasses resting down the steep slopes. This is also where the poodles chose to get in a fight right under my mom’s feet while she was driving! Panicked, I began grabbing fur and pitching dogs into the back of the car before we wound up down a cliff. It’s traumatic enough to travel on that road even now with widened lanes and solid guard rails.

Image

 

Finally, our destination was our cabin in the White Mountains.

Image

Time for homemade pie, fishing, hiking and trying to keep thoughts of the return trip from my mind.

5 Quick Tips to Overcome Fear of Public Speaking

Jerry Seinfeld said   “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Fear of public speaking trumps death! If you’re one of many who feel like this, how do you change it?

Image

1. Start small. If you consider it, you’re engaged in public speaking all the time. You talk to friends, family, co-workers, the barrista, the mailman. So, what’s the difference? The spotlight is on you and you’re invariably in the standing position, perhaps bringing back memories of being in front of a class with the teacher waiting for you to fill everyone in on who started the Franco-Prussian war and all you can remember is what you had for breakfast. Next time you’re out with the girls/guys, try raising a glass of your drink of choice to someone and say something quick and pithy like “Susie, you’re a great (friend, mother, sister, co-worker…)” or “Here’s to (insert your favorite sports team) beating (your least favorite sports team.)”  There, that was quick and the best part is you got to chug down a drink immediately after you said it.

Image

2. Don’t forget to breathe. The boss expects you to present a short report on the latest project at a meeting or you’re a writer promoting your first book. You’re prepared, but the thought of speaking in front of everyone makes you want to run for the bathroom and hurl.  Before you do your presentation, if you’re at work, close the door to your office (unless you want to be talked about) and open your jaw. Reach up and massage the area just below your ears in a circular motion to release the tension that’s there. Now, stand with your feet at shoulder width apart and take a deep breath in through your nose and down into the bottom of your belly, then release it through your mouth slowly. Do that 5-10 times. If you have time, even do some shoulder rolls, shake your hands and loosen up. This is a quick way to get some of the tension out of your body and will help you stay calm when you make your presentation.

Image

3. Don’t memorize. Sometimes beginning speakers write everything down and then decide that if they memorize what they wrote, all will be fine. Don’t do this. I’ve witnessed numerous speakers, some even advanced, get to a certain point in their talk and here’s what happens: Silence. The speaker’s eyes are either cast into the back of their head searching for that next phrase or staring in horror at the audience, mouth working unconsciously to bring the words to their lips. Instead, I recommend bullet points. Take the key content of your speech and write bullet points that will jog your memory.

Image

4. No one knows what you’re going to say.  New speakers sometimes focus on “messing up” their speech. Maybe you’re going to forget something, or not say something the way you wanted to. Guess what? No one will know! Unless you handed out verbatim copies of what  you were going to discuss, as long as you get the gist of things across, no one will realize anything went wrong. Except you. If you did botch something, I recommend you keep it to yourself.  Accept people’s congratulations on a great speech and let it go.

5. Everyone wants you to succeed. When you stand up to give your speech and all eyes are on you, they’re not a pack of ravenous wolves waiting to eat you. It might feel that way, but most people are pretty nice and their expectations are fairly low. If you do stammer and have a few glitches, don’t worry. This will actually endear you a little to your audience. People like to root for the underdog and they’re probably happy it’s not them up there in the first place.  Refer back to the quote at the beginning of this blog.

 Image

 

 

 

DEATH BY POWERPOINT

As a speaker, Toastmaster and public speaking/trial skills coach, I get to see lots of presentations. What’s the one thing that makes me want to put my head in my hands?

POWERPOINT

This product should come with a warning label:

IF MISUSED WILL PUT AUDIENCES TO SLEEP

OR MAKE THEM WANT TO KILL THEMSELVES.

Think back to when you were (or maybe still are) trapped in a classroom at the mercy of a teacher who drones on while pointing to the board and reading things verbatim that he/she has written there. Powerpoint is simply the digital age update of the chalk/black/white board.

Image

Recently, I attended a presentation put on by a PR firm from Los Angeles. Their business is to promote writers. In addition to the speaker using the words “um” and “like” every few seconds when she spoke, the tan text color of the words on her Powerpoint slides melted into the brown/green background, making them impossible to read. Within fifteen minutes, people began to walk out. I thought they were being gracious. I wanted to leave within the first two minutes.

Image

Here are some tips to follow if you’re using Powerpoint:

1. Make sure audiences can SEE your slides

Check the font colors, text size, images from the back of the largest room you’ll be doing your presentation in. How do they look? Will everyone be able to see them? Are they TOO CRAZY?

2. Don’t read verbatim

I learned to read before kindergarten. Most people attending presentations know how to read. Use IMAGES and SHORT PHRASES to complement what you’re saying. If the content of your speech is important, email it or provide in handouts to your audience after you’re done. If you provide handouts before, the audience will focus on reading them and not listen.

3. Don’t marry your equipment.

I’m not sure what’s so seductive about screens and remotes, but presenters using Powerpoint typically stare from the hand that holds the control to the slides they’re showing. The audience seems to have disappeared from their minds. Presenters also stand too close to their machines, like kids in a first relationship who always want to hold hands. Focus on your message, not the machinery.

 4. Look at your audience and move around.

Hi! I’m over here. Why are you looking at the Powerpoint presentation and not me? Eye contact engages an audience in your message. Be dynamic and remember your presentation should complement your message, not be your message.

5. Make it fun.

I don’t care if your talk is super technical or content driven, please interject some humor somewhere. Give your audience hope that the talk will be fun so they don’t start trying to figure out how to lean against the person next to them and catch a nap. Add cartoons, video or some other content that makes people smile.

Good luck to everyone in their next presentation. I’m looking forward to the day I won’t have to keep my Hara-kiri sword in my briefcase.

 Image

 

Adventures In Restraining Order Land

Recently I decided to go to court to watch civil harassment restraining order hearings before a judge I hadn’t appeared before. I have a case in front of him soon and wanted to see if his judicial temperament was  reasoned jurist or screaming maniacal behemoth.

A civil harassment order is something you obtain when someone harasses, threatens, stalks, assaults or engages in similar unacceptable behavior. It enables you to call the police and have them arrested if they come near you again. The court issues a temporary order then, after the offender is served, conducts a full hearing to decide the merits of continuing the temporary order.

Image

When I arrived at the department, the doors were still locked. About thirty people were in the hall. Many were civilians, some were lawyers. I looked at the calendar and saw there would be both civil harassment order hearings and elder abuse protection orders.

The bailiff opened the doors and the masses flooded in. Since I’d be leaving before all the matters were heard, I popped into a seat in the very back row, back against the wall and close to the door. Moments later, a large male accompanied by a part-Chihuahua, part-no idea appeared before me. He looked like a mountain leading a molehill. The dog wore a red service animal cape that looked suspiciously homemade. It stood proudly, like Mighty Mouse.

“I need to sit there,” the Mountain told me, indicating my seat. ” I have a service dog.”

Why my seat looked better than the one next to me, I didn’t know, but I moved. I didn’t want to chance that the dog might have super powers.

Image

All the seats filled rapidly and left numerous people standing in the aisles. Several were lawyers, one who looked like a villain from a James Bond film with closely cropped white hair and a supercilious attitude. He tried to pounce on any seat that he perceived might be available, even if it was when a woman stood to adjust her skirt. When he removed his jacket, his shirt was half-untucked in the back. I wasn’t going to tell him.

When the judge took the bench, his first order of business was to let people take seats in the jury box. I’d been wondering why the bailiff hadn’t allowed it before to alleviate the overcrowding, but guess the only person allowed to use their brain was the judge.

The first case was called and the Mountain got up and walked toward the table where people sit if it’s them who need to be restrained. His little dog marched along beside him, tail straight up,  jaunty curl at the tip. I wondered what he’d done.

The judge indicated that the other party was on the phone. I thought it must be a lawyer using CourtCall. He put the call on speaker and the thin, reedy and querulous voice of a woman filled the courtroom.

“I’m sick, I cannot be there. I need you to let me continue this case. I’m sick.”

Okay, perhaps this was a reasonable request.

Then, “I need to get the FBI there for the hearing, like I told you last time.”

Here’s the thing. People who talk about bringing the FBI to a restraining order hearing aren’t usually playing with a full deck.

The judge tried to elicit some information from the woman, but she wouldn’t let him get a word in edgewise or any other way.

“I’m sick, I cannot be there. I’m going to throw up!”

The Mountain interrupted to tell the judge that the police had been at this woman’s house for several hours a few days ago and that was a typical occurrence. She was always causing trouble.

“That’s not true!” she screamed.

The next thing we heard went like this: BBRRACK. BBBBBRRRRAAAACK.

She was barfing. Or pretending to barf. I don’t know. There’d already been some raised eyebrows and glances exchanged between the people in the courtroom audience prior to this. Now, there was laughter. This was nuts.

Image

Ultimately, the court decided the Mountain didn’t need to be restrained. He dismissed the case. Handler and dog pirouetted out of the courtroom and it was on to the next matter.

A seventy year old woman and her interpreter came forward. She wanted an order against a young man in his early twenties who had rented a room from her, but lived there no longer. She claimed he’d made sexual advances against her. The young man was offended.

“If I want an old woman, I’ll date someone who is thirty!”

Those of us a bit older found that pretty funny. The judge dismissed the case. He told the woman if the young man bothered her again to come back and he’d rehear it.

Next up was a Neighbor v. Neighbor dispute. Neighbor A’s dogs were allegedly pooping in Neighbor B’s yard. Neighbor A claimed it was not his dogs, but coyotes doing this. We were privileged to hear a five minute discussion on the difference between coyote and dog poop until the judge finally shut it down. Oddly, it was Neighbor A who sought the order. Wasn’t it his dogs that were trespassing and causing problems? Neighbor B claimed his kids couldn’t even play in the front yard because they might get menaced. What was going on?

Then we got to the good part: Neighbor B had gotten so fed up with the dog poo situation he’d taken a pile of the stuff and….smeared it all over Neighbor A’s car.

The judge inquired why Neighbor B thought that was a good idea. Didn’t he know that things like that usually led to fist fights? Neighbor B didn’t have a good explanation. I can’t think of any situation where he would.

Image

That order got granted. I would hate to live anywhere near those two.

I left after that case, having gotten way more entertainment than I’d ever thought I would. So, if you’re ever bored, go check out the civil harassment order calendar nearest you. Truth is always stranger than fiction.   

 

 

 

 

DEALING WITH WORKPLACE TROLLS

The word “troll”  is used to describe people who sow discord on the Internet, start arguments, cause uproars and foment general discontent. Trolls, however, don’t confine themselves to cyberspace. I bet if you think back through your workplace experiences, someone will come to mind who fits this description. Your contact with them might even be recent.

Image

Here’s some workplace troll behaviors that come to mind:

  • Running to a supervisor to complain about a co-worker and lying/exaggerating the issue, if there even is one.
  • Giving a co-worker permission to do something that wasn’t correct, then lying about doing so.
  • Complaining about how hard they are working (and insinuating you’re not) when, in actuality, they’re spending more time complaining than working.

 I could go on, but I’m sure you can also fill in the list.

What motivates people to act like this? My first thought is that these people hate themselves and/or their lives so much that when they see someone else who has what they want, they are compelled to ruin it. Or maybe they’re just mean-spirited, vindictive people by nature. I’m not sure.

How do you deal with a workplace troll? No, you can’t bring death and violence into the picture, except in your imagination.

  • Ignore them if they’re merely annoying and not causing any problems for you.
  • Deal with them with humor and kindness.
  • Document everything they do if it’s affecting your career.
  • Confront them in a calm way (with a witness)
  • Call in a drone strike…Oops. Sorry. Imagination getting in the way again.
  • Tell your supervisor. And their supervisor. And all supervisors.
  • If nothing changes because your supervisors don’t do anything and your work life has become impacted by the troll’s continuing harassment, talk to an employment lawyer.

 Image

Your life and happiness is important. Don’t let  a workplace troll poison it! 

The Tale of a Bad Case

This week I had a friend ask me to write about my worst legal experience. I immediately said NO. There have been a lot of gut-wrenching, nightmare making, soul searching cases that I choose not to relive.

Image

The more I thought about this, I did recall one I don’t mind sharing.

I had been a prosecutor for about three years and was assigned to do misdemeanor trials. Today, prosecutors are assigned their cases ahead of time and have a chance to review them. Then, in the days of “Wild West” prosecution, I sat with a group of young attorneys in court behind our misdemeanor team leader. If a case got confirmed for trial, he would turn around with a slim, manila folder and hand it to the lucky recipient with the words “You’re in Department 3″ or wherever you were sent.

One day, I was handed a file and flipped through the pages of the police report as I walked toward the department. It was a battery case. A young man had decide he didn’t like something my male victim had said and hit him.

When I got to the department, my victim sat outside on one of the wooden benches. He was a middle-aged, thin man and looked like he’d just eaten a lemon, lips pursed in a sour expression. I introduced myself and told him to tell me what had happened. He was angry, volatile and had a very healthy sense of entitlement. Within two minutes, I wanted to hit him.

The defense attorney was a blind man who had a loveable, yellow Lab seeing-eye dog. I  wore a pleated skirt with a bow in my hair in a futile attempt to counteract the cuteness of the dog.

The only thing I had going for me was the young male defendant was built like a football player, clearly much larger and more threatening than my victim, and he wore an earring. I was in a conservative part of the county and most of the jurors wouldn’t like that.

After picking a jury and doing opening statements, I called the victim to the stand. It immediately became a game of “Just answer the question.” The victim was determined to go down side roads, embellish his answers and give irrelevant responses no matter what I asked. It took way too long to get the story out about what had happened and I sat down, exasperated, knowing the jury’s patience was probably wearing thin.

Then cross-examination began. After some initial questions, the defense said “I understand you’re on kidney dialysis. Are you familiar with how this affects your ability to recall events?”

This was a fair question. Maybe the victim’s medical condition messed with his memory.

My victim’s response?

“I’m as familiar with my condition as you are with your BLINDNESS! And I’m on (lists numerous drugs) due to being a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. I’m under treatment by a renowned psychologist and (begins long diatribe about his mental illness.)”

My thoughts about this aren’t printable. You get surprises sometimes during trials, but not like that. The victim hadn’t chosen to share this information with me previous to this moment or I would’ve done something to soften it and I would have brought it out in my case. Now it was like watching a traffic accident you couldn’t stop.

In closing arguments, I told the jury that yes, the victim was unlikable, but it could be caused by his mental illness.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a stretch of the imagination that something he said would make you want to hit him, but that was against the law.

That was all I had. I mean, really.

Waiting for verdicts is always the hardest part of a case. You pace around the office, try to distract yourself with other work, but it’s always on your mind. Time passed. More time passed. I’d anticipated a quick “Not guilty.”

Several hours later, I got a call to come to the court for some surprising news: the jury was hopelessly deadlocked. When polled, the jury came back 10-2 for not guilty. I’d managed to convince two out of twelve and still count that as a very memorable “win.”