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                                                                                                          (c) 2010 Jay Flynn

Cartoon by Jay Flynn, personal injury attorney, artist, friend.

If you are sitting in the audience, watching yourself give a presentation, would you be inspired and eager to hear more?   Let’s be frank here. 

There is a tendency to focus on pleasing ourselves when we give a speech.  Maybe it’s because we need to do everything possible not to show our fear. Or we are trying to look good and smart.  When we focus on self, we channel our energy and efforts away from our audience.  In return, our audience will go to sleep.

Most lawyers who speak at seminars are very well prepared.  It is not a question of whether they know their stuff.  Instead the question is – can they please be better teachers.  More entertaining.  More interesting.  More engaging. 

JD Schramm, Director of the Mastery in Communication Initiative at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, suggests that we start by writing down the “heart of our content.  How will we shape it?  What flow makes sense?  What matters most to my audience?  What aspects must be included and what elements are optional if time allows.”

Another strategy is to first figure out the opening line.  The grabber.   Then let the flow unfold in a way that will hold attention.

Do not start off by re-introducing yourself and explaining the background of what you are about to do.  Delve right into your speech.  Start off with a story (but please avoid war stories – these generate the most complaints).  Pose a provocative question.  Use a great visual image.  Begin with something funny.  But beware.  Jokes are often very difficult to pull off unless they come to you second nature.

Here is a list of suggestions to help optimize your presentation:

  • Look at the audience.  Really look and relate to them.
  • Ramp up your personality.
  • Don’t stand at the podium.  Ask for a cordless microphone and prowl the stage
  • If you find yourself speaking in a monotone – snap out of it
  • Don’t speak in a monotone
  • Don’t speak too quickly in attempt to cram everything into your time slot
  • Ask the audience questions and interact with them
  • Don’t fuss around with equipment.  Either know how to use it, find someone else to do it for you, or don’t use it
  • If you have been given a boring topic to speak on – get permission to change it
  • Don’t read aloud case names and legal citations or other extreme details.  Those should be in your paper.
  • To ground the speech, choose a theme. 
  • Consider a metaphor or other linguistic construct.  (i.e.  I have a dream…)
  • Don’t try to model yourself after MLK or anyone else.  Be the best version of yourself.
  • Jazz up the order of the speech.  Don’t be overly logical.
  • The audience’s time is precious.  Make every word count.
  • We are conditioned from a young age to make sense of the world through story telling.  So tell a story. (Without beating your drum).
  • Speaking some legalese is fine with a lawyer audience, but it can become toneless and boring.  Use vivid, concrete, emotive language. 
  • If possible perform a demonstration.  Choose someone from the audience to assist.  Or do a solo act.  Kinetic, interactive, demonstrations are audience favorites.
  • Use Powerpoint the right way
  • Do not read your outline or paper
  • Practice makes as perfect as it can be.  There is no substitute for preparation.