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Eloquence Makes Every Word Important

By Theda C. Snyder

Eloquent speakers understand that in every setting, every minute should be informing, perhaps delighting, your audience.

Every lawyer needs to speak with colleagues, clients and prospects. Litigators need to address the court and sometimes jurors. Some lawyers give formal presentations. To develop eloquence for these situations, understand what eloquence is.

Every Word Is Important

Get to the Point

Eloquent speakers can come up with a word that conveys meaning precisely without a bunch of explanatory fluff. Avid readers command the broadest vocabularies.

Eloquent speakers use pauses effectively so a response is careful but not boring.

Eloquent speakers do not confuse the listener with incomprehensible jargon. Use the words you know. Amateurs think fancy words are impressive. Grammar and usage errors distract from the message. The same goes for pronunciation errors.

Eloquent speech reflects the candid view of the speaker. The eloquent speaker has something to say and a need to communicate it. Babbling in an incommunicative way, sometimes called “word salad,” is never eloquent.

Eloquence Responds to the Concerns of the Audience

In contrast, one of the first things a politician learns is the “pivot,” the knack of responding to a question by saying what the speaker wants to say instead of giving a direct answer. Have you watched a debate or interview where you wanted to scream, “You didn’t answer the question!”? What you watched was a pivot.

Remember your frustration when a witness did this in deposition? You can move to strike as non-responsive, but it still may not get you an answer from an inarticulate witness. Don’t be those people.

Length, Volume and Speed

Don’t speak longer than necessary or go over your allotted time. This bores and upsets the listeners, not to mention the speakers scheduled to follow you.

TED talks are famously effective. One reason is that speakers are limited to 18 minutes, long enough to be informative, not so long as to bore people. If you are a CLE speaker scheduled to speak for, say, 50 minutes, of course, that is how long you should speak — but not longer.

A conversational tone is best. Eloquent speakers do not use a lot of superfluous phrases like: “So we decided, I mean, to be perfectly frank …,” and so on. Don’t read a script or slides verbatim. You will sound stilted and insincere.

Keep gestures under control. They can emphasize or undermine your message.

In every setting, every minute should be informing, perhaps delighting, your audience, not padding for time. Without reading a script or slide, the words should flow without fillers like “um” or “like.”

Maybe you don’t need notes in formal settings. Most of us do, though, to make sure we don’t forget important points. By using underlining, bold or ALL CAPS, you can remind yourself to state certain phrases a bit more loudly to make your point. Alternatively, switching to an unexpected whisper can also emphasize the importance of your words.

Similarly, especially if your normal speech cadence is fast, slowing your pace can convey the gravity of your message. (I once represented my husband in traffic court where I told the judge and prosecutor, “I. Have. To. Win. This. Case.” I did.)

Listen to Others — and Yourself

Paying attention to style rather than content, watch a snippet of a press briefing or talk show interview. How did those people deliver prepared remarks or respond to impromptu questioning? Whose eloquence do you admire? Who came off as smart or a doofus? What can you learn?

No one rehearses the interactions of daily life. (Some speakers obviously haven’t rehearsed their formal presentations, either!) Yet, you can be mindful of your own speech patterns. Ask others to alert you to, you know, like, annoying speech patterns. Think about slowing down, changing volume and using pauses to give yourself time to say the right thing the right way.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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Theda C. Snyder

Theda “Teddy” Snyder mediates civil disputes, workers’ compensation and insurance coverage cases, including COVID-19 related coverage disputes, in person or by video. Teddy has practiced in a variety of settings and frequently speaks and writes about settlements and the business of law. She was a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and is the author of four ABA books, including “Women Rainmakers’ Best Marketing Tips, 4th Edition” as well as “Personal Injury Case Evaluation” available on Amazon.com. Based in Los Angeles, Teddy can be found at SnyderMediations.com and on Twitter @SnyderMediation.

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