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Yes, we can hear the jokes now. A lawyer who is afraid to speak is like a vegan at a steakhouse — not only rare (no pun intended) but also a bit laughable. But wait. To many a lawyer, fear of speaking is not funny, it is an unhappy reality. Some lawyers work behind the scenes precisely so they don’t have to talk. And some litigators shine in the courtroom but cringe at other types of public speaking. But somewhere along the way, everyone gets called on to speak. Now what? We contacted three speaking experts—highly sought out lawyers on the speaking circuit as well as a trainer of litigators—on how to once and for all banish fear and give an applause-worthy speech.
According to Karen Lisko, PhD, senior litigation consultant at Persuasion Strategies, “Speakers need to understand that the speech is not about them. It is not about who they are or what they wear or how they look. An audience is basically narcissistic and wants to know how the speaker is going to solve their problem. Good speakers always ask themselves, ‘What do I need to do to teach the audience? What can I do to help them?’ This very simple shift in focus goes a long way in allaying fear and eliminating self consciousness.”
Plus, you have to remember, the audience does not want you to fail, says Tom Mighell, a speaker on the tech legal circuit and creator of a popular podcast series on the Legal Talk Network. “Know that they are on your side.”
For Mighell, nothing beats solid preparation. “I need to have my entire presentation laid out, know what is on every slide, and even plan my transitions between slides. Then I’ll run through it a number of times until it sounds like I am having a conversation, not giving a speech.”
Attorney John Tredennick, CEO of Catalyst Systems Repository and a former litigator at Holland & Hart LLP in Denver, found the best way to get over his fear, or lack of experience in speaking, was to practice everywhere and anywhere. “In my second year at Holland & Hart, I realized that I knew nothing about speaking, and it hit me that if I was ever going to succeed I needed to speak, and speak well.” Tredennick took every available opportunity to speak in public—Kiwanis Club, high school programs, NITA meetings, introductions for other speakers—to hone his skills. “I was terrible when I first started,” he admits, “but I put the time in regardless, and gradually I got good at it. I’m not a nervous speaker because I’m prepared. I work hard at it, and that fills me with energy.”
Lisko also advises preparing so well that you don’t need notes. Or, if that is just too scary, keep one note card with the skeletal structure of your speech bullet-pointed. “Each speech you give, even if it is a topic you have spoken on frequently, should come out slightly differently each time. Remember, you are having a conversation with the audience.”
Everyone has their little tricks for grabbing hold of the audience, keeping momentum up and the insecurities down. Here are some of our experts’ favorites.
Here are a few quick tips to keep on hand as you prepare to switch on the microphone.
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