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Free ABA CLE Program Provides Tips on Public Speaking In or Out of Court

Free ABA CLE Program Provides Tips on Public Speaking In or Out of Court

By Daniel Buchanan


To be a good lawyer, it is virtually required to be a good public speaker. Panelists during a free ABA CLE webinar Dec. 19 offered three tips for lawyers to enhance their speaking skills in or out of court: understand your audience, use this knowledge to outline a cohesive message, and improve delivery through demeanor and vocal techniques.

Know your audience

Whether in or out of the courtroom, understanding your audience is the first step toward developing a proper speech, said Rick Levin of Levin Riback Law Group in Chicago.  One of the biggest pitfalls when writing a speech, he said, is neglecting to take steps to find out what information the audience needs to learn.

In court, Levin said, understanding the audience of jurors means finding out their biases and removing those whose prejudices can affect the case.

When interviewing potential jurors, a lawyer should find out as much about potential jurors’ personalities and history as possible, Levin said.  Among good questions, ask what publications potential jurors read to get their news, he added.

When speaking outside of the courtroom, the issue of determining one’s audience can become more complicated. Consider getting bios of members of the audience or sending a few questions about the audience to the organizer.

Organize your message

The organization of an argument is key to making sure the audience understands it, said Faith Pincus, founder of Pincus Professional Education in Los Angeles.  A lawyer must first have a purpose and should write it down, she said. Then, she added, it’s helpful to develop three main points to the argument or speech.

“Stay focused,” Pincus advised. “If something doesn’t fit in three main points, cut it out.”

After developing the main points, Pincus said, gather all of the supporting materials. This can include interviews, quotes and anything else that needs to be mentioned in the speech. The next step is to create an outline.

Pincus recommends that lawyers not write their speeches or oral arguments verbatim. If you have this habit, she said, you may want to take your draft speech and, instead, develop an outline for it. Practice your speech using only this outline.

Whether in our out of court, it is imperative that a lawyer memorize his introduction and conclusion. Introductions are a large part of establishing your credibility as a speaker, Pincus said. To do this well, you must have adequate eye contact and sound confident.

Improve your presence

Addressing a speaker’s demeanor, Levin said that “people believe people who look them in the eye.” For this reason, written-out speeches and introductions shouldn’t be used, he said

Pincus suggested taking acting classes or joining Toastmasters to help improve your demeanor. Emanating confidence, along with a sound knowledge of the audience and organized message, will allow lawyers to succeed in any speech they give, she added.

There is no easy way to public speaking, Pincus cautioned: “You have to prepare and you have to practice. Like tennis, golf, dance—you can’t get better unless you do it.”

Pincus offered several vocal techniques that can be used to keep the audience’s attention: Make sure to pause for impact.  Varying speech patterns will hold the audience. This goes beyond just not being monotone.  Talk faster, slower, be louder and softer, and so on, she said.

Because a speaker’s diaphragm is suppressed when he or she sits, it is important to stand up and walk around with a purpose, Levin said. A supported diaphragm produces a louder, more confident voice, he added, while cautioning lawyers against putting hands in their pockets or crossing their arms.

“Wear a conservative-colored suit and keep jewelry at a minimum when in court,” Pincus said. The same rules apply outside of the court in most cases, she added, because you do not want your audience to focus more on what you are wearing than what you’re saying.

Above all else, the speakers said, practice and run through your speech three, four, five or more times to become comfortable with the content. Sometimes words on paper don’t sound like you want them to when spoken. Practicing in front of other people who “don’t depend on you for food,” advised Levin, is the best way to get an unbiased opinion of how the speech is going to turn out.

The CLE Premier Speaker Series is a monthly program where ABA members can earn free continuing legal education credits. The inaugural program in the series, “Trying High-Profile Cases in Today’s Media Environment,” was presented Nov. 21.

 CART services are available for the deaf and hard of hearing for the series.

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