As you prepare to support your summer and first-year associates as they launch their careers as lawyers, here are seven verbal and non-verbal communication tips to help ensure that they have a smooth takeoff in their new profession:
- Show Up: More and more work events are happening in person. Tell first-years to attend some of these events so that their new colleagues can meet them face to face. If they are limiting their exposure to big groups, be strategic about attending events that are outdoors or that include attendees they are particularly eager to meet. When they are attending meetings and events online, mention that it’s important to turn on their camera whenever possible, especially when they are speaking. It is a great way to help colleagues and clients associate their face with their name. If they don’t already have a professional-looking headshot, get one taken, and tell them to add it to their videoconference platform profiles so that they can display it during those rare times when they need to turn their camera off (for example, to take another urgent call or answer a knock at the door).
- Speak Up: Hopefully, your new associates are already using a wired earbud-microphone combo or headset for videoconference calls. This makes it easy to hear their voice without needing to project as much. When wearing a mask, conversing at a networking event with lots of background noise, or meeting in a large boardroom, they should be prepared to speak loudly (and likely louder than they think they should) so others can easily hear them.
- Perk Up: Being on videoconference calls all day can cause Zoom fatigue. Being in an office and talking all day can zap energy too. Make sure to emphasize taking breaks from meetings and interactions to recharge. Also, remind summer and first-year associates to be intentional about dialing up enthusiasm with facial expressions and vocal variety to show that they are eager to be part of their new work environment. Note that people generally feel much more enthusiastic than they come across to others. One tip is to record themselves practicing their personal introduction before meeting new colleagues. Then, have them watch the video so they can help gauge how energetic they actually seem.
- Hold Up: When speakers are nervous or excited, they often increase their use of “junk words” — words that litter their communication and make it less polished. These can include “um,” “ah,” “like,” “you know,” “so,” and “sort of.” Remind new lawyers to be mindful to avoid junk words whenever possible, especially at the start of a statement. It is more powerful to say, “Good afternoon. My name is . . .” than it is to say, “Um. Errr. Well. Hi, my name is . . .” Again, use recording and review of their personal introduction or a contribution to an upcoming meeting beforehand, to become more aware of their use of junk words and help reduce them. That said, new professionals shouldn’t worry too much about eliminating every single junk word; they are a (small) part of conversational English. The goal is to work in short pauses instead of saying junk words more often and limit the use of junk words to one or two per minute. Pauses are also a great opportunity to remind eager early career professionals to keep comments brief, stay out of the weeds, and pause to listen to colleagues.
- Look Up: New professionals should resist the urge to script out their messages for meetings and read them word for word, which many online presenters think is not noticeable. It is. Instead, they can jot down a few talking points and say them aloud a few times for the three questions they expect to get asked in a meeting. For in-person meetings, it’s important to look around the meeting table and make brief glances at notes as they shift from looking at one participant to another. For online meetings, gazing directly into the webcam or computer camera between brief glances at their notes, which can be affixed to the edges of their computer monitor with a sticky notes at eye level to reduce glancing down.
- Dress Up: If summer and first-year associates fell into some bad habits during online education, like wearing a baseball cap or leisure clothing to class, now is the time to re-evaluate their look. Many offices are embracing business-casual styles or “dress for your day” policies, but it is still a good idea for attorneys to groom for online events as they would for in-person meetings. This includes styling hair, shaving facial hair, and applying makeup, etc. Reiterate that early career professionals should always err on the side of being more formal than less formal for online, in-person, and hybrid workplace events. They’ll likely never regret wearing a suit if others aren’t, but they will regret wearing khakis if others are wearing suits.
- Level Up: Like clothing, their background for online conversations, meetings, and events should get an upgrade when starting their professional career. They should not lie on a bed or sit on a couch for online work meetings. Use an office chair at a desk or a dining chair at a table or counter and curate a crisp and uncluttered background. A plain painted wall or kitchen cabinets in the background are great options. Summer and firstyear associates also can utilize the blur feature to reduce background distractions if they can’t curate an uncluttered backdrop in their dwelling. After improving their background, tell them to set the camera to eye level, sit close to the it so they take up more real estate in the videoconference gallery, use an external microphone such as an inexpensive wired earbud-microphone combo, and consider supplementing with an artificial-lighting ring or cube to brighten their appearance in virtual meetings. Together, these tweaks will bolster their professionalism in computer- mediated workplace communication situations.
As your summer and first-year associates launch their legal careers, tell them to pay close attention to both their verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Remember to tell them to show up, speak up, perk up, hold up, look up, dress up, and level up so they can elevate their professional presence, establish a polished personal brand, improve communication outcomes, and start their careers on an upward trajectory.