As a young lawyer, much of your time in your first few years of practicing law is spent learning your craft and what it takes to succeed at your firm. The opportunities to speak in public tend not to be frequent. But, as you progress in your career, you will inevitably be asked to speak on a topic—either as a member of the profession or on some topic in your practice area. These opportunities can accelerate the advancement of your career. The more you speak or write in your practice area, the more likely your peers and others will regard you as an expert.
Here are a few tips to improve your public speaking:
1. Prepare (And Then Prepare Some More). If you are speaking on a legal topic, you will likely have researched and reviewed an immense amount of material before distilling such information into a presentation for an audience. It may be very intimidating to present in front of more senior members of the bar with more experience in your practice area. If you spent a lot of time researching a topic, it is very likely you know more about it than most people in the room. The best way to mitigate any anxiety about public speaking is to know your material cold. If you performed the research for your presentation significantly in advance of the speaking engagement, it is always a good idea to refresh your mind by reviewing your sources (articles, cases, etc.) and to check for any new developments.
2. Anticipate Questions. With any presentation, it is always a good idea to
anticipate questions from the audience. Before your presentation, make a list of basic questions that you believe go to the heart of your topic. Have prepared responses. This will make you a more effective public speaker.
3. Practice Your Presentation and Time It. An effective public speaker knows how much ground must be covered in the allotted amount of time and will practice the timing of his presentation. This is especially important when you are speaking as part of a panel. You do not want your portion of the presentation to spill over into another colleague’s portion.
4. Check Your Tech. Make sure your technology is working in advance of the presentation. Ensure your laptop works with the venue’s AV system. If your presentation has a video component, make sure it plays on your computer (or will play on whatever computer the venue will provide). Back up a copy of your presentation on a flash drive or other portable hard drive.
5. Give an Overview. Start your presentation by stating the key points you plan to make, address those points in greater detail, and then summarize the points you made. The best public speakers give their audience members a road map.
6. Presenting with Slides. To the extent possible, limit both the number of slides in your presentation and the amount of text on each slide. When possible, “bullet” your points for any particular slide. Attendees do not want to read large amounts of information from a slide. Similarly, they do not want to hear you read directly from the slides. That is a surefire way to have the audience tune out. If there is a lot of material to be covered in one slide, make sure you have notes in large bold type that can serve as reminders
of the essential points if you get distracted or wander off topic during your presentation.
7. Engage the Audience. Keep the presentation interactive, if possible.
8. Manage Anxiety. If you are anxious about the number of people in the audience, try to focus on a few and ignore the rest (or focus on the back of the room and pretend there is no audience at all). Visit the room where you will speak ahead of time. This can take the edge off any presentation by knowing what to expect in terms of the physical layout of the venue. This also allows you to visualize a positive presentation ahead of time.
9. Deflect a Tough Question with Grace. If you get a question you cannot answer, do not guess or apologize. You can state you are not certain or have not dealt with the situation, and you can ask if anyone in the audience knows the answer. That is far better than guessing and being incorrect, and audience members typically like sharing their own opinions and experiences.
10. Keep Things in Perspective. Any single presentation is one finite period of time, typically 20 to 40 minutes. Remind yourself that it will end, no matter what. Nothing bad can happen in that length of time if you have rehearsed and prepared for the presentation.
11. Do Not Dwell on Mistakes. If you make a mistake doing your presentation, acknowledge it silently and move on. Do not beat yourself up over it and let it throw off the rest of your presentation. You will make mistakes, but you will learn from them. You are a new lawyer, and no one can expect you to be perfect.
The Young Lawyers Network hopes these pointers will help in your next public speaking engagement!