Science tells us that most humans would rather face death or confront an enormous hairy tarantula than engage in public speaking. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that glossophobia—the fear of public speaking—affects about 73 percent of the population. Approximately three out of four of your colleagues are just as anxious as you about mastering the lawyerly skill of oral argument. The following are some tips, tricks, and a little bit of a healthy reality check so that you can bring your best, boldest, and most confident self to your next hearing or trial.
It Is Not about YOU
First, it is essential to understand that it isn’t the act of standing at the podium and delivering your message that is sending that cold frisson of nervousness into your veins. That fear you’re experiencing is rooted in your conscious and subconscious fear of being judged and evaluated by your audience. The truth is the people watching you want you to succeed. As human beings, we are almost always wrapped up so tightly in our sense of self-consciousness and our own sense of maintaining control that rarely are we going to shade someone engaged in an activity we also fear. Your opposing counsel or the judge may evaluate you, but your fear about being savagely underrated just isn’t rooted in reality.
American social psychologist, best-selling author, and Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy has researched the concepts of confidence and presence. She is well known for her famous 2012 TED Talk about “Power Posing,” which is at its core the idea that you can use your body language to build and convey self-confidence to those around you. This is something you have complete control over at all times. High power poses like standing tall with your arms akimbo, shoulders back, and with your head held high tell everyone you are confident and a force to be reckoned with at the podium and that what you have to say is going to matter, so they should listen up! It also tells your brain that you think you’re pretty confident, too. As you strengthen your mind-body connection, anxiety and that sensation of “blanking out” when you try new and stressful things (like oral arguments) will grow less powerful because you are mastering the stress chemicals that urge your body to enter the fight-or-flight mode.
Preparation Is STILL Key
Although self-confidence will allow you to be nimble on your feet as you answer questions thoroughly and directly, it is essential to know your record and case law thoroughly. Know the good, the bad, the ugly, and the distinguishable. Always hit negative facts head up, just like you are hitting your worries head-on with your mental and emotional preparation. Remembering that this is not about you is critical to be confident in your preparation and strong when addressing your case’s weakest points.
No Matter What Happens at That Podium, It Isn’t the End of the World
Of course, bravado and emotional preparation alone won’t win you any top prizes in front of a judge. You can have all of the confidence in the world, but if you can’t back that up with solid knowledge of the law and solid legal analysis, then you are just setting yourself up to be judged by your audience for your lack of preparation—not for your public speaking skills.
The good news is that a little mindfulness plus a solid measure of preparation and practice will go a long way toward helping you overcome any of these issues. So, what are you waiting for? Your best, bold, confident self is waiting for you to unleash it at the podium!