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Keys to knock-‘em-dead presentations inside, outside the courtroom

“The power of language is the power to create and change the world. It is the power to make new and different things happen,” said lawyer Faith Pincus, a former judicial law clerk and current trainer, speaker and strategist at Pincus Professional Education in Sierra Madre, Calif. She and Honey Kessler Amada of the Law Offices of Honey Kessler Amada in Beverly Hills, Calif., offered public speaking tips during the ABA webinar, “Being Heard: Presentation Skills for Attorneys,” drawn from a book by the same name.

The speakers focused on three key skills:

Know your audience. For out-of-court presentations, Pincus advised finding out who is attending and looking them up on Google or visiting social media sites to learn about them. “You can find out if they travel, have kids, if they like wine or sports or if they have dogs or other interests.” For in-court presentations, she recommended finding out as much as you can about the judge you will face so you know what to expect. “You can attend their oral arguments in advance to see if they ask a lot of questions.”

Craft your message.  Pincus offered a five-step process for organizing your presentation:

  • Decide what you want to accomplish and write it down based on who your audience is, what they need and what you need to communicate.
  • Determine the three main points you want to get across so it’s easy for people to follow.
  • Decide what is going into your speech, such as quotes, facts, stories, analogies, statistics, questions and statements.
  • Consider these four options for organizing your presentation:
    • Categorial/topical
    • Sequential/chronological
    • Compare/contrast
    • Problem/solution
  • Pincus follows the PEP (point-explanation-point) method. “As you are developing your presentation, think about the major point you want to present, your explanation for it and then repeat your point again,” she said.
  • Create outlines using supportive material and practice your presentation out loud to familiarize yourself with the material. Kessler Amada said she prefers using full sentences in her outlines. “I review my outlines several times to determine key words and I write them in the margins so that I only have to glance at them during my presentation,” she said.

The key to a successful oral argument is preparation and reviewing the record, the brief and the law. “I start with examining the weaknesses of my case and ask, ‘what are the strengths of my opponent’s case?’” Kessler Amada said.

She advised keeping a list of key facts to reference during oral arguments with citations to the record as well as a timeline of critical events.

“Lastly, I prepare a notebook of my materials that comes with me to the lectern,” Kessler Amada said.

Pincus advised preparing a cheat sheet of what you want to discuss during your argument. “It makes you look very organized in front of the court.”

She said a strong conclusion helps the audience anticipate the end, by summarizing the main point and offering a final appeal to a call to action.

“Your oral argument is the only opportunity to answer any questions the judge may have about the relevant law. It allows you to provide a conversation about the facts and the law with the court,” Kessler Amada said.

Create an image. “Dress better than the audience,” Pincus counseled, while cautioning, “you always want people to pay attention to what you are saying and not what you are wearing.”

And don’t forget your posture. “Poor posture communicates the message of a lack of confidence in yourself,” she said.

In addition, cultivate an interesting and dynamic delivery style that fits with your personality. Pincus noted you can improve your delivery by using eye contact throughout your presentation. “In a small group setting try to look at everybody, and in a large group setting you want to make eye contact with the friendly faces in each section of the room,” she said.

This program was sponsored by the ABA Division for Public Services; Law Practice Division; Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section; Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division; Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division; Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and ABACLE

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