EmailShare with:TweetAvoiding a dentist visit: $1,000
Avoiding an IRS audit: $5,000
Avoiding an oral presentation: priceless
If you have this attitude, please
think again and read this article.
As a law student, and later as a
lawyer, you will be well served by
having the ability to speak well in
public. Here are some tips.
Know your audience
To Edward Ohlbaum, professor and director
of trial advocacy and clinical legal
education at Temple University Beasley
School of Law, this point is critical. "Too
often,"he says, "students andoftenlawyers
are guilty of underestimating or even
overestimating their audience or jury."
Ohlbaum also advises against the use
of "five-dollar words." You're talking to
an audience, not practicing for the SAT.
Know and believe the material
All the advice in the world is useless if
you're unfamiliar with your material. Before
you give your presentation, you need
to know it thoroughly.
Even more important than knowing the material
is believing in it. If you
lack this knowledge or this confidence,
you still can make the presentation and
say all the right words. However, your
body language, your voice, and most important,
your eyes will betray you.
Avoid reading the presentation
Have you ever seen someone read a presentation
word for word? I did once, and it was horrible. If
you read your presentation, you will lose
your audience. You will be so intent on
your reading that you will fail to connect
Of course,you might need to read a presentation
at some point. For example, judges, when issuing jury instructions, will
read those instructions rather than speak
extemporaneously. In most other cases, though,
avoid reading a presentation.
At the same time, don't make the mistake
of delivering a memorized presentation.
Even though, in this case, you wouldn't
be looking at notes or an outline, chances
are your presentation will lack spontaneity.
Worse, should you be interrupted (for
example by a judge, CEO, or other audience member),
you might have trouble returning
to your previous lines.
If asked a question, always repeat it
for everyone to hear. Answer the question
directly, then add any explanation of
Write down main points
The best approach is to outline your main
points. If you're using a projector and
PowerPoint, then your main points would
be the "bullet" items on your PowerPoint
slides. If you're delivering a presentation
without a computer and projector, then
most likely your main points will be written
down. Many people will use index
cards or loose paper for this purpose, but
both leave something to be desired.
Index cards can be difficult to read
and hold while making a presentation.
And nothing kills your presentation
more than dropping all 50 of those cards
at a critical moment. Loose paper offers
little improvement. Even though you
might need fewer sheets than index
cards, you still would have to deal with
shuffling them, and with the possibility
of page mix-up.
Therefore, consider outlining your major points on
regular paper then stapling the paper to a
letter-size file folder. This allows you to
have your outline on paper in front of
you and adds stability so your papers are
easier to handle. This method works best when you use
a lectern, which shields the notes from
Whether you use the folder method or
not, the approach is the same: the points
on the outline serve only as "headlines"
for the point you're making. As you
speak on each point, you would augment
that point with your own words.
Use the lectern correctly
A lectern is useful for keeping your notes
in order while you speak. If you do use a lectern,
avoid the common tendency of gripping
the sides. Doing so will make you look
scared. Also, if you're tall, gripping the
sides will cause you to be slumped over
the lectern. Instead, keep your arms at
your sides, using them only to move your
notes as needed.
Keep your notes with you prior to
your talk, bringing them with you as you
approach the lectern. Don't leave them at
the lectern beforehand, because a previous
speaker might accidentally take them.
Open and close strongly
Your audience will likely remember your opening
and the ending the most. Therefore,
opening strongly--with a good "grabber"--
is important.You need to catch the
attention of the audience, summarize
what your presentation is about, and get
them to continue listening to you.
This principle applies to other presentations
as well. If you were giving a talk
on insurance, for example, you could
open with a question: "What if, one night,
your client called and said his entire manufacturing
plant had just burned down?"
If you were talking about technology
law, you could ask your audience, "What
would you do if you found your entire
customer list posted on the Internet?"
You then could continue by saying, "In
this presentation,we will discussways to
avoid this situation."
In the same way, end your presentation
on a strong note. You could end with
a request ("I ask you to find for my
client") or a quote or an anecdote that illustrates
your point. I often use the story
of Francis Browne, a Titanic passenger
and student who reluctantly debarked
the ship in Ireland, an action that saved
his life. I tell how, despite his desire to
stay on, he listened to his school adviser
who cabled himto "get off that ship," and
add that I hope the audience similarly
will listen to and heed my words.
Whatever words you use, make sure
the audience will remember and hopefully
act on them.
Control your voice
Try to vary your volume and the pace of
your words when you speak. Keeping
both at one constant level will bore your
audience. If you speak louder, your audience
will more likely hear you. Ironically,
though, if you lower your voice, you may
attract their attention even more, as they
strain to listen to you.
If you do lower your voice,make sure
you do so deliberately. Many speakers
speak at a low volume unconsciously,
rather than by design. The key to having
an effective speaking voice is to produce
sound not from your throat but rather
from your diaphragm.
In addition, make sure that you are
standing straight, not hunched over
(such as in being slumped over a lectern),
to avoid constricting your diaphragm. Finally,
imagine that as you are speaking,
you are "throwing" your voice to the people
in the last row.
Look at the audience
Looking at the audience is less of a problem
if you're delivering a "standard"
talk--one without the use of slides or
PowerPoint. However, if you're using the
latter, avoid looking at the screen behind
you. The more you look at the screen, the
greater the chances you'll start talking to
the screen. If you do, your back will be to
the audience, your voice will be directed
at that screen (which makes no sense because
the screen can't hear you), and
most critically, you will lose the attention
of your audience.
Here's what I do to avoid this problem.
I position my computer so that it's in
front of me, that is, so that I can see it
while facing the audience. Next, I configure
my computer so that it sends a display
signal both to its own display and to
the projector. On most laptop computers,
this setting is governed by pressing a sequence
of keyboard keys. Once you've
done these things, you will see on your
computer what the audience sees via the
projector. Therefore, you have no need to
Keep your hands apart
What to do with your hands? Some people
put them behind their back, giving
the audience the impression the speaker
has something to hide. Others fold their
arms, giving a sign of defiance. Still others
put their hands in their pockets, giving
a sign of indifference.
The best thing to do is simply keep
your arms at your side when you talk.
This way, there's less chance that you'll
distract the audience. If you do choose to
do anything else, try to keep your hands
apart. Once you bring them together, you
may unconsciously keep them there, giving
the impression that you're praying. If
your audience is a group of pastors, it
might be fine, but otherwise it might
send the wrong message.
Sometimes, when going through a
talk point by point, I will usemy hands to
introduce each point.When I discuss the
first point, I announce it, showone finger
of my left hand, then point with my right
hand to my left hand. I will do the same
with the second and following points,
holding up successive fingers with my
Make appropriate eye contact
In a previous section, I cautioned against
reading your presentation because doing
so keeps you from maintaining eye contact
with the audience.Without eye contact,
your audience will feel detached
from you, and youwill have more trouble
getting your points across. If you're
using the standard talk with notes, you
will have to look at those notes from time
to time, even if you follow the notes-stapled-
to-folder approach. It's okay to
break eye contact occasionally, to look at
your notes, but immediately afterward,
resume your eye contact.
Ironically, if you look at audience
members in the eye, you could become
distracted. For that reason, I don't look directly
into the eyes. Instead, I look at the
bridge of the nose.The effect on the audience
is the same because usually they
can't tell. The benefit to me is that I have
less chance of being distracted.
Don't just look at one person either. Pick
out a few people--some in front, some in
the middle, and some in back--and direct
your remarks toward them.That way, the
entire audience will feel involved.
It's true that many people fear public
speaking more than dying. However, following
these points and practicing them
will turn you into an accomplished
speaker and will advance your career.
This article originally appeared in the ABA Student Lawyer. It has been adapted to fit length requirements at avvo.com