It never ceases to amaze me just how many lawyers continue to give presentations where they have written out every single word, and they bury their head in the paper, and just read their presentation, right from start to finish.
If I know what I’m talking about, why did I have to write it all down on a piece of paper beforehand, and then sit there reading it out to you in a script?
1. You’re Giving the Presentation…
The first and probably most fundamental reason that you should not write out your script when you’re giving a presentation is because you’re giving the presentation.
It’s a presentation. It’s not an academic paper, it’s not a play that you get to read from. It is a presentation.
You are presenting, you are an individual, you are a human, and you are hopefully trying to secure some sort of personal connection.
If you could achieve that just by emailing your academic paper to people, then why didn’t you do that instead?
Frankly, you’re just wasting your time by being there if all you’re going to do is read from a script. If you are the presenter, then present – don’t read from the script.
2. Interruptions will Stuff you Up if You’re Reading
The second reason you shouldn’t be writing out your script when you’re giving any sort of legal presentation is because you are going to get interrupted.
Various things are probably going to happen that interrupt you.
People are going to ask questions (hopefully) if you’ve got engaging content.
Things are going to occur that are going to get in your way of your script. And if you have to look up from having buried your head in a piece of paper because someone asks a question, and then you spend another two or three minutes going “Oh, hang on, I don’t know where I’m up to, I’ll just have to find my spot…” then you look like a fool.
And rightly so, because you were foolish enough to write your script out in its entirety for your presentation.
Whereas if you know your presentation, if you know what you’re going to say, if you have outlined it and just have a few notes that you can refer to, there is far less chance that you are going to get lost in the middle of giving your presentation if someone interrupts you or there’s a power outage or the air conditioning goes off or someone spills a glass of wine on the person next to them.
Whatever it is, there are almost always interruptions in presentations, and there should be. You should be getting an engagement from your audience if you’re prepared a good presentation, and if you’re going to encourage that kind of engagement, then you cannot be referring constantly to your notes because you’re going to have to look up, look at people, get their attention and keep them engaged. Otherwise they are going to fall asleep and you won’t get the kinds of interruptions you’re hoping to get. You’ll lose the opportunity to demonstrate your expertise. Which leads us to the third reason not to write out a script when presenting….
3. If You’re An Expert… Why Are you Reading?
The third and final reason why no lawyer should be writing out an entire script for their presentation: you’re supposed to be an expert.
Now if I said to you that I was an expert in giving presentations, and then I came up to your firm and give a presentation that I simply read word for word, would you think I was an expert?
How much expertise does it really take to read something out? Anyone could do that – I could just read from a famous book.
Do I even have the knowledge at my disposal? Do I even know what I’m talking about?
If I know what I’m talking about, why did I have to write it all down on a piece of paper beforehand, and then stand there reading it out to you instead of just talking from my knowledge?
If I’m an expert, surely I have this information at my disposal, and all I need is some form of way of guiding me through my presentation so I don’t ramble.
That is very different to writing out a script. If you can get the headlines, the headings, the subheadings, and you organize and orchestrate your talk so that your inner expertise of the actual subject matter can come out, that is by far the better way.
If you’ve written a script because you don’t know what you’re talking about, then get off the stage. Because, if you are trying to develop your perception as an expertise in the audience’s minds, nothing will destroy it more than proving to them beyond a doubt that you actually don’t know anything about your subject matter.
One thing people do is to say yes to topics they are useless at, and just do a little basic research and write it all down on paper and read it out. But what does that do for your audience perception of you?
Would you think I was an expert if in the video above I was reading out this entire thing with a piece of paper in front of me? No.
And so I went to the effort to understand the subject matter, I went to the effort of knowing basically in advance what I want to say, and I went to the effort of looking at the camera the entire time.
I didn’t read out a script, I didn’t set up a teleprompter up here somewhere above the camera that I read from.
Instead, I know the subject matter, and as a result, I can be nimble. If you weren’t someone at the other end of a camera, I could have responded to your questions on the spot, and I could dance with the audience and react to things that people were saying. I could react to questions, and move on from subjects if I thought that they were boring, and focus on things if I thought people were really interested in them.
That is how giving a live presentation works (less so in a recorded video like the above). Your audience is there to help you give a better presentation, but they’re also there because you want to convince them you’re an expert. It doesn’t really matter who they are: if they’re you’re colleagues, then you want them to refer work to you, and you want to give them the confidence that if they do refer work to you, then they’re doing so to someone who knows what they’re talking about.
If it’s your clients, you want them to send you paying work. How many dollars an hour do you cost? If you’re 200, 300, 400, 500 dollars an hour, and you have to read a presentation on your practice area from a paper, how much confidence does that actually inspire in the people who you want to send you work? Zero, nothing, nada.
Do not write your scripts out.
Let’s Wrap it Up
There are three compelling reasons that you have to stop writing out your presentations in full:
- You are a presenter, so present. If it’s something you could simply write down and circulate, then do that. Do it as an article, but don’t waste people’s time by pretending that it’s a presentation.
- It’s going to involve distractions. If you’re giving a live presentation, a swan falls on your head, someone punches the person next to them in the face because they said something insulting, someone asks a question (which is probably the more likely out of the three), you’re going to get interrupted. If you don’t have a script, you don’t have anything to get interrupted from.
- If you’re giving a presentation, it’s an opportunity for you to demonstrate your expertise. And if you are reading it out in full from a script, there is no expertise in that. If I’m a client, I’m not going to send you work in that category, because you clearly don’t know the subject well enough. If you knew the subject well enough, you’d be able to talk to it.
That’s why you shouldn’t be writing out a script. Now, I know for some people this is going to involve some more work, and I’m not saying that it doesn’t involve work to prepare a presentation and not have a script to read from, but it’s worth the effort.
The impact of a presentation without a script is significantly greater than one with a script. So can I encourage you, if you’re giving your next legal presentation, if you’re giving a legal seminar, take your script, if you have it, throw it in the bin, do something better. Become an expert in the subject matter. Be persuasive, order your presentation, and don’t write out a script.