Giving a good presentation can be a burden, and many lawyers don’t have the training or inclination to do something that is memorable, educational and has a lasting impact.
Sounds like an opportunity, doesn’t it? And you’d be right.
Developing a great presentation takes a lot of effort, but is absolutely worth it.
Microsoft PowerPoint is not the speaker, Keynote is not the speaker. You are the speaker!
In today’s podcast I deal with the following:
- Why the identification of your topic is the starting point to giving a good presentation;
- Why you need to be an expert in answering the right questions;
- How to map out your presentation so it’s effective, meaningful and memorable;
- How many topics and questions you should deal with in a presentation;
- Why your presenting skills are dependent upon your preparation;
- Why you shouldn’t write out your presentation in full.
Transcript – How to Give a Good Presentation
Note – These transcripts have been modified to make some kind of sense as a written document. Don’t send me emails if there is a mistake, if you please.
If you’re a young lawyer in practice, then you know that one of the things we do pretty regularly is to give presentations.
Sometimes as internal presentations to colleagues. Sometimes it’s external presentations to clients and sometimes it’s just presentations really for any particular purpose.
You might have a podcast, you might give some sort of presentation to your group. You might think of advocacy in court as a type of presentation.
Fundamentally the same thing which is using your voice and your words to persuade someone of something or to teach someone something and so today I want to have a talk about some tips to make your next presentation better than those around you.
This is tips for lawyers podcast, and this is episode number 27. If you need to get the show notes for today you can get www.tipsforlawyers.com/podcast/27, my name is Chris Hargreaves and let’s get into it.
This is about Content in your Presentation, Not Pretties
I guess the first thing I wanted to say today that I’m not talking about in this particular podcast is slides. I’m not talking about the visual. I’m not talking about really anything other than you and your presentation.
In particular, with a focus on your words, your content.
Now there is a lot to say of course about body language, about tonality, about voice but that’s not what I’m actually going to get into today. I’m going to focus on the content because I think really this is fundamentally where most presentations go awry for today’s purposes.
Although it is possible for presentation to be viewed in a number of different contexts, I’m going to be contemplating what I say today from the point of view of giving some sort of educational seminar.
By and large that’s because that’s what you’re going to be doing the most during your period as young lawyer to a mid-level to a senior lawyer. All across the spectrum you probably are going to have or at least are going to get in short order some opportunities to give presentations to people, the point of which is to educate them in some way.
Now the first thing I guess it’s important to say is that what I’ve noticed over the years in frankly increasing proportions is that the quality of presentations you get is extremely variable.
What do I mean by that? I mean that some people give truly terrible presentations and some people give very polished very expert presentations about which you go back to your office and you rave to your colleagues.
Now there are many many different iterations in that spectrum. Sometimes we might find the content good but the presentation bad or the visual is good, but the words bad. Or the person has some irritating habits or any number of different things, but by and large, if you can be an effective presenter, it will give you a great platform to have opportunities to speak, it will give you a great platform have opportunities to help your colleagues and frankly it will help you develop some procedures and some processes to actually improve your own speaking in your own preparation.
Generally, that’s true no matter what the context of the presentation is going to be so in that sense, think of educational seminars that you’re giving as an opportunity for you to rehearse, to build up, to practice your presenting skills, oral advocacy skills, and your skills generally at making a point or teaching someone a particular concept; because those are the things that are going to do you in good stead no matter where you are, no matter what your position is, and no matter where you find yourself in the future.
So I guess the first fundamental question that we need to ask ourselves is why is there such a wide variance when it comes to presentations. I think fundamentally that comes down to one primary difference – which is that people aren’t preparing properly.
Preparing Properly (Not just More) Results in Better Presentations
Some people aren’t preparing enough, which is a factor, but most people aren’t preparing properly and that involves a few things. It involves the steps you take, and it involves also the way in which you do things in order to arrive at an effective polished presentation.
Now let’s just start with the amount of effort it’s going to take because realistically, if you want to give an effective presentation, if you want to deliver an effective speech, if you want to teach an effective point, if you want to persuade someone effectively (and I’ve used effective a lot of times there on purpose) then you need to have enough time and enough effort put into the process.
As we going to see it’s not a small process to do this properly, but you need to have enough effort put into the process where you are not going to come away disappointed with your own performance and, frankly, you would be right to be so. I think in particular of internal presentations that lawyers give to each other.
So a lot of firms these days have an internal continuing legal education process and they give presentations to each other and that is their experience when it comes to speaking. Quite frankly, they just don’t put enough effort into preparation.
The reason is, partly at least, because of their professional responsibilities. They feel like they can’t take enough time out of their day to prepare properly because they’re so busy billing and charging clients and making budgets and so on, that they actually don’t invest the necessary time into creating an effective and meaningful presentation.
So you need to set the right amount of time aside. As to how much time that is… look it is so variable, I hesitate to even hazard a guess because topics vary widely. Of course there are going to be professional topics. There are going to be very technical topics and even within that you might be giving a 15 minute a 30 minute a one-hour presentation and the sheer amount of research or reading preparation or content development that you need to engage in is so variable that I couldn’t possibly hazard a guess. For myself a one-hour presentation could easily take me five hours or more to prepare if it’s done properly and if it’s on a point that requires some research.
Sometimes I have some help with that side of things, but you know you’re looking at a real investment of time if you going to do this properly. As we see the process that I’m going to recommend specifically involves a good amount of time.
Step 1 in Giving a Good Presentation – Ask the Right Question
So what are we going to do first in our educational seminar? I’m assuming you have a certain degree of latitude when it comes to what topic you are actually going to give and that’s really step one – to define the topic.
Now most people define the topic by giving it a headline and that’s not a bad idea. Personally I prefer to give it a headlines of towards the end but it does help you if you have a headline to at least have a vague idea of what it is you going to do. However, I don’t think that is the best way to start the process off. By all means have a headline, it might even help you to brainstorm a few to actually get this process down pat, but if you’re giving an educational seminar in particular then I really think your presentation should be founded on one major question. It’s not a headline, it’s a question.
What is it that you want your audience to learn out of this presentation? That’s it. It’s a question – what do you want them to learn? What is it that they come away with? Because you need to be able to define the benefit to them before you can do anything else. Anything else at all needs to reflect the question that you ask.
So what is it that you are wanting to teach them now? Sometimes we have a tendency here to be overly optimistic about how much we can actually teach people in one go.
For example, if I was having a bad day I might try to do a seminar on the basics of bankruptcy or something like that – a ridiculous topic, and I say that for this reason there is no way I am teaching the basics of bankruptcy in one go.
It’s simply not possible.
And at the same time, I cannot define the topic in my own head. What the person is going to come out with at the other end? They are going to come out knowing the basics of bankruptcy. Alas, not very helpful. I can’t articulate that in the way that I need to articulate it to do this process properly.
So rather than the basics of bankruptcy which is just too broad you might, for example, drill down on a very particular point. I might not able to get technical here because I don’t know what country you’re listening from and so this might be irrelevant, but you need to ask a specific question.
You might need to say “what property is available to a trustee in bankruptcy of a bankrupt estate?” That’s a very specific question and it’s one you can really drill down on. Sure you might have an introduction later on and you might have an ending any might have some stories and you might have some periphery but you need to articulate the question that if the audience only has one thing that they learn that is it.
Everything else you need to shift away from because articulating the question really helps the balance of your endeavours here. So that is suggestion number one: articulate as a question what it is you want your audience to learn; what question you are answering.
Think of it as if they’ve actually put their hand up and asked how can I do such and such. What can you tell me about this specific thing. How can I go about doing this. What if this happened and that happened and the other thing happened?
Those are ways of doing it, and you might come up with three or four or five ideas about the question but I really suggest honing in on one maybe two; if they’re related or three. But really one core question that you’re answering is what you need because time and time again one of the biggest problems I see in presentations is that people haven’t thought hard enough about it, as they try and cover this massive amount of information in one go.
Look this podcast is an example. What I hope you are asking today is “how can I give a more effective presentation” and that’s it that I’m seeking to address today.
Now, in one sense that’s a fairly broad topic but I am doing it at a fairly fundamental level, so that you can have your next presentation be better than all the ones that came before.
So question number one, issue number one, is to articulate the question that your audience is asking and that you are capable of answering.
Step 2 in Giving a Good Presentation – Become an Expert (Not as Hard as it Sounds)
The next thing is the part where most people have a tendency to fall down. At this point many people start writing their presentation, putting together their slides, and putting things together from their existing knowledge.
They start reading and really it’s only the last part.
It’s the reading that you need to do at this point when you have articulated the question.
If you are doing your preparation properly and this hasn’t been foisted on you five minutes before you’re supposed to start talking, then your next job is to become an expert in the subject matter. Now that sounds a little bit daunting doesn’t it? Becoming an expert on the subject matter?
And that is why you need to articulate the question very carefully because you cannot learn the entirety of bankruptcy law in order to become an expert, but you can become an expert on what property is divisible amongst the creditors of a bankrupt. You can become an expert on Latin words that get habitually used by judges (that was a joke if you’re wondering). You can become an expert on specific issues with a certain amount of effort.
Certainly you can become more of an expert on the topic then your particular audience might be, and that is why it is important to articulate the question well, because if you are going to prepare properly before you do anything else you need to become an expert.
You need to be careful in this process because if you’re going to become an expert then you need to focus to make sure you are answering the right question. That is, in only becoming an expert in what you need to, because I am mindful that although I have said a lot of time is necessary, don’t spend more time then you need to.
If something is not relevant to answering the question then discard – don’t learn it, don’t read it, don’t look at it. Don’t spend time on it. Only look at what you need to look at to answer the question comprehensively.
Now if it’s an area you don’t know that well then you might cast the net a little wider to make sure that you haven’t missed anything obvious, because you will be embarrassed. But at the same time, if you find yourself reading something and you’re chasing rabbits down holes, then you’ve got to stop. You’ve got to get back on target and that’s why step one is step one. It comes before learning your subject matter because that will save you time in the long run.
You can’t become an expert in everything, but you can become an expert in a particular question. So if you have learned everything there is to learn about answering a particular question what you do next.
This is where you need to think about what you actually need to communicate in order to answer the question in the best way to communicate it. Now different things, of course, have different focuses.
There are going to be some presentations that are going to require you to talk about caselaw.
There are going to be some which require you to talk about statutes and there are going to be some which you can actually give the presentation without needing to refer to those things at all.
Step 3 of Giving a Good Presentation – Plan the Flow
Now. I would like to encourage you at this point just to come up with for, say, let’s say an hour-long presentation and are you are invited to speak for about 45 minutes and then you’ll take questions at the end (hoping of course that nobody asks any).
You effectively have a 45 minute presentation. You might, for example, break it down in this kind of way; you’re going to have a couple of minutes of introduction where you set up the topic. Then you are going to probably have a few sub questions within your question, you need to 1st of course introduce your topic then you need to give the fundamental level knowledge that people need to understand how you address that topic.
Taking our bankruptcy example, if you’re talking about property divisible amongst creditors and you’re talking to a crowd who doesn’t necessarily know that kind of fundamental level terminology you might need to introduce some of the terminology.
If you’re giving something on a complex tax issue you might need to introduce some of the underlying basic taxation principles. That is I know outside the expertise issue, but you don’t need to become an expert in those, you just need to introduce them enough so that what you’re about to say in answer to your question actually makes sense.
That could easily take you say 10 minutes it could take 15 minutes, it might be a whole third of your presentation.
The next and most logical step is to address the question however you can to make it that people are actually going to listen to you.
So I’ve done good presentations in this respect, and bad presentations where I tried to cast the net too wide. I’ve really failed at this point because I am flying through reams of material very quickly watching my watch watching the time tick away and ultimately not really getting to it in any sort of meaningful way.
So if you’re doing this you need to try and find a way to address the question in a way that people will listen to you. A way that people will engage with you and in a way that you can have a natural flow.
Don’t jump from topic to topic. Instead, have a think about it. Now you might brainstorm a few headings, you might brainstorm a few dot points and a few ideas, but have a think about the best flow for the story.
Storytelling has got a lot of press recently – if you Google storytelling and presentations I’m sure that you will have a good idea about how to go about doing that. It can be a little difficult to tell a story in a particular technical way, but for most legal examples answering the question in the way of a case study or hypothetical is in fact an excellent way to go about it, particularly when you’re trying to educate people because you can get them involved.
You can ask them questions. You can have them engaged. You can have some group participation potentially and it really does wake people up if you can point to a few people and say “what would you do if this happened and that happened and why would you do it”.
It helps to have a few people in the audience who you know will actually answer questions or at least will try.
Make sure people are paying attention to you, so I would generally suggest starting with the base level information after introduction.
That is what they need to understand, and then you follow that with perhaps a case study. Or perhaps a couple of case studies that demonstrate the fundamental point and the fundamental answer that you’re trying to give after that you might take a few minutes to talk about exceptions because (in most legal topics at least) there are exceptions to the rules.
You might, however, if you’ve done case studies and you’ve been the one talking most of the time – you might also like to have an opportunity for some sort of activity some sort of group participation again.
It can be hard getting lawyers to participate. I know I don’t overestimate how easy that is. But if you can set it up right you can have people engaging right. It helps to solidify the information in their head.
The next thing you might think about doing in terms of your content is to have a wrap-up at the end and it’s a very simple example that you get through.
Frankly, most 45 minute presentations you might have one or two points you need to make at the start, you might have one or two or three case examples which show some subtleties or some nuance or some different things.
There is no reason to have more than one case example demonstrating the same point you might have a couple to demonstrate subtleties and changes in differences and that again is an opportunity for group discussion.
Then you can summarise after you show the exception. So show the exceptions to the rules.
You might have another case study example, if you’ve got time but I suspect you’re running out of time then, and you are going to get to the end.
So what have we done in terms of what we’ve jotted down so far.
Okay that’s a lot in talking about it, I know it sounded like a lot of information, but at the end of the day all we’re doing here is jotting down your headings and getting your flow right and your order right so that the cohesiveness of your presentation actually makes sense. That’s all you need to do at that point.
Remember, you’re an expert on the subject matter. Don’t get caught up with filling in paragraphs and with writing things down, or with giving any more information than headings at this point, because you’ve become an expert on the subject – that was your first step.
If you haven’t done that properly then this stage is going to be incredibly difficult. Of course you are going to start fleshing them out, once your order of events makes sense. Once you can hear yourself speaking and working through those things and making sense in the order in which you’re delivering them. That is when you can start filling in some of the blanks.
Don’t Write Out your Presentation
I am not a big fan of writing out presentations in full and I say that for a few reasons.
Firstly, I say that because you always end up reading it out, no matter what.
Secondly, I say that because if you’re an expert at the subject matter (and you should be) then you don’t need your presentation written out in full in order to speak to the subject.
And the third reason is that if you are reliant on reading your presentation and if it’s in front of you, almost inevitably if someone ask you a question, or if you get interrupted, if you get hijacked, if your boss leaps in and make some annoying comment that you weren’t expecting then it is going to throw you completely off and you can be looking down at your notes you can’t remember where you are up to and it really does stuff up your presentation flow.
Whereas if you can deal with things as they come in and get straight back to the point you’re making by reference to a simple heading or a simple guide then you’re in a far far better place to actually deal with eventualities as they come up during the course of your presentation.
So now you have filled in some of the blanks and this is generally the point where your content is starting to come to an end.
The only thing I do recommend putting in when you’re filling in the blanks is quotable quotes. You may not necessarily put them on your slides. That’s a bit debatable but we’re not looking at that today anyway.
Just think about how you’re going to go about engaging people think about questions you can ask during this process. If you do think of them just jot them down – questions you can ask the audience, ways you can get people to engage – because audience engagement is by far the best way to get people still paying attention.
They know they can get picked on again, so they’ll be listening to you a little bit more.
It’s Not About Powerpoint Slides – It’s About You, the Speaker
So have I gone through all this and I haven’t spoken about slides at all.
It’s because I want you to remember – you are the speaker okay. Microsoft PowerPoint is not the speaker, Keynote is not the speaker. You are the speaker, you are the presenter and it’s important that you carry the authority and the ability to answer the questions in an appropriate way that demonstrates that you’ve done your job properly.
Step 4 in Giving a Good Presentation – Revise and Revisit
The final thing you need to do before anything else is you need to go back through what you’ve prepared, however detailed, and maybe go back through it and then look at the question you’re seeking to answer. See if there is anything in there that is not necessary for you to answer that question – or for some other very very discreet reason like engaging the audience telling a joke or something like that – then get rid of it.
Okay, don’t forget you are there to answer that question, and only that question. If you are answering other questions that don’t need to be answered in set up for answering the main one, then it needs to be gotten rid of.
Nothing infuriates me more than thinking I’m going to a presentation about one thing and having a presentation about 25 things and I’m sure you have been there. You don’t remember any of them. You might come out if you’re lucky with one minor point that hasn’t been gone to in enough detail that you don’t really know that well at all.
Don’t overreach your coverage – just answer that question. Don’t answer other questions – they can be for the next presentation or a different one or another person that doesn’t matter if you keep trying to expand to cover all bases then you will end up covering none of them because your audience will leave without having learned a single thing – you will have tried to cover too much.This is by far the most important thing.
If it ends up going for 30 minutes instead of 45 as a result, when you do a run through to see how long it can go, then maybe you’ve articulated your question poorly to fill up the necessary time.
However, there are ways of addressing that.
You can think about changing your question you can think about changing the issue.
You can think about going into some more detail, or some more exceptions or some more nuance, or you can think about drilling down in some more detail than what you already have. If you have answered your question in the most comprehensive fashion that it can possibly be answered, you’ve provided case examples and you have had an opportunity for your audience to get involved and ask questions and participate in a group discussion of some kind, and you’re still only hitting half an hour (frankly, I’m amazed if you are) then I think probably you need to change the question or add a different question.
There’s a couple of different ways of doing it, but I’d suggest avoiding adding a different question, you run the risk of it being disjointed. If you do it that way, I’d suggest tweaking your question a little bit to zoom out just enough that you can expand by adding a few more necessary topics, changing up your case studies a little to demonstrate new points.
And that is how you go about developing an effective presentation – getting your content right, getting your audience engaged, getting it done meaningfully and effectively educational in the context of a presentation is designed to teach people.
You will be asked to do them again and again and you’ll develop a reputation as an effective speaker and that’s not a bad thing to have because, if you are an effective speaker internally and you’re an effective speaker externally people will start to see you as an authority on the topics about which you speak.
If you can command a presence in the room, if you can deliver an effective presentation, if you can teach people on a given topic in enough detail that they can come away thinking: “I know that really well now” then you will be seen as an authority in that area and when people have a question, who do you think again come to?
If you’ve taught them that well, they will begin a come back to you and that will start developing a relationship so it is a good foundational skill to have.
I hope this has been a good primer for you. That is all for today get the show notes at www.tipsforlawyers.com/podcast/27 and I’ll see you next time