Public Speaking Tips for Lawyers

Public Speaking
They’re speakers – get it?

Not all lawyers are good at public speaking.  It’s a little disappointing, right?  I mean, we see all those awesome arguments, debates, and engagements on television and then we see some so-called “advocates” get to their feet and….. they suck.  It has occurred to me that while I have written quite a bit about legal writing on this site (oh – if you want some fun you could check out the legalese series as well), my dedication to the art of oral advocacy and public speaking tips has, at this point, been limited. No more – over the next few weeks I’m going to try and deal with a few different topics on public speaking ranging from presentation style, to advocacy, to interactions with clients.  Hopefully something in there is interesting for you. Today we’re simply going to consider the major areas where you are likely to need to get into public speaking tips for your career, and how they are different from each other.

Public Speaking Tips 101 – Giving a Presentation

Most of us have some remnants of hangups from school here, where we had to write out our presentation points on 5 x 8″ card, stand at the front of the class, and talk about something we don’t enjoy. Unfortunately, very little has changed from school, and often the quality has diminished.  Principally your opportunity to give a presentation will arise in the context of continuing legal education, or perhaps through seminars for clients.  In either case, the usual goals are these:

  • to educate, by providing information that is valuable to the audience;
  • to build relationship, by ensuring people know who you are and what you do;
  • to tick off on compulsory CLE or CPD points for either you or your audience.

Regrettably, the last is often the most focused on, and as a result the quality of some presentations leaves a lot to be desired.  Rather than being viewed as an opportunity to add real value to their audience, many lawyers view these as a necessary evil.

More Advanced Public Speaking Tips – Personal Interactions

This can be harder, and perhaps less public than some other forms of verbal interaction, but I still consider it part of “public speaking” in a broader sense. One on one interactions with clients or other lawyers are far more confrontational, and the ability to be effective in your speaking can make a dramatic difference to the outcome.  Tone, posture, positioning and energy are all relevant here.  Also quite relevant is the ability to just shut up.

Public Speaking Tips to the Max – Courtroom Advocacy

From consents to adjournments to applications (motions) to trials – courtroom advocacy is what most young lawyers think of when they consider any form of public speaking that they are likely to engage in.  Maybe we picture Perry Mason, Rumpole of the Bailey, Boston Legal (Denny Crane) or something more recent that I probably haven’t seen (sorry Suits fans – I haven’t caught up yet). Courtroom advocacy comes with a special skill set that you really need to work on deliberately and consciously in order to ensure that you are doing the best job for your client.  Here is where preparation, tone of voice, use of gestures, pitch, timing and cadence all start to work together to offer a persuasive argument or otherwise. Don’t kid yourself – there are some truly terrible advocates out there who should run screaming from the Courtroom.  Don’t be one.

So I Haven’t Said Anything Useful?

True – this is an overview.  More to come over the next few weeks about each of the above topics. Happy Lawyering!