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If you wish to establish yourself as a thought leader in your market, you'll have to do some public speaking at industry forums and conferences. Research says that the prospect of being in front of a group is among the most anxiety-producing for most people, and especially for lawyers. Here are some practical tips to assure your success and reduce anxiety.

The "Tell 'Em" Rule. Longtime readers of ResultsMailVT know that I discourage "telling" as destructive to selling. Public speaking is the one exception where I support telling.

Have you ever been frustrated by a speech in which the speaker seemed to know a lot about a subject of real interest to you, made some important, even dramatic points, but you still had trouble following him or her? Make sure you're not doing it yourself by using the "Tell 'Em" principle to give your audience a framework to understand and remember what you say:

  • Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em.
  • Tell 'em.
  • Tell 'em what you told 'em.

The first allows people to follow you immediately, without being distracted by trying to figure out where you're going, and where what you're saying now fits in. The last ties things up, eases recollection, and tees up your call to action.

Here are five specific techniques:

  • Avoid the “Scared Rabbit” Look. When speaking to modest-sized groups, it's crucial to make eye contact with every person in the room so that they all feel included. However, pacing is key. Don't make the common mistake of letting your eyes flit from person to person very quickly. It makes you look nervous. Instead, try to hold eye contact with each individual for at least six seconds before moving on to the next person. (If you're before a very large audience, you'll have to scan zones more than make individual eye contact.) This way, no matter how large or small the audience, anyone in the immediate vicinity of your gaze will feel as if you are speaking directly to them, and will connect with you.
  • Avoid ending any speech with "thank you." These are weak words. Just try to imagine Patrick Henry winding up his famous address like this: "As for me, gentlemen, give me liberty or give me death! Thank you." Conclude with the one point you want to stick with them, nod, and step back or walk off the stage (depending on how the event is organized).
  • Don't go on too long after you say, "In conclusion..." One authority argues that if you drag out your speech for more than a minute after you've said, "In conclusion...," you'll seriously compromise all the good you've accomplished up to that point. If you say you're about to conclude, conclude.
  • Highlight your highlights. To give the important parts of your speech more emphasis, remind yourself of when to do it by using your word processor's highlight function at those places you want to emphasize. You'll be able to read your copy clearly and easily.  
  • Make Q&A Work for You. First, never, ever end your speech or presentation with Q&A. You risk having the session end on a sour note due to a questioner creating controversy, being hostile, droning on, or otherwise killing everything you've accomplished with your audience. To make sure the audience leaves on the right note, leave time after Q&A for a memorable closing.

Conducting Q&A:

  • Raise your hand and ask "Any questions?" That sets the ground rules. Questioners now know to raise a hand to be acknowledged, and you exercise control by picking the questioner. If you have a large audience, arrange to have some of the organizers placed at strategic points with wireless microphones for questioners.
  • Select questioners one at a time to prevent people from talking all at once, and to reinforce the message that you're in control. It's more polite to use an open, extended palm instead of a pointing finger to make your selection.
  • Look directly at the questioner and listen for the issue behind the question.  Ask yourself, "What is this person after?" If you don't understand the question, ask for clarification.
  • When the questioner has finished, break eye contact. Look out over the audience before you speak, signaling that your answer is of interest to everybody.
  • Restate or rephrase the question. If the question is simple, restate it so that everyone can hear it (unless you're using mobile microphones).  Simplify a more complex query so that everyone can understand it. Recast a hostile question in neutral language.
  • Look back at the questioner when you start your answer, and tie the answer to your presentation. This allows you to check on audience reaction - and to restate the main points you've made.
  • Raise your hand to recognize the next questioner. This gesture indicates that the previous question has been answered and that you will take the next one. 

Relax and enjoy the applause.

Mike O'Horo

Astute marketers know that your speech is just the beginning of the value of the speaking gig. Learn how to get the most from your speaking engagement.

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