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Speaking at conferences and before groups of prospects is a well-established way for a lawyer to position herself as a thought leader on a relevant topic or issue. Make sure that you create the desired impression by honoring these principles.

To make sure the audience retains the important part of your message, use this framework to make it easy for them to follow you:

  1. Tell 'em what you're going to tell 'em
  2. Tell 'em
  3. Tell 'em wha t you told 'em

The preview allows them to listen without being distracted by trying to figure out where what you're saying now fits in. Begin with something like, "Over the next hour, I'm going to [goal of your remarks]."

To give the important parts of your speech more emphasis, cue yourself by highlighting your speaking notes at the places you want to emphasize; now, photocopy your notes. The highlighting will reproduce as a distinctive gray, and you'll be able to read your copy clearly and easily through it. Most word processing software offers electronic highlighting, too.

Joseph Pulitzer offered these guidelines for reaching people: "Put it to them briefly, so they will read it; clearly, so they will appreciate it; picturesquely, so they will remember it; and, above all, accurately, so they will be guided by its light."  

Your goal is not to make a speech, but to communicate with prospects. We often use "information" and "communication" interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.

Avoid the "Scared Rabbit" Look

I’m sure you’ve heard how important it is to make eye contact with every person in the room so that they'll all feel included. However, don’t overdo it; pacing is key. Don't make the common mistake of letting your eyes flit quickly from person to person. 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. 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.

Make Q&A Work For You

Virtually all public presentations include a question-and-answer session that can define your session. The two biggest risks are

  1. a questioner who monopolizes the Q&A time with a long, rambling question that’s not really a question, but a mini-presentation of his views; and
  2. someone who introduces a negative, irrelevant, or contentious view that alienates the audience and has them heading for the exits.

Here's how to stay in control:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Break eye contact when the questioner has finished. Look out over the audience before you speak, signaling that your answer is of interest to everybody.
  • Restate or rephrase the question. Even if the question is a simple one, restate it to make sure everyone hears it accurately. Simplify a more complex query so that everyone understands 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.
  • Confirm that you've answered the question. Ask, "Does that answer your question?"
  • 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.

Control the ending

Always make sure you control the last thing the audience hears, which is what they’ll take with them, so never end with Q&A. When you conclude Q&A, summarize the key points you made, and that you want them to remember. (This is where you tell ‘em what you told ‘em.)

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.

Avoid ending any speech with "thank you." These are weak words. If you’ve done your job and given them relevant, useful, valuable information and a positive experience, they should be thanking you (as many will do when they approach you afterward). 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."

Mike O’Horo

Preparing for a speech or presentation? Arrange a call with me to prepare for it and make sure it creates a great impression, and positions you exactly the way you want it to. The first one’s on me.