Lawyers, especially litigators, tend to have an affinity for the dramatic. When it comes to the workplace, this often translates into a deep-rooted desire for everyone in the firm to be world-class presenters. This makes sense for the lawyers — after all, they’re likely to end up presenting cases in front of a judge and jury someday.
That does not mean, however, that other legal professionals within the firm are off the hook. Often, paralegals, administrators, and other employees will be called upon to give presentations on everything from current case law to employee benefit plan options. And, not surprisingly, the better you are at presenting the more cachet you’ll build among your co-workers and employers.
But not everyone is a natural when it comes to public speaking. That’s okay! In this article, we present you with some of our top tips for nailing your next law firm presentation.
Practice, practice, practice
When most people are asked to give a presentation, they fall into an all-too-familiar trap. Specifically, they will write out their speech (whether on the computer or on note cards), read the content obsessively prior to the presentation date, then do the first “live” presentation when they’re sitting in front of their co-workers. This is a big mistake.
The better course of action is to practice the presentation repeatedly before you give it to other people. Read it out loud. See where you get tripped up and then edit that section so it flows easier when you have to say it out loud to your colleagues. Get to the point where you can get all the way through the presentation with ease. That way, there won’t be any surprises and you’ll feel confident as you start speaking at the firm.
Beware of your own tics
Did you ever have a professor in college who said “um” about 43,000 times per lecture? Maybe you and your classmates even made a game out of counting the total “ums” per class. While amusing for the listener, the real tragedy is that tics like this can cause your audience to completely ignore the substance of your presentation. Worse yet, the speaker is rarely aware that he or she is engaging in this repetitive behavior.
What that means is that you’re going to have to find someone who will check you for tics (pun intended). Have a friend listen to your presentation and give you honest feedback about things like excessive use of repeated phrases like “um” or “like” or “you know what I mean?” Also have the person take note of any physical tics such as foot-tapping, pencil chewing, or white-knuckling the podium.
Once you’re aware of your own tics, you can set about to eradicate them. Again, this will involve a ton of practice, but it will be time well spent when you nail your presentation in front of the firm’s partners.
I don’t know a single person who enjoys this process, but, in my experience, it is the single most effective tool for improving your public speaking skills. For most people, all you’ll have to do is set up your cellphone to record your practice sessions. Then comes the hard part — you have to watch it.
You better believe you’ll learn a lot about your presentation skills. In fact, when I first employed this trick to prepare for a mock opening statement in law school, I learned that I — perhaps having watched too many episodes of “Matlock” in my day — said the phrase “ladies and gentlemen of the jury” no fewer than 30 times in a five-minute presentation. And until I watched that video, I had no idea I was doing it. It was one of the most useful, if not painful, lessons of my entire legal career. I promise you’ll hate this process but I also promise it will improve your public speaking skills more than anything else.
Take a class
I understand that you may not have time to enroll in a course between the moment your law firm partner assigns you a presentation and the moment you have to give it. That said, you are in the legal profession and chances are you’ll be called upon to speak publicly at some point. So, if this is an insecurity of yours, why not seek out some professional guidance? In fact, there are a surprising number of free resources online designed specifically to help you become a better speaker.
The truth about giving successful presentations at your law firm is that it is just like anything else in your legal career — it will take hard work, preparation, and a healthy dose of confidence. What are your go-to tricks for giving a winning presentation at the firm?