Do you talk too much?

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Many lawyers are verbose. They use 100 words to explain something when five or ten will do. They “bury the lead” under paragraphs or pages of background information. They clear their throat for ten minutes before they get to their first point.

Early in my career, I did this. I’d like to think I’ve nipped that habit in the bud.

Why are lawyers like this?

Could be because we were taught to be thorough, to leave no stone unturned in our efforts to persuade.

I’m sure some lawyers want to impress people with the depth of their knowledge, the breadth of their experience, or the thoroughness of their research.

Some want to display their intelligence. Some want to hide their shortcomings behind a wall of words.

And, in a profession that often equates value in terms of time, more words or pages or minutes can mean more income.

But most people, especially high-achieving, busy people, don’t want or need all the details. They want their lawyer to get to the point.

They want us to be more concise.

How do you do that? How do you write an email, memo, or article, or do a presentation, that clearly and concisely says what you want to say, and no more?

How do you persuade someone to do something or believe something, without taking them to school?

Knowing your audience helps. What do they already know about the subject? What questions are they likely to have? What problems do they want to solve, and what’s in it for them if they follow your advice?

Confine yourself to what you know your reader or listener wants or needs to know and leave the scholarship on the bookshelf.

Providing examples and stories helps. Help the reader understand what you mean, with fewer words, by showing instead of telling.

Re-writing and editing help. Cut out the fluff, use shorter sentences and paragraphs, and make the page scannable with lots of white space, bullet points and numbering.

More than anything, see if you can boil down your message to a single idea.

Ask yourself, “What’s the ONE thing I want my reader (or listener) to take away from this?”

What do you want them to know, believe, or do?

Use that as the lead to your presentation, the subject line in your email, or the conclusion of your article.

And once you’ve delivered that takeaway, stop talking.

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Maybe you should teach a class

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CLE presenters don’t teach classes for the money. Why do they do it? Why should you?

Here are 6 reasons you should consider teaching a continuing education course:

  1. It will make you a better lawyer. You’ll necessarily stay current with the cutting edge aspects of your subject.
  2. It will make you a better presenter. You’ll learn how to craft an interesting and persuasive presentation.
  3. It will expose you to other lawyers who take your class. This can lead to referrals, associating on cases, and other networking opportunities.
  4. It looks great on your bio. Just being able to say you teach other lawyers in your field gives you an edge over other lawyers who don’t.
  5. You’ll have more content for your blog, newsletter, guest posts, videos, podcasts, and seminars.
  6. It can lead to book deals, invitations to speak on panels or sit on committees, and other opportunities to get more exposure and elevate your reputation.

So, what are you waiting for? Sharpen your pencil, and your tongue, and outline your first CLE class.

Marketing is easier when you know The Formula

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The case of the florescent green house slippers

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I needed a new pair of house slippers and ordered a pair online. They arrived, I tried them on but didn’t like the fit. 

Back they went. 

I ordered a different brand and they fit alright but I couldn’t get used to the bright green lining which showed even when my feet were in them.  

You want to relax when you put on your slippers, don’t ya? Not feel like you’re at the circus. 

I sent these back and ordered a third pair. Plain black, inside and out. 

Guess what happened? 

They fit, they look good, they’re comfortable, and I kept them. I’m wearing them now, as a matter of fact. 

You may be wondering why I’m telling you this not-very-interesting and seemingly pointless story. (And why you spent valuable time reading it.)

It is to make a point about stories, and why you should use them liberally in your writing and presentations. 

Yes, you’ve heard this before. You know that stories are more interesting than facts, usually because they have people in them, you know that “facts tell but stories sell,” and you know that stories are a great way to connect emotionally with your reader. 

You also know that stories are a good way to show people what it will be like having you as their attorney. 

Showing instead of telling.

But there’s another reason why stories are effective. 

It’s because human beings are hard-wired to listen to them. 

It’s a survival instinct. When we hear stories, our minds seek to predict what happens next. 

When we sat in caves and heard tribal leaders tell stories of being chased by ferocious creatures and what they did to escape, we learned what to do when we’re chased by ferocious creatures. 

Our brains pay attention to stories to find out what happened. 

So the next time you want to persuade someone to do something,  don’t just tell them the facts, tell a story. 

If a busy professional like you will listen to my boring tale of buying slippers, imagine what your prospective clients will do when you tell them about your client being chased by ferocious opposing counsel and how you saved them from being devoured.

Put stories in your newsletter. Here’s how

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Create a better marketing message by keeping it simple

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The best marketing messages are simple. They are easy to understand and easy to remember, and the ideas embodied in them affect the reader or listener on a basic emotional level.

The same can be said for any message.

The strength of a simple message is in its clarity. The reader or listener grasps the message on its face, without explanation or documentation, and without delay. It says what it means and it means what it says.

Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Do not write merely to be understood. Write so you cannot possibly be misunderstood.”

But how does one do that?

Ultimately, this is a function of the writer’s or speaker’s understanding of the essence of the message and their ability to communicate it. In other words, it takes some skill and effort. But there’s a lot you can do to make your message simpler, clearer, and more effective, even if you’re not (yet) a great writer.

Make your message about fewer ideas

Include a few key points in your message, not everything you could say on the subject. This is true no matter who your audience is, but even more so for a lawyer seeking to influence lay people.

Be brief

Spare the details. Don’t write pages when paragraphs will do. See if you can convey the same idea in a sentence or two.

Most people want no more than the bottom line and a fact or two that supports it. You should have additional information available, however, for those who want it. On your website, for example, put your message on the home page; provide links to the details for those who want to drill down to get them.

Write at a fourth grade level

You want your message to go from the page or the lectern to the recipient’s brain at the speed of thought. You don’t want anything slowing it down. So use shorter paragraphs and sentences, and simpler words. “Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do,” Mark Twain told us.

Use repetition

No matter how effective your message is, it will be more effective if it is repeated often. Repetition helps people understand, accept, and remember your message. It is key to earning their trust and their business.

Think of your message as a campaign speech, if that helps. You address the same handful of ideas and repeat them over and over again, to new crowds and to your die-hard supporters alike.

Repetition makes your message stronger and affects people at a deeper level. The first time they hear it, they may be critical and doubtful. After they’ve heard it several times, they are better able understand and accept the message. Eventually, after they’ve heard your message repeatedly, they can remember it and articulate it to others.

And that’s what you want.

You want your clients and prospects, friends and followers, to know what you stand for and what you promise, and you want them to easily share that message with others.

Need help crafting an effective marketing message? Try this

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How well do you know your stuff?

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A number of years ago I was in Texas attending an event related to one of my businesses. The room was filled with several hundred attendees waiting to hear the featured speaker who was scheduled to do a training. Unfortunately, he had the flu and couldn’t speak.

One of the event organizers knew me and asked if I would be willing to fill in. I had nothing prepared but I said yes, got on stage and did a 30 minute training. I was able to do that, without notes or preparation, because I knew the subject matter. I had trained many times before, both on stage and on conference calls, and was able to pull a rabbit out of a hat.

Even if you don’t regularly speak or train or address a jury, you should be able to do the same thing.

You know your area of expertise cold, don’t you? You should be able to explain what you do in a cogent manner. The challenge is to make it interesting enough to engage your audience, so they will remember what you said, and remember you.

So here’s my charge to you. Flesh out a five minute talk about some aspect of what you do. Start with a few bullet points, then add an opening and a closing.

Open with a story, a startling statistic, or a provocative question. Share stories about cases or clients you’ve had, to illustrate your material and to bring it to life. Close with a summary and tell them what you want them to do.

Practice your talk. Record yourself delivering it. Get good at it, because even if you’re never called upon to deliver it to a live audience, it will help you become better at communicating what you do.

Wait. You’re not done. You should also prepare a 20-minute talk, and be prepared to deliver it if called upon. A standard talk you could do at a luncheon or on a webinar. Who knows, you might find you like speaking and have a new way to bring in business.

Finally, prepare a one-minute talk. This will probably be the most difficult, but also the one that you are most likely to deliver.

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Stop trying to make everyone like you

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Believe it or not, some people don’t like me. Okay, maybe it’s not me they don’t like, they don’t like my writing.

They think my ideas “aren’t for them”. My writing style makes them uncomfortable. They don’t think I understand them or can help them.

You know what? I don’t care.

For one thing, I never hear from them. They quietly leave my email list or stop visiting my blog. They’re gone, like a fart in the wind, and will probably never return.

The other reason I don’t care is that they aren’t my target market. I don’t write to them, or for them. If they don’t “grok” me, they probably don’t trust me and my ideas and thus they aren’t going to hire me or recommend me.

If I cared about what they thought and tried to appeal to them, I would have to water down my style or homogenize my ideas. If I did that, I would be doing a disservice to the ones who do like me: my prospects and clients.

So, I ignore them and continue to do my thang. And the more I do that, the more I attract people who like what I say because they know I’m talking to them.

One of the reasons I pound on the idea of targeting niche markets instead of marketing to “everyone” is that it allows you to connect with the people in that niche on a deeper level. By your examples and stories and yes, even your style of writing, they think, “he gets me”. That synergy leads to more clients, more referrals, and more positive word of mouth.

That doesn’t happen when you try to please everyone.

Seth Godin put it this way recently:

When we hold back and dumb down, we are hurting the people who need to hear from us, often in a vain attempt to satisfy a few people who might never choose to actually listen.

It’s quite okay to say, “it’s not for you.”

Write to the people who get you. Ignore the ones who don’t.

Marketing is easier when you know The Formula

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My take on gun control

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I have a very strong opinion on the gun control issue. I’d like to share it with you but I would be a fool if I did. I write about marketing, not politics or policy. Telling you my opinion on an emotionally charged issue like gun control might satisfy my need to express myself, but from a marketing standpoint it would be a mistake.

I might lose half of my readers who disagree with me. If I represented a special interest group or had a talk show or forum of some sort where “taking sides” was part of the deal, fine. But I don’t, so why unnecessarily alienate people who might hire me?

As a friend of mine colorfully advises, “Don’t shit on your money”.

And that’s my advice to you.

There is a way to talk about issues like gun control, climate change, abortion, and the like without stabbing yourself in the back. You do that by writing about those issues as though you were writing a Bar exam essay.

Present both sides of the issue–the legal arguments and the body of law–in an unbiased manner. The facts and arguments on one side, and then the other. Leave out the conclusion altogether, or couch it in terms of “if/then”.

State the facts and keep your opinion to yourself.

Your clients and prospects, readers and listeners, will appreciate you for educating them about both sides of the issue and for giving them credit for making up their own mind. You have presented a valuable service to them, and haven’t pushed anyone away.

I know, it’s hard to keep mum about what we think, especially when we have strongly held opinions about important issues. But we just can’t go there.

When I see what some people post on Facebook, I have to bite my tongue and watch cat videos to calm down. But I don’t comment. I also don’t like political posts I agree with. I don’t let anyone know my opinion.

Lately, however, I’ve taken to un-following people who reveal their foolishness through their posts. I’m not their client or prospect, so it doesn’t matter, but if I were, their opinions might cost them a small fortune.

What to write on your website or blog

 

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Career day for fourth graders

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Did you attend your child’s third or fourth grade class for career day? Do you remember explaining what a lawyer does and making it as interesting as possible? Tough to do when you’re competing with Joey’s dad who is a professional magician, but you did it.

You explained what you did, who you helped, and why it is important. You helped some future lawyers see that being a lawyer is cool.

If you had to do it again (or for the first time), what would you say?

Think it through and write it down, or record it. This is a valuable exercise, even if you don’t have any kids.

It can help you explain what you do to prospective clients and referral sources. It can also help you create content for your website, articles, and presentations.

You don’t necessarily have to write at a fourth grade level, but keep it simple enough that your ideal clients can follow.

Here are some ideas to prime your mental pump:

  • What kinds of clients do you represent? What kinds of problems do you handle? Give some examples of real clients you have helped.
  • What’s the first thing you do when a new client comes to you? What do you do after that?
  • Do you charge by the hour? Flat fees? Why? How is this better for your clients?
  • Why did you become a lawyer? What do you want to accomplish in your career? Do you have any role models?
  • What’s the best way to find a good lawyer in your field? What questions should someone ask?
  • What’s the hardest part of your job? What’s the worst case or client you have had?
  • What are you most proud of about your work? What do you like best about what you do?
  • How is your practice different from others in your field? What do you do that other lawyers don’t do, or what do you do better?
  • Who would make a good referral for you? If someone knows someone like that, what should they do to refer them?
  • What questions do prospective clients and new clients typically ask you? How do you answer them?

Take one of these and write a few paragraphs. It won’t take you more than a few minutes and you can start using it immediately. And, if you run into a fourth grade class and are asked to speak, you’ll be ready.

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The best way to close a presentation

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Yesterday I talked about the best ways to open a presentation. Today, I want to talk about the best way to close a presentation.

Many presentations close with a summary of the key points made during the talk. You tell the audience what you want them to remember, perhaps numbering them in some fashion, and that’s fine.

Another way to close is to tell another story that illustrates those key points.

Stories can dramatize your message and create an emotional response in the listener. People tend to remember the stories you tell long after they have forgotten the facts.

You might combine these two techniques–summarize a few key points, then tell a story that reinforces them.

Another good way to close is to say something that echoes something you said at the beginning. Finish the story you began early on, or provide another startling statistic.

One of the best ways to end a presentation, and something I do in almost every presentation I give, is to tell the audience what to do.

Tell them to fill out the paperwork. Tell them to visit a web page. Tell them to like your page. Tell them to buy.

What do you want them to do after they leave the presentation? What do you want them to do while they’re still in the room?

They’re listening to you because they want to learn something. What do you want them to do with that information?

You’re delivering this talk to gain a new client, subscriber, supporter, or follower. What should they do to take the next step?

The same idea applies to written pieces, mostly. Close with a call to action. Tell them what to do. Tell them why.

When you tell people what to do, more people will do it.

Like this:

If you’re reading this in an email, please forward it to three attorneys you know. If you’re reading this on the blog, please like, tweet, or share.

And this:

Your friends will thank you for thinking of them and how they might benefit from this information. I will appreciate you, too.

So thanks for sharing. You’re a good egg. And thanks for listening. You’ve been a great audience.

 

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3 sure-fire ways to start a presentation

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In any presentation or piece of writing, the first words spoken or written need to get your audience’s attention. Those first words are your headline. They tell people, “look at this–this is important”.

If your audience knows you and trusts you to deliver something they will value, you can jump right in and say what you want to say. That’s what I did at the start of this post.

But in other situations, you need to do more.

You can’t go wrong by promising a benefit in your headline. Tell people what they will learn or gain by reading or listening. The title of this post does that by promising to show you 3 sure-fire ways to start a presentation.

But there are other ways to get attention. Here are 3 of the best:

(1) Tell a story

Start your talk or article with a story. People like stories because they are about people and things that happen to them. They keep reading or listening to find out, “what happened next”.

Start with a story about a former client, for example. What happened to him? What did you do to help him? How did it all turn out?

(2) Make a provacative statement

Say something unusual or shocking, something people don’t know or don’t expect you to say. You might share a surprising fact, for example, or a statistic related to the subject of your talk.

If I was speaking about identify theft, for example, I might say, “Most people think identity theft means that someone has stolen your financial information. The truth is, there are five different types of identity theft”.

This gets the audience thinking about what these are, and whether they might be a victim of one of them.

(3) Ask an probing question

Questions work because they bring the reader or listener into the conversation. If you start your talk by asking, “When was the last time you updated your Will?” your audience starts thinking about the answer to that question.

Questions asked at the beginning of a presentation also make the audience continue to listen or read, to find out the answers.

With that in mind, would you like to know the best way to end a presentation? I’ll tell you tomorrow.

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