3 sure-fire ways to start a presentation


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.


It’s official: I’m running for President (but don’t vote for me)


No matter what you think about politics, there’s no question that it can be a great way to advance your professional career. You get to meet a lot of influential people. You get your name and face in front of potential supporters and future clients. You get to sharpen your speaking and networking skills. And for the rest of your life, your bio will note that you are a former candidate for office, meaning you aren’t the average schmo.

So consider running for office. Just make sure you don’t win.

If you win, and you’re honest, you’ll have to take a big pay cut. If you want to continue to win, you may have to sell your soul.

Okay, it might be alright to win an unimportant local office, but only if you can serve part time. Just don’t get carried away and think about running for higher office, unless of course you are already wealthy and/or idealistic to the extreme.

Another way you can ride this pony is to work behind the scenes to support a candidate. Your name may not become well known to the public, but you get to go to rubber chicken dinners with people who can send you business, teach you about marketing and building your brand, and introduce you to other influential people.

So yes, I’m running for President; if you want to work for my campaign, let me know. I can’t pay you anything, and remember, we’re not going to win this, so if you’re really talented or hard working, please don’t apply for the job.

That’s all for now. I’ve got to finish working on my concession speech.


Marvel’s new superhero is an attorney


Breaking news: Marvel’s new superhero is an attorney.

Well, it should be. After all, attorneys do for their clients the same things Thor does for Asgardians, and we only think we’re gods.

Clients want their attorneys to keep them safe, vanquish the bad guys, and give them peace of mind. They want their attorneys to have amazing strength and skills and always know what to do. And that is the image we must continually portray.

But clients also want to connect with their attorneys on a human level. They want to know that we can relate to their problems and understand how they feel. They want to know that we are invulnerable on the outside, but on the inside, in many ways we’re just like them.

Show your clients that you are vulnerable on the inside and you will endear them to you. Share some of your failures and shortcomings and how you overcame them. Let them know about some of your faults and fears.

In speaking with clients, in your writing and public speaking, in interviews, let people see that there is a real person inside the superhero costume. Give them a glimpse of your personal life. Tell them what you do on weekends, talk about your kids, your vacations, and your outside interests.

Let them know that while you slay dragons during the day, at night you’re a mom or dad, a husband or wife, and a member of your community. Just like them.


It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it


When I was in high school, lifting weights in the gym, I remember a song that played over and over on the radio. You might remember, “I never promised you a rose garden” by country singer Lynn Anderson.

If not, you can watch Ms. Anderson (and her big hair) on this video.

The song begins, “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden. . .” and that lyric is repeated throughout.

I heard that song so many times that eventually, I started playing around with the lyrics in my head. I changed the whole meaning of the title and primary lyric by emphasizing different words.

“I [emphasized] never promised you a rose garden.” Maybe it was someone else.

“I NEVER promised you a rose garden”. Nope, not once.

“I never PROMISED you a rose garden”. I might have mentioned it, but I never promised it.

“I never promised you a ROSE garden.” A garden, maybe, but not roses.

“I never promised you a rose GARDEN”. I said I’d plant a few roses, not a whole garden.

Crazy, but fun, especially for a word lover, and it passed the time while I was doing bench presses and squats.

Now, I’m not saying I think you don’t know the proper word to emphasize when you are speaking. I would NEVER think that. Okay, I might THINK that, but I would never say it.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the point is that while we probably don’t change the meaning of what we intend in such an obvious manner, we often do it in other, more subtle ways.

Suppose you’ve got a prospective client in your office and it’s time to talk about fees. You’re telling them the dollar amount they will have to pay. If you speed up your words even a little, or lower the volume of your voice, you might communicate that you are a little embarrassed about how much you charge, or afraid that they might say no. The same is true if you break eye contact.

Our body language and tonality often say things our words do not.

Our choice of words also matter. Telling the client that you hope to win isn’t the same as saying you expect to win. Saying you’ll do your best isn’t as good as saying you’ll do whatever it takes.

It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it.


What are you afraid of?


What are you afraid of? What do you know you should be doing but don’t because of fear?

Not because you don’t know how. Not because you don’t have the time or other resources. Simply because it scares the crap out of you.

It might the act of doing it. Public speaking may terrify you.

It might be possible outcomes. You’re afraid that if you start a blog, nobody will come.

It might be fear of failure or fear of success. Fear of rejection or fear of being ridiculed. Fear of losing your investment, or fear of being different.

We all have issues. The question is, what can we do about them?

We can make a decision. No, you can’t choose to not feel the fear. It’s there. Acknowledge it. Don’t fight it or try to reason with it. Let it go. It is what it is.

You can’t choose to not have the fear, but you can choose what you do about it.

You can allow your fears to stop you or you can choose to do the thing despite the fear.

Sometimes the best way to do that is in small increments. Baby steps. You may not be ready to do the keynote address at your bar meeting but perhaps you can introduce the speaker. If that’s too much, maybe you can introduce the guy who introduces the speaker.

Sometimes the best way to handle fear is to close your eyes and jump in.

A client owes you money. You have to call them to see if they’ve mailed the check they’ve promised. You don’t want to do it. It’s unpleasant. It makes you nervous. Stop thinking about it, grab the phone and start punching in numbers.

Some things may always scare us. Things that never get any easier. We feel the fear and do them because they must be done.

Other times, perhaps most of the time, we beat the fear. Things that once scared the juice out of us are no longer an issue. We did it, and it wasn’t as bad as we thought. Or we did over and over again and eventually got used to it. The thing we used to avoid doing is now a part of our repertoire.

Mark Twain said, “Do the thing you fear most and the death of fear is certain.” So what are you afraid of? And what are you going to do about it?

Clients owe you money? I can help you Get the Check.


My formula for persuasive writing


When I write sales copy, presentations, books, or blog posts, I often use a formula that makes it more likely the reader or listener will do what I want them to do.

I may want them to buy something, do something, or remember something. The formula works the same way.

The persuasive writing formula I use (no, I didn’t invent it) has five parts:

  1. State the PROBLEM (here’s what’s wrong, what you don’t have, what will happen if you don’t do anything about it.)
  2. AGITATE the problem (dramatize the pain, here’s more about how bad it could get, here’s other ways this will affect you)
  3. Present the SOLUTION (what can be done to stop the problem)
  4. Describe the BENEFITS (relieve your pain, other good things you get with this solution)
  5. CALL TO ACTION (what to do to get the solution and benefits)

Try this formula the next time you write something. You may find it helpful to start with the call to action. What do you want them to do? What’s the key takeaway?

Then, either work backwards through the other parts (ie., the benefits they will get when they do what you want them to do, the solution that delivers those benefits, etc.) or go to the beginning, describe the problem, and work forwards.

Anyway, an article in the Harvard Business Journal presents a similar formula based on classical story structure. In “Structure your presentation like a story,” author Nancy Duarte says:

After studying hundreds of speeches, I’ve found that the most effective presenters use the same techniques as great storytellers: By reminding people of the status quo and then revealing the path to a better way, they set up a conflict that needs to be resolved.

That tension helps them persuade the audience to adopt a new mindset or behave differently — to move from what is to what could be. And by following Aristotle’s three-part story structure (beginning, middle, end), they create a message that’s easy to digest, remember, and retell.

Persuasive writing is about creating tension (or identifying it) and then relieving it. If you want someone to hire you, show them the status quo and the path to a better way: “You’ve got this problem that’s only going to get worse; if you hire me, I will solve that problem (or help you take the first step towards solving it); here’s how you’ll be better off; here’s what to do to get started.”

Tell them a dramatic story that makes them angry or afraid. Just make sure it has a happy ending.

Do you know the formula for earning more in your practice? Go here.


Be brief, be brilliant, be gone


I just got off of a conference call. Thirty-five minutes intended to inform listeners about exciting new developments in our business.


The news is exciting. Very positive developments. Great things lie ahead. The problem is that if you weren’t already aware of that news, the conference call did little to inform or excite you.

There was too much information. It was difficult to follow. That’s bad enough in a meeting with visuals or handouts, but on a conference call, it is the kiss of death. People are dialing in from their car or from the gym or while distracted with other things. Too much information begins to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Everyone tunes out.

There were also too many speakers. That meant extra time for introductions. There was a lot of overlap, with speaker B covering the same information covered by speaker A. It was also obvious that the speakers had not been told how much time they were alloted (or didn’t follow instructions). The host cut off one speaker who spoke too long so the next speaker could be introduced. Ouch.

The call ended with platitudes and hyperbole. Words that were intended to inspire listeners to take action, but simply made listeners (me) cringe.

Unfortunately, these are common issues with meetings and presentations. It’s why people dread going to meetings and find most presentations too long and boring.

Don’t let this happen to you.

For starters, make sure you have a very good reason for conducting a meeting, conference call, or presentation, instead of disseminating the information in some other way. If you decide to go forward, keep these ideas in mind:

1. Be brief. Succinctly present three (no more than five) key points, and organize them so they are easy to understand and easy to remember. Additional details can be made available via a hand out or web page. Have as few speakers as necessary. In a short presentation, one speaker is usually best.

2. Be brilliant. Don’t do an information dump, have a “conversation” with your listeners. Keep the facts to the basics. Talk more about benefits and less about features. Tell a memorable story. Tell them what and how, but mostly why. Leave them wanting more.

3. Be gone. Keep it short, under twenty minutes if possible, and end with a call to action. Tell participants what to do. Avoid hype. Let the benefits in your presentation inspire people to do what you have told them to do.

Be brief, be brilliant, be gone.


The best advice I can give you about building your law practice


Care to guess which of my emails and posts get the most passionate feedback?

It’s not posts about how to do things. It’s not about marketing, productivity, or anything else substantive. The posts that bring the most passionate, emotional feedback are, by far, those that are inspirational.

It’s when I talk about “big picture” themes that apply to all of us human folk. Or when I share something personal about how I’ve changed. The posts that share ideas that make people feel good about themselves and the future.

There’s a lot of bad things happening in the world. People are scared. Hurt. Looking for answers.

We all need a bright spot. We all want to feel hopeful.

That’s where you come in.

When you email your list, post on your blog, or talk to an audience, with everything you do in building your law practice, your number one job is to make people feel good.

When people feel good about themselves and the future, they associate those good feelings with you, the bearer of that good news and those prognostications. They will like you for it and want to continue hearing from you and being around you.

People want to associate with people who promise to lead them towards a better future. That can be you.

This doesn’t mean you can’t scare them with dire warnings. Fear can be very motivating. It doesn’t mean you should no longer try to educate them. Among other reasons, conveying information is important to building your credibility and trustworthiness.

But at the end of the day (speech, article, interview, etc.) give people hope. Let them know they aren’t alone on this journey, you’re right there with them, and things are going to be just fine.

They will never remember what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.


Every lawyer needs to be able to tell these 5 stories


When speaking to prospective clients, an audience, interviewers, or professional contacts, you need to be able to tell them about you and what you offer in a way that is interesting and memorable. They should be able to see and understand the people behind the brochure or the web page.

Here are 5 stories you should be prepared to tell that make that possible:

1. Why us

What you do for your clients, the benefits you offer, the kinds of clients you work with, and why someone should hire you instead of other lawyers.

2. Your/your firm’s mission

The big picture about the work you do, your vision for the future.

3. Your personal story

Stories about your past, personal interests, family. The person, not the lawyer, although you can add why you became a lawyer.

4. Client stories

Success stories about people who hired you and received positive results. Have one or two for each practice area/problem and niche market.

5. Partner and/or staff stories

Be prepared to talk about other people in your firm. Clients like to know something about other people who might work with them.

A list of credentials and accomplishments has its place, but to be more effective, talk about people: yourself, your staff, and your clients. Tell stories that show who you are and how you make a difference. Because facts tell, but stories sell.


Judgments about trustworthiness are made in less than a second


According to new research, “people only need to meet someone for less than a second before they decide how trustworthy they are.”


When you meet a prospective client they make up their minds about you instantly. In a single glance, the jury decides whether or not to trust your client or witness. When you are networking or speaking, you are judged before you say a single word.

It has to do with the human face and how our brains process the image. I’ll spare you the scientific details behind the research but the process occurs at a subconscious level, and quickly.

We used to think that people make up their minds about us in the first minute or two, giving us time to make a good impression. You know, smile, make eye contact, show people you are interested in them. Now we know that by the time we do that, people have already made up their minds about us.

Now what? We can’t change our appearance. Our face says “trustworthy” or it does not. All we can do is move forward with the things we’ve always done to make a good impression and earn trust. We’ll thus reinforce the person’s first impression of us as trustworthy, and thus strengthen it, or we’ll counter their first impression of untrustworthy and, one hopes, overcome it.

But then I’m assuming it’s possible to overcome a bad first impression. It has to be. If it were not, it would mean there are people walking around with a face that tells everyone, “you can’t trust me,” and there’s nothing they can do to change that impression. I know life isn’t fair but I think that’s going too far.

How to improve your trustworthiness. Click here.