Public speaking tips for lawyers


Public speaking is a great way for lawyers to build their reputation and meet new contacts. But great material isn’t enough to make a great presentation. You have to deliver that material with a great performance.

The first rule of public speaking is displaying good energy. You may be passionate about your subject matter but unless you transfer that emotion to the audience, through your words, tone of voice, and body language, your message won’t get through.

I’ve had to work on this myself. I recall a time about ten years ago I gave a presentation and when I got off stage I asked my co-presenter what he thought about my talk. He said, “Do you drink coffee?” When I said I did, he told me I should drink more.

If you do any live presentations (or want to), here are a few tips for doing a better presentation:

  • Don’t attempt to teach your audience everything. A few key points is all you need and all anyone can handle.
  • Never tell “the history of” anything. Get to the point: what do I need to know right now?
  • If you use slides, don’t cram them with text. A few lines with a few words each.
  • Speak into the microphone and project your voice to the back of the room. Nobody will hear you or understand you if you sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher.
  • Modulate your voice. Use a mixture of highs and lows, fast and slow pace.
  • Talk to the audience, not at them. Ask questions, tell stories, say something unusual or funny.
  • Make eye contact with as many people as you can. Use their names if you know them or you can read their name tags.
  • Don’t just stand there, move. Walk around, gesture, throw something (just kidding).
  • Keep it short. Twenty minutes is about all anyone can handle before their mind wanders.
  • Tell them what to do next. Give them a web site and tell them what to do when they get there. Offer something in return for their business card. Or give them a homework assignment.
  • Thank your hosts, thank the audience, and thank God nobody fell asleep.

I’m certainly not the best speaker in the world. But I’m better today than I was last year and I’ll be better next year than I am this year. Speaking is a skill and it can be learned. Practice, get feedback, and practice some more.

Being an attorney will get you asked to speak. Being a good speaker will get you asked back.

Want more ways to build your reputation? Here’s The Formula.


How to Avoid “Death by Powerpoint”


So you have a presentation coming up and it’s time to prepare slides. Are you going to “kill it” (i.e., the presentation) or “kill them” (your audience)?

We’ve all been a victim of bad Powerpoint presentations. Some of us have been guilty of creating them. Technology makes it easy to go a little crazy with our slides and too often, we do.

Seth Godin’s popular post, “Really Bad Powerpoint,” provides five “rules” for creating better Powerpoint presentations:

  1. No more than six words on a slide. EVER. There is no presentation so complex that this rule needs to be broken.
  2. No cheesy images. Use professional stock photo images.
  3. No dissolves, spins or other transitions.
  4. Sound effects can be used a few times per presentation, but never use the sound effects that are built in to the program. Instead, rip sounds and music from CDs and leverage the Proustian effect this can have. If people start bouncing up and down to the Grateful Dead, you’ve kept them from falling asleep, and you’ve reminded them that this isn’t a typical meeting you’re running.
  5. Don’t hand out print-outs of your slides. They don’t work without you there.

My biggest challenge has been with the first rule. Especially when this is combined with another rule (I don’t recall where I heard it) of using no more than 12 slides in any presentation.

But I get the point: use slides to support your presentation, not duplicate it. Keep the audience focused on you, not your slides.

Which leads me to my suggestion for creating a better presentation: don’t use ANY slides.

If you want to keep the audience focused on you and what you are saying, why give them anything else to look at? There will always be exceptions but for most presentations, slides aren’t necessary.

Years ago, I was giving a presentation and the bulb burned out on the projector. We didn’t have a replacement and I had to finish the presentation without slides. It threw me at first (and that got me some sympathy applause) but fortunately, I knew the material and everything turned out fine.

I know we tend to use slides as prompts or cue cards, to keep the presentation moving forward and so that we don’t forget anything. Godin suggests using hand-held cue cards instead of putting the information on screen. If you know your material well enough, you shouldn’t have to do either.

I do a lot of speaking, both with and without slides, and I believe I am most effective when I go “commando”. I like the challenge of holding the audience’s attention. I like being spontaneous and interjecting new ideas that arrive from my subconscious. Sometimes I forget things, but the audience doesn’t know. In fact, leaving things out can actually make for a better (and shorter) presentation.

Do you use slides in your presentations? Are you killing the presentation or killing your audience?