Legal Practice

Push Yourself: Becoming Comfortable with Public Speaking

As attorneys, our ability to persuade is mostly dependent on our writing skills. There’s no such thing as a good lawyer who is a bad writer. But there are plenty of lawyers who are, well, trash at public speaking lol I don’t mean to be harsh, but speaking confidently in public setting is an art form. There are some that are naturally good at it, and those that loathe it. Those that hate it may look for opportunities that keep them away from having to speak on the record as much as possible.

And while I don’t judge people who opt to keep as transactional caseload because they don’t want to be trial attorneys–everyone should strive to do the work that suits them best–it is a mistake to avoid opportunities that require public speaking just because you’re fearful or feel uncomfortable.

And while it’s true that you can create a career where you never see the light of a courtroom, the reality is that even in those types of jobs, opportunities will still arise that require you to give presentations or trainings. If you’re in legal aid, you may be called to do Know Your Rights or train the trainers-type presentations. Those in policy may one day need to speak to committees in open-settings to advocate for your work. In-house may need to convince their employer about certain decisions or policies that will require you feeling comfortable enough to make your case, verbally.

I say all these to remind you that even if you hate it, you should still consider honing these skills. Besides, being a great public speaker is an amazing skill set to maintain. It will open doors for you and help further your career.

I know this because training and public speaking area huge portion of my career. When I first started, I had to give trainings and I didn’t think much of it (horrible way to go about your job lol), but soon I realized the difference a good presentation  made in getting buy-in for my objectives and project. I made it a point to work on my public speaking skills and that soon lead to more training and speaking opportunities. And, more importantly, if I ever had to show up in court I felt more comfortable and at ease because I was used to speaking to an audience. 

With that in mind, I want to share my top presentation tips to become a better speaker:

One. Be comfortable in your body. I believe one of the reasons we’re terrified of public speaking is because we know people are staring at us and likely judging us–how we look, what we say, how we stand, etc. If you think about it, it’s enough to overwhelm. Instead, you have to realize you are who you are and your looks aren’t likely to change. And you really can’t just  hide behind a podium because you don’t want people staring at you. Instead, make sure you wear clothes you feel confident in and help you look the way you want to look. I opt for looser-fitting blouses with slacks, and casual blazers. This is my go-to because I don’t have to worry about people reviewing my shape, a casual blazer is less formal than a suit, and I just don’t feel as comfortable in dresses.  I wear comfortable shoes (usually wedges) that give me height but don’t hurt or are a struggle to walk in. All of this helps me concentrate on my topic and I don’t worry about the extraneous stuff.

Two. Don’t read from slides. OMG. please, if you take one thing from this is to STOP READING FROM SLIDES. Keep font 28 or higher with few words. Power points are supposed to be visual aids–not your entire presentation. You should be what the audience is listening to, not the powerpoint. And the reason you want to be more than just a reader of slides is because you want to showcase that you are the expert. That’s why you’re there! Because you have info no one else has! Otherwise, why invite you back? Just leave the powerpoint and go. Make it a goal to keeps slides as visual as possible. This means you’ll have to prepare a little more and know your cues. But getting into this practice will make you much more dynamic presenter.

Three. Be interactive. I actually love lecture courses more so than other types of classes. But most people, especially in order to really listen, need to be prodded. Making the presentation a little interactive–either with video, q & a, handouts–will make a difference. Do something to get people’s attention at the beginning and to lay the road map for the presentation ahead. For example, when I present on immigration remedies I give a short hypothetical for a potential client that I go back to again and again to show how the remedies I’m presenting may work for that case. Think of something creative that can keep the people’s attention on your topic.

Four. Watch your tone. It’s normal to get nervous when speaking to large crowds. Your voice may shake, you may get dry-mouth, you may find yourself swaying back and forth. These are all issues you can work on and prepare for; for example, I know it’s better for me to have water nearby. Push past those signs of nervousness and instead work on your delivery. Practice in front of a mirror, feel super knowledgeable in what you’re going to present, and listen to how you’re saying it. Does it sound like a speech? Are there are a lot fillers? Are you talking too fast? Be honest about where you need to improve and work on it.

Ultimately, you should aim to be conversational, comprehensible, and authoritative. This really comes with practice (which is why you shouldn’t avoid this opportunities when they come by). Say yes to public speaking and then push yourself to improve each and every time.

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