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Five barriers to good communication that lawyers need to overcome
January 12, 2023

As the specialist provider of media training and presentation training for lawyers, we look at the barriers facing lawyers when it comes to communication. In our media training courses for law firms, we identify how solicitors and barristers can sometimes fail to get their message across or can find themselves discussing something that they don’t want to get drawn into. We then provide tips and advice to help them to avoid these difficult situations.

The same is true of our presentation courses for law firms. We work with our course participants, be they partners, associates or PSLs, to discover the barriers to effective communication when they’re delivering presentations, and we help them to overcome these challenges. The result in both cases is clear, confident communication that engages audiences and leaves them with a message that they’ll take away and remember.

What are the barriers to good communication for lawyers, and how should they overcome them?

1. They provide too much information

Lawyers are details people – and thank goodness, after all, someone has to be. However, very often, their audiences aren’t. Journalists only want the top line, and clients usually adopt a similar attitude. The precise detail of the relevant statute or the ins and outs of a particular case are not of interest to most audiences, and this can be a barrier to effective communication for lawyers. Most non-legal audiences simply want to know the upshot – what does it mean for them?

That said, there’s detail, and there’s detail. While getting into the weeds of the law might not be right when speaking to most audiences – unless that audience is made up of other lawyers – adding some detail can work well. By this, we mean little nuggets of information. Are there some surprising facts or intriguing “did you knows?” that you can offer? Adding human detail and painting pictures helps to grab the attention of the people that you’re speaking to and helps fix your points in their minds. Very often, we don’t remember overarching themes and big, nebulous concepts. What does stick in our minds, though, are these little factoids, and it’s when we recall them and share them with others that we also bring to mind the point that the speaker was making.

2. They don’t think of the overall message for communication

This is connected with the above. As we say in our media training workshops for law firms, a journalist can only have one headline. There might be lots of facts, insights, and information, but all these parts of an interview have to add up to one overall message. Similarly, when we deliver presentation training for law firms, we remind the partners, associates and PSLs that we work with that the people listening to their presentations are probably only going to remember one thing.

With any kind of communication, be that a media interview, a presentation or even a comment at a meeting or an email to colleagues, it’s essential to focus on your overall message and to think about what you want your audience or the recipients of your communication to remember and take away. You should also think about how you want them to feel – this is so important to overcoming those barriers to effective communication for lawyers.

Should the people you’re talking to be reassured or concerned? Do you want to compliment them or challenge them? When it comes to the last two, as we explain in our presentation workshops for law firms, it’s often an idea to do a bit of both – challenge your audience and then be nice to them. This variety of style and tone will help to keep the audience’s attention during your presentation. Whatever you do, though, end with a clear message and strong call to action.

When lawyers do media interviews, they can sometimes simply answer the questions being put to them and leave it at that. This might work when talking to a client, a judge or a regulator, but when you’re talking to a journalist, then as the expert, you can take the initiative and be proactive to get your message across.

3. They use jargon

It’s not just lawyers that are guilty of this. We provide media training for accountants, architects, tech firms and travel companies, and we often find that at the start of our courses, the people we train include words and phrases that they’re familiar with – but which don’t mean anything to the people they’re speaking to. This is a key barrier to communication for lawyers. Even if those audiences do understand this technical language once they’ve thought about it, the problem is that they’ve missed the next thing that you’ve said. To put it another way – they might understand you, but you’ve distanced yourself from them because you’re literally not speaking their language.

In our media training workshops for lawyers and our presentation training courses for law firms, we help people to think carefully about language and ensure that it’s appropriate to the audiences that they’re addressing.

4. They assume that the audience knows what they’re talking about

This is another barrier to effective communication for lawyers. How often has somebody tried to explain something to you in a way that seems obvious to them but makes little or no sense to you?

This is the curse of knowledge. To explore it, researchers at Stanford University conducted an experiment in which subjects were divided into two groups: tappers and listeners. The tappers tapped out the rhythm of a well-known song such as “Happy Birthday”, and the listeners were invited to guess what the song was. Beforehand, those tapping were asked to predict how often their listeners would be able to guess the name of the song correctly.

They estimated that it would be about half of the time. However, of around 120 songs tapped, it wasn’t about 60 that were correctly guessed. In fact, it was just three times out of 120. Why, well, the problem was that the tappers could hear the tune in their minds – unlike the listeners. Their knowledge of the song caused them to wildly overestimate the chances of the listeners identifying the song correctly.

Before you set out to do a media interview, deliver a presentation or write a piece of content, it’s worth thinking about whether your audience has the same level of knowledge that you do about a subject or whether you’ll have to explain it more clearly to them.

5. They don’t include examples, case studies and anecdotes

According to research by the University of Liverpool, around 65 per cent of all human conversation is storytelling. So, why don’t people use them enough in business communication? Perhaps it’s actually because we tell stories and anecdotes so much in our lives outside the office that doing so at work seems somehow unprofessional. And yet, some of the best communicators in business and in other sectors are great storytellers.

We’re big on stories and examples at Communicate Media, and using them is a good way to break down the barriers to effective communication faced by lawyers. They illustrate what you’re talking about, and they provide evidence for your argument. They also make you sound human – providing that element of warmth to complement your professional knowledge and expertise.

There are a number of barriers to effective communication for lawyers, but whether you’re doing media interviews, delivering presentations, running meetings or writing blogs and reports, the tips that we’ve offered above should help you as a lawyer to overcome these challenges. We’d be delighted to tell you more and help you to put them into practice in our specialist media training courses and presentation courses for lawyers.

Media Training for Law Firms

We work with a wide variety of organisations who choose us because we’re a niche, agile Media Training, Presentation training and Business Writing consultancy that can meet their exact needs and budgets. It’s great to hear that at the end of our Media Training courses, people say that even if they don’t end up doing a media interview for the next few weeks or months, they’ll put some of the techniques that we’ve taught them into practice in the office the next day.

Call 07958 239892, email gareth@communicatemedia.com or fill in this contact form to book your course today.

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