You might be the best lawyer in the business, but if your presentation skills aren’t up to scratch, you don’t need us to tell you that you’re suffering from a considerable handicap as you develop your career.
That’s why a growing number of law firms are coming to us for presentation skills training and advice on panel discussions. During our presentation courses for lawyers, we look initially at content – helping them to decide what they want to say and how they want to say it – before moving on to delivery techniques. This means body language and vocal skills.
Whether you’re a partner with decades of experience or a law firm new hire, here are five tips to help lawyers deliver better presentations.
1. Think about your audience.
It sounds obvious, but communication fails when the person communicating has not thought about who they’re communicating with. This is more than just knowing the role and job descriptions of the people you’re talking to. It means putting yourself in their shoes. Why are they giving up an hour or more of their busy time to hear you speak? What can you offer them that will make them better at work – more efficient, effective, knowledgeable, upskilled and able to keep ahead of the competition? Thinking about how you will answer the question “What’s in it for me?” is essential when preparing a presentation.
In our presentation courses for lawyers, we also look at the importance of language. Even if your audience understands the words and phrases that you’re using, if this isn’t the language that they would use themselves, then you’re suddenly distanced from them, and you don’t have that all-important empathy and connection.
2. Think about your message.
How many times have you left the room or logged off after a presentation and thought: “That was interesting,” but you have no idea what you are supposed to think, feel and, most importantly, do as a result of sitting through it? In our presentation workshops for lawyers, we make the point that being very clear on the message you want to give to your audience and ensuring that it’s relevant to their needs is essential when putting together a presentation.
Our acronyms and templates help lawyers to define not only what they want to say to the people they’re delivering their presentations to but also what they want that audience to do. Should they sign up for something? Change the way they work? Do something new? Or stop doing something? Being clear on this message and repeating it during the presentation will help your audience to take it on board.
3. Think about storytelling.
To get this message across and fix it in the minds of your audience, you need to think about storytelling. There is considerable research to show that telling stories activates a number of different areas of the brain. As well as listening, which fires up the auditory cortex, the emotional engagement created by stories activates the frontal and parietal cortices. Mention food, and you’ll get the sensory cortex going. Descriptions of motion or action will produce a response from the central sulcus. People are the most important element of any story, and they can result in the release of oxytocin, while the human face brings your fusiform gyrus into play.
Not only that, research by the Stanford Graduate School of Business found that a story is up to twenty-two times more memorable than facts alone. Case studies, examples, and even simple anecdotes all ensure that you graph and retain your audience’s attention.
How often do we say in everyday conversations: “For instance…,” or “Just imagine…”. This natural human storytelling is essential for making your points clear and fixing them in the minds of your audience. We’re very much aware that using case studies can be difficult when it comes to client confidentiality. Still, in our presentation training course for law firms, we have several tips and techniques that will enable you to tell great stories without embarrassing clients – or yourself.
4. Think about your opening.
“Hello, my name is X, and I’m a senior partner at Y. This morning, I’d like to talk about Z.” This opening is safe, predictable, comfortably familiar – and deeply, profoundly boring opening for a presentation. It won’t get you sacked, nor will it get you noticed or admired.
First impressions count, and this is particularly important when giving a presentation. In our presentation coaching for lawyers, we advise course participants to do three things when they first stand up to present – pause, breathe, smile. Your audience needs a few moments to take you in and observe you before they start listening to what you have to say. By pausing, you give them the time to do this, and when you do start speaking, you have a greater impact.
Breathing is something we naturally do all the time – except very often when we’re presenting. Or, at least, if we are breathing, it can be short and shallow. This adds to your uncomfortable feelings of anxiety and, in turn, makes your breathing even less effective. Breathing deeply and fully right down to your abdomen can help here. Finally, a smile will signal to the audience that you’re a nice person who is glad to be speaking to them. It will also help you to feel more relaxed and comfortable. Pausing, breathing, and smiling at the start of the presentation is essential – it’s also useful to do it at regular intervals as you continue to speak.
Grabbing your audience’s attention and differentiating your presentation from the four or five others they’ve heard that day means thinking carefully about your opening and looking to do something different. When we deliver presentation training courses for lawyers, we look at storytelling – opening with a story works well to gain your audience’s attention. We also look at the opportunities for asking your audience questions for showing them a short film or even introducing a prop or an item. We have great fun in our presentation coaching sessions, looking at what else we could do to make the start of their presentations striking and memorable – and help to drive home the key messages.
5. Think about the performance.
You’ve decided on what you want to say – now you just need to think about how you’re going to say it. Once we’ve helped partners and other law firm spokespeople decide on the content of their presentations or speeches, we move on to delivery. This means focusing on body language and vocal skills. We use actors’ and television presenters’ techniques to help our course participants drive their messages home and come across as energetic, charismatic and professional presenters who can connect with their audiences and hold the room.
No one likes seeing themselves on camera, but when we film and playback key sections of their presentations, the lawyers in our presentation courses find the exercise very useful. We teach the importance of adding energy and emphasis, driving home keywords and phrases and varying the pace, tone and style so that the delivery reflects the content. Are you being warm and welcoming? Challenging and thought-provoking? Are you looking to congratulate your audience or provide them with a vision of the law over the next 10 years? Whatever the particular style, tone, and emotion of a particular section of your presentation, it’s essential that the way you say it conveys the mood. Good presentation also means adopting confident, open body language and “owning the space,” as we say.
Presentation Skills Training
Our presentation courses for lawyers work on a one-to-one basis or in larger groups. These are some of the issues we address in the techniques we teach, but we create each one to meet the exact needs of the law firm. We would love to work with you. Please get in touch.