I bet you remember a time when you were blown away by a fantastic presentation. You marveled at the speaker’s persuasive eloquence, seamless transitions, and arresting charisma, wondering how she was able to captivate you so effortlessly. You can probably also recall one of your law school classmates fumbling with his note cards, mumbling his way through a dry and uninspired discourse – or, even worse, directly reading blocks of text off his PowerPoint slides! As much as these presenters are polar opposites, both make glaringly clear how public speaking skills can make or break your credibility.
In the legal world, top-notch public speaking skills are imperative, regardless of whether you speak in court or not. If you’ve ever pitched for new business or presented to a partner, you know how essential it is to be able to carry your point concisely and engagingly. Here is the Everlaw business team’s advice for brushing up your presentation skills:
- Make sure you speak to your audience’s motivations and knowledge base rather than trying to tout your own.
- Don’t pander to your audience. Authenticity matters.
- It’s easy to get caught listening to yourself talk; it’s always better to be concise. End a point early rather than talking for too long.
- Project your voice! Nothing is less compelling than a presentation the audience can’t hear. Learn to up your volume by using your diaphragm, rather than straining your throat. If you need help, try some theatrical voice exercises and warmups.
- Be aware of nervous tics, such as hand-wringing, nail-glancing, or pen-spinning (my personal bane). Use your hands to augment your presentation with gestures, not detract from it with distracting movements.
- Practice, practice, practice! It may be a cliché, but practice is key to feeling comfortable when giving a presentation. If you aren’t a natural performer – and not many of us are – standing in front of a mirror and going through the motions at least a few times is essential. Even better, practice in front of a patient friend or loved one. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.
- Distill the content into 3 key points (no less, no more), then reveal those points at the outset so your audience has a roadmap by which to follow you.
- Try to forgo visuals entirely. If you must have slides, make sure they’re based on images or videos, with little to no text.
- Make eye contact with lots of people in your audience, not just the front row.
VP of Business Development
- Make it a conversation. Engaging your audience with appropriate humor or directed questions will increase their interest, and promote information retention. Map out points in your presentation where you can involve your audience, and be sure to prepare context-specific questions that go beyond the generic “any questions?”.
- Don’t be too rehearsed. While rehearsing is a good way to gain confidence in your delivery, over-rehearsing can have the opposite effects: you’ll be more easily thrown off if a deviation from plan occurs, and you won’t have the flexibility to respond to your audience.
It’s clear that effective public speaking is not solely hinged upon “speaking.” Just as important are self-awareness, nonverbal language, interaction with the audience, and previous preparation. In fact, presenting is as much about knowing people as it is about knowing how to speak. While this may seem like a lot to remember, time and practice should eventually make these skills second nature when you step in front of an office, partner, or jury. Try these tips at your next big pitch or presentation; we’d love to hear how they work out for you!