Earlier this year, I wrote about how to use Twitter with events you speak at. Are you even speaking in public?
It’s really important to get out into the community to speak. This will help get your name out there. Speaking about an area of law in which you practice will help raise awareness of your legal subject matter expertise.
If you’re not interested in speaking about law, then don’t talk about it. Think about what you’d be passionate speaking about and where that audience would be. Everyone has legal questions and/or is asked whether they know of a lawyer. In other words, you don’t have to speak at a legal event to find potential clients or referral sources. Your speaker bio can mention you’re a lawyer and provide a link to your firm website bio or social media profile.
Not Comfortable with Public Speaking?
Don’t let the fear of public speaking hold you back. You can start off speaking internally to people you know, and then work your way to a more public audience. For example, give a short reminder or update at your next practice group meeting, or do an internal firm presentation with a colleague.
If not seeing a live audience relieves some anxiety, create videos and post them on social media. They can be very short video clips. If you don’t like people seeing you speak, share your knowledge via webinars or podcasts.
Also, consider finding someone you’d like to emulate. This person doesn’t have to be a lawyer. You can even find someone to emulate on the internet, such as a TED Speaker. It may be helpful to talk to someone about your fear of public speaking. Find a speaking mentor or coach you’d feel comfortable talking to.
Whether you’re at ease with public speaking, there are some key elements to keep in mind when preparing for your speaking engagement. You’ll need to know who your audience is, what they care about, what you want to convey, and how you can relay your points in a way that the audience will understand and care to listen. You should already be thinking about these elements when you’re speaking with your clients.
How to Speak More Effectively?
Recently I caught up with former lawyer Chris Graham for some suggestions on how you can think about your audience, make sure they listen, and help them understand your message. Through TellPeople, Chris works with lawyers to improve the way they talk to clients, colleagues, and potential clients. His workshops and coaching are LSUC accredited for professionalism hours, and give lawyers skills to improve their presentations, negotiations, pitches, client meetings, and networking efforts.
Question: The TellPeople motto is “You know your stuff. Tell people—better”. How do we share what we know so our audience will be interested in what we have to say, and stay interested in listening to us?
This is a great question. The key is to remember that your audience doesn’t know the stuff that you know. In fact, the only thing you know for sure about your audience is that they aren’t you!
This is so important that I made a 2-minute video to explain what I mean. It’s attached to all my emails, and you can view it here.
When you talk to people, be mindful of the differences between them and you. Specifically, think about your audience’s capacities (their knowledge and experience), concerns (what are they worried about) and interests (what do they want), and craft your message accordingly.
You’d be surprised how much you know about people once you turn your mind to these questions. At the very least, thinking about these questions will help you recognize (and avoid) any unconscious assumptions you have about your audience.
Question: I agree that understanding who our audience is extremely important. I’m sure some lawyers are thinking that their audience is very broad or they’re not sure who will be in the audience. How can we then best put ourselves in the shoes of our audience?
The easiest way to deal with this is to ask the event organizer, who should have some idea of the type of people who usually attend the session where you’ll be speaking. (I’m always surprised when an event organizer tells me I’m the first person to ever ask them about the audience!)
You can also ask the audience at the beginning of your talk. If a few people indicate subject-matter expertise while the majority are new to the area (the usual situation), you can invite the experts to ask you more detailed questions after the presentation.
Question: If we feel like we’re not resonating with people during our talk, what can we do to fix that?
Another great question! Audiences can be hard to read, especially if you’re nervous. (When you’re nervous, you tend to notice details that confirm your worst fears. This is called confirmation bias, and it can make any audience look disengaged.) So, the best way to deal with this is to practice beforehand with some people you know will give you honest feedback, then trust your preparation.
If you still feel like your message isn’t landing, you can ask your audience if they have any questions. Find the person who looks the most engaged and ask them, directly, if they have any questions, feel like they’re understanding what you’re saying, or if they can think of any examples in their own life where what you’re saying resonates.
Engaging the audience directly has two benefits. First, the change in pace and who’s talking recaptures audience attention, at least for a while. Second, if people really aren’t following what you’re saying, you can use these questions to recalibrate the rest of your talk.
Incidentally, engaging with the audience directly makes you appear extremely confident. It’s a power move, definitely.
Question: Do you have any other confidence-boosting tips for lawyers who are fearful of public speaking?
Practice a lot. Take deep breaths from your stomach (which calms your central nervous system). Eat a banana (a natural beta-blocker—professional musicians do this before concerts). Spend a few minutes doing positive visualization and body position exercises. Make a playlist of songs that make you feel like a champion and listen to these on your way to the presentation.
Thank you, Chris, for these valuable public speaking tips!
Where to Build Your Speaking Portfolio?
So where can you build your speaking portfolio when you’re ready to speak more publicly and engage with a live audience? Here are some ideas:
- Present to clients. They’ll appreciate complimentary presentations consisting of relevant, valuable content. These can occur at the client’s place of business, or at your firm as a single client event or for multiple clients.
- Check whether the associations you or your clients are part of are looking for speakers. For example:
- The Ontario Bar Association’s OBA Speakers Bureau has a roster of lawyers who present to community organizations and businesses. OBA members of this Bureau have spoken about cybersecurity, disability law, family law, immigration law, and small claims court, among other topics.
- The Ontario Chapter of the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers is looking for lawyers to present in English and/or other languages as part of its series of public legal education workshops to the pan-Asian community in Ontario. Presentation topics include wills and powers of attorney, social assistance, seniors’ benefits, employment law, and tenant rights.
- Ask your colleagues, friends and others in your personal network if they are aware of a place you can speak at, such as at their place of work, an association they know of, or a community event.
Don’t wait for an invitation to speak. Make it happen! So now it’s time for you to plan your next speaking engagement before the enthusiasm (and courage) fades.
Also, don’t forget to mention your speaking engagements on social media!