In this week’s edition of Things I Wish I Knew, solo attorney Joleena Louis discusses how any solo attorney can improve their public speaking skills.
In order to be successful, solo attorneys must constantly work on improving their skills so they can provide better services and remain competitive in today’s legal market.
That is why one of the goals I set for 2016 was to improve my public speaking. Many people think only those who have a fear of public speaking should work on their skills; however, even those who are comfortable in front of an audience can be better at speaking in public.
Being a great public speaker can benefit a solo attorney both in and outside of the courtroom. For example, this year I plan to do more video marketing and live webinars so taking my public speaking to the next level will help me bring in more revenue for my firm.
Here are some methods I’m using to become a better public speaker:
1. Know your audience
Believe it or not, the people you’re speaking to will impact how you deliver your message. Lawyers must speak under a variety of circumstances and their audience is not always the same.
For example, presenting to a room full of attorneys at a mastermind group is going to be a very different experience than a webinar for professionals in my practice area. I might not use the same type of language with both audiences or I might have to work harder to establish my credibility with one group than I would with another.
Analyzing your audience beforehand will help you understand how to appeal to them and what they expect to get out of what you’re saying. The more you know about your audience, the easier it will be for you to establish common ground and adapt your message to them.
2. Understand your weaknesses
You can’t correct a problem if you don’t know what it is. There are two ways to determine what your speaking weaknesses are:
- Speak in front of people and ask for feedback
- Record yourself speaking on video and see for yourself
If possible, I would recommend doing both. A video recording allows you to review your presentation several times so you can take a closer, more analytical look at your bad habits. When I recorded myself speaking, I discovered that I tend to speak too quickly and sometimes trip over my words when I get excited.
On the other hand, the person giving you feedback could point out issues you didn’t notice. For example, when I spoke in front of a colleague he told me I looked too stiff when I was presenting.
3. Speak clearly and pace yourself
Speaking clearly can mean enunciating and speaking at an appropriate volume. It can also mean selecting the simplest words to get your point across. For example, lawyers have a habit of over-explaining, which negatively impacts clarity and loses the audience’s attention.
Remember to slow down when you speak. This will help you speak clearly and sound more natural. When speaking in front of groups, most people speak faster than they realize. Practice speaking way slower than necessary, so you’ll end up speaking at a moderate pace during the actual presentation.
4. Get rid of filler words
A filler word is “um,” “like,” or anything you say that is equivalent. Most people, including myself, have a bad habit of saying “um” when they’re nervous or need a moment to think.
When you need to gather your thoughts, it’s okay to replace the urge to say “um” with an intentional pause. It sounds much better and it comes across as more confident.
A pause also gives your audience a moment to digest what you’re saying. That moment of silence will always feel longer for you than it does for them so try not to worry about what they might be thinking.
5. Pay attention to your body language
As I mentioned earlier, my colleague pointed out that I look a little stiff when I present. I think the reason for this was–just like Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights–I don’t know what to do with my hands.
I was able to really pinpoint the issues I was having with body language by watching my video recording a few times. This is why a video recording will often benefit you more than just an audio recording.
As far as what to do with your hands, the key is balance. Don’t stand too still with your hands in your pockets or gripping a podium. Also avoid making wild, repetitive gestures that might become distracting.
Instead, use natural, varied gestures when appropriate. For me, I needed to learn how to relax and let my hands hang naturally at my side when I didn’t know what to do with them.
6. Practice, practice, practice
Whether you’re presenting at an event, speaking in court or filming your own webinar, you should practice what you are going to say a few times a day for at least a week.
Practice when you wake up, before you go to bed, during your lunch break or during your commute. Keep practicing until you think you can’t practice anymore and then do it one more time after that.
As frustrating as it can be to repeat the same thing over and over again, the only way to ensure success with public speaking is to know exactly what you want to say and to say it with confidence. The more you practice, the more confident you will become and you will portray that confidence to your audience.