I have trained many lawyers over the years in how to present themselves as effectively as possible, whether at networking events, at interviews or giving speeches and the occasion that many have admitted makes them feel particularly uncomfortable is the prospect of presenting at the Partner Conference.
Whether you’re a lawyer presenting for the first time or a lawyer who has been giving speeches for years, I am often asked, ‘how can I deliver a speech that is informative, hold the audience’s attention and be inspiring?’
Be informative but don’t overloadFirst, you should consider what you want your audience to walk away with. If your speech contains too many messages, the chances are the audience will leave remembering very little. Keep it succinct and focused – because when overwhelmed with information, nobody retains anything.
Hold the audience’s attention
Remember you are in control of your speech. Nobody has come for a slide show. If you think of the great speeches of the last century, you would be hard-pressed to see much in the way of PowerPoint. Standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, Martin Luther King didn’t need a slide to illustrate his dream; Margaret Thatcher similarly didn’t need a computer screen to demonstrate her point that “the lady’s not for turning”.
A great presentation is made not just by the moments when you are speaking but also when you’re not. We need to pause because we do so naturally in conversation. The more conversational it is, the better for the audience. Pausing allows them to process and digest what you say. They are how the audience gets involved. Pausing after you deliver a point also gives impact to your message and improves the opportunities for providing eye contact, making your presentation much more absorbing.
Overcoming your nerves
Lots of people find making a speech to colleagues more nerve-wracking than talking to strangers and one of the most obvious manifestations is talking quickly. A key concern is forgetting what you want to say, so some people write it out and learn by heart; others try and do it with a few bullets. Both have their dangers. To learn it by heart invites you to forget it when under pressure. Trying to remember your script means that only half of you is focused on the audience while the other half is trying to remember what comes next. On the flip side, to have too few notes encourages you to ramble or forget the points you want to make.
The answer is good speaking notes. One partner I worked with, when asked for the main thing he took out of our session together, replied without hesitation, ‘Permission to use notes’.
Lastly, smile (it is highly engaging), and enjoy. Let the words come out of your mouth at your normal speed and your interest in the subject will show through much more powerfully than if you try to slow down your rate of words.
Your first talk to your colleagues as a partner is bound to put you a bit on edge. So stack the cards strongly in your favour by knowing your point and structuring for the audience; delivering in a conversational style; keeping it short; and being yourself. And who knows – you might even be invited to speak again!
Jack Downton is managing director of The Influence Business