Public Speaking Tips for Law Students and Lawyers
Here, we have some public speaking tips for law students and lawyers. Law students and lawyers are frequently expected to speak in public. It is a skill that law students are forced to develop early on in law school – whether they want to or not.
Law students are “called on” in class and are required to answer questions about the cases they are assigned to read. They are usually expected to present arguments or motions during their 1L year to professors or judges. Many law students also participate in moot court where they have to argue publicly even more. Thus, throughout law school, law students will be expected to speak in front of their classmates, their professors, and – many times – even real judges.
Many lawyers continue to hone the skill of public speaking throughout their careers. Litigators frequently have motions to argue and depositions to take. Some give presentations about hot topics in their field of law. Others become law professors, judges, or politicians – all who frequently interact with and speak to the public.
Many people fear public speaking. They get nervous before they have to speak and usually try to avoid it if possible. What are some tips on becoming a better public speaker? We constantly speak in front of groups — ranging from five people to hundreds of people. We speak in front of students, law school faculty, and firms. We frequently work on becoming the best public speakers we can!
Here are some public speaking tips we have found useful. They are by no means a comprehensive guide on how to structure a speech or how to speak. They are just some tips that have helped us. Some are more appropriate for traditional speeches (arguments and motions); others are more appropriate for spontaneous speeches (being called on in class or questioned by a judge).
Basic Public Speaking Tips for Law Students and Lawyers:
- Our number one tip if you are giving a speech you can prepare for ahead of time? Practice, practice, practice. Practice in the morning when you get up. Practice when you drive. Practice while you’re getting ready for the day. Practice out loud. Practice in your head. Practice until you are absolutely sick of it. Before a big motion or speech, I will practice it twice a day the week before the event.
- Pay attention to fillers – “um,” “like,” “you know,” etc. Consciously try to replace them with silence.
- Give your audience some idea of how your speech is organized. If you are going to make three arguments, say it right in the beginning then number them throughout the speech. This helps the audience have an idea of where you are in your speech. Reiterate your major points in your conclusion.
- Does your dad, spouse, or friend owe you a favor? Have them watch your speech and give you feedback. They can be a source of invaluable information and point out good and bad things that have managed to escape your radar. Positive feedback will also help to boost your confidence prior to giving a speech.
- Videotape yourself. I used to hate this tip and would adamantly not do it. However, recently I started videotaping myself frequently for the law school preparatory course I teach online. I noticed that in the beginning I would use fillers (“okay” and “you know”) and shrug a lot. This made me look as though I really wasn’t that confident in what I was saying. I would have never noticed that I was doing this until I started taping myself. It is a painful but necessary part of the process!
- Visualize success. Visualization is a powerful, often overlooked tool. If you visualize yourself doing well (and prepare well, of course) it can very easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. (Note: the opposite can happen if you constantly visualize yourself failing or forgetting what you wanted to say – be sure to counter any negative visualizations with positive ones!)
- Watch this Ted talk about body language by Amy Cuddy. It is not directly related to public speaking but it shows how body language can make you more confident. I have used the information I learned in the talk to improve my own speaking skills. If you are interested in this concept of body language making you look and feel more powerful/confident, I recommend look up information on power poses and how you can use those to your advantage.
Tips for Improving your Speech Even More:
- Pay close attention to how you open your speech. Audience members pay the most attention – and decide if they are going to listen to what you have to say – in the first ten seconds of your speech. A good introduction is crucial. Start with a question, a story, or something attention-grabbing.
- Speak conversationally and clearly to your audience. Don’t use legalese when possible – You’ll be sure to lose your audience quickly if you do.
- Get used to making eye contact with the audience rather than staring at your notes or off into the distance. This helps people to engage with you and pay attention to what you are saying.
- Slow down. Many speakers rush through their speeches and speak really fast. If you notice yourself doing this, slow down.
- Make use of silence, pauses, and volume. A pause at just the right moment can help get a message across and call attention to what you are saying. Don’t be afraid to raise your voice a little bit in some instances and speak quieter to draw attention to what you are saying in other instances. It helps to practice this ahead of time and even include pauses and volume indicators in your speech notes so you remember to do so.
- Use humor if it’s your style. Ask questions that force listeners to truly consider what you are saying. Use stories. Try to make whatever you are saying enjoyable to the listener. People tend to remember personal stories much more than they remember facts or data.
- For more traditional speeches (rather than arguments): Identify with your audience. What do you have in common with them? How can you relate to them? Have you been in their position before? Explicitly state it. Also, state why you are qualified to speak. Did you start a fantastic business? Are you an expert on the subject you are talking about. Have you been researching the topic you’re talking about for years? Say it.
Tips to Remember the Day of Your Speech:
- Look your best the day of your speech. It will help boost your confidence.
- Get to the room early. Getting to the room five or ten minutes before everyone else arrives can help relieve any anxiety that has built up to that point. Some people find it very helpful to visit the room a few days before their speech as well.
- If you get nervous, it is helpful to remember these things: First, remember that most people want you to succeed and do well. If the speaker is nervous, generally the audience is sympathetic and tries to be encouraging. So if you are nervous – even if it shows –that’s okay! Second, remember that people are there to hear your message. Focus on your message rather than focusing on yourself. After all, the audience is not there to judge your public speaking skills; they are there to hear what you have to say. This should help to relieve some anxiety.
- Start with the same amount of energy that the people in the room have. If everyone is groggy, it is probably not a good idea to start off with a peppy overly-enthusiastic introduction or you risk isolating yourself from the audience. Instead, start with the same energy that everyone in the room has, and gradually change it to make it more peppy/enthusiastic if that is your goal.
- Don’t pay attention to people who are not engaged. Every time I give a speech I see someone texting, on facebook, or staring off into the distance. It is always discouraging and it almost always throws me off track. But I started to make mental notes not to look at anybody who is not engaged and instead pay attention to the people who are nodding or who look more interested and engaged.
These are a compilation of tips that have helped me. If you have any public speaking tips for law students or lawyers of your own, please feel free to share in the comments section below. We would love to hear from you.
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