How to develop your speaking skills and enhance your legal career  

The water in the docks opposite my office was frozen. Seagulls skated comically across the ice.

I jumped as the telephone rang.

The caller’s voice sounded breathless, in a panic.

Marcus,” he said. “I need your help – we have to save a life.”

That was how I was introduced to Snowy the chick and the start of a publicity campaign that continued for many months.

I hope you can see from this brief story opening that it only takes a few words to grab the attention of an audience.  My world and the audiences I speak to may be different to yours, but the importance of public speaking is something that we share.

There is a standard approach to presenting and speaking where you start at the beginning and work logically to a conclusion.  Part of building a case.  However, to help people understand and engage with the fact requires recognising that public speaking is an art. As such it requires a number of supporting skills that anyone setting out on a legal career should develop as a priority.

Let me share some tips from my extensive experience of talking to a wide range of audiences.

Start at the right moment

If you are speaking whether in person or online don’t jump straight in. Wait. Wait until your audience is settled. Wait until they are all looking at you and then and only then start talking.

Build your speech

Any TV or film drama you watch starts with a cliff-hanger of some sort. It can last several minutes. Only then do the titles roll. There are times when starting your speech with something dramatic is appropriate. It will grab people’s attention and get your audience engaged. Then take your audience on a journey that arrives at the specific place you want to take them. You need to make sure that your ending has some relationship to where you started. Complete the circle. Leave your audience feeling complete.

3. Being with a clear end point

It is an old adage but nevertheless true. What sort of talk are you giving? What do you want it to achieve?  Being in a formal courtroom setting is one thing. After dinner speaking or talking at a charity event quite another.

Vary your voice

Vocal variety is another key element. Without variety in pitch a voice becomes monotonous, even tedious.

Know your audience

Who is going to listen to your speech? That is important because to some extent that dictates the type of language you use. Many speakers use technical terms or acronyms unfamiliar to their listeners. That means that you lose them. They are too busy figuring out the technical stuff to keep listening to what you have to say.

Leverage the language

The language you use is important. You have the whole lexicon of the English language to help illustrate and describe your story. For example, there is a world of difference between ‘taking an opportunity’ and ‘grasping an opportunity.’  Use words that will communicate the urgency or importance of what you are saying.

If you have something dramatic to say you might want to speed up and perhaps raise your tone. If you have something sensitive, you can slow down and lower your tone. And, if you have some important information to share then take a pause.

Allow your audience time to absorb and digest it. Pausing is also a great way to cut down on the number of times you say Um and Ah.

Best use of body language

Incorporating body language into your talk raises it to another dimension. If we were meeting in person, we would never dream of giving a talk sitting down. You may want to consider rearranging your desk and camera angles so that you can stand, if you feel that is appropriate – it can help you to use your body language in communicating in online meetings.  Facial expression is clearly very important but other body language can be useful even on a small screen.

If you are unable to stand for any reason, then you can move your chair further back from the camera so that the audience can see more of you and that again enables you to take advantage of using body language to engage with your audience.

Rehearsal is important

Something that takes practice is knowing how long it will take you to say something.  That is one reason that new speakers in particular should rehearse whenever possible.  You can also practice giving yourself different lengths of time. Afterall in the real world you may plan to speak for 15 minutes and then discover you only have 10 or 5. Leaning to adapt is vital.  In rehearsal you can also try out different ways of getting particular points across and find out which work best.

By working on just some of these aspects and skills you can raise your speaking to a new and higher level.

You may be wondering what happened Snowy the chicken.

Snowy was hatched in a Rare Breed Centre during a snowstorm and was the only one of his clutch to survive.

The call to me as the City Council’s PR Chief was to launch a media appeal for a donation of other chicks that he could huddle together with to help him survive. This proved successful.

Snowy became something of a media celebrity and he helped us promote the council and its services in a variety of ways.

My Snowy story demonstrates, not only now to keep people engaged but also about how you can take one story and approach it from a different angle to keep it alive and fresh. Such stories can be used many times in different situations (particularly useful if you ever get into after dinner speaking).

Use these tips to develop your public speaking skill and reap the benefit in your legal career.

By Marcus Grodentz, Toastmasters International 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marcus Grodentz is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org

 

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