We’ve been talking about the soft skills that young lawyers need to hone in order to become successful, and how these translate for more experienced lawyers. Another skill I reviewed for the ABA student law blog was that of presentations (and I think we can agree this is something that many of us can work on).

A quick note on this – for some, the idea of public speaking will make you want to run for the hills (and I totally sympathize). It’s entirely possible that you focus on other types of business development and professional activities in your legal career, and these are better suited for your personality. However, even if that’s the case, getting comfortable with public speaking can be an excellent talent to keep in your back pocket. It’s one of my least favorite things to do, as an introvert, but I’ve done it so frequently over the course of my career, that I’m now both comfortable speaking in front of an audience, and also speaking in other situations, like networking opportunities, on the spot in meetings, etc. So, it can really have wide-reaching benefits – I promise, it’s not that awful, even if it’s not your strong suit.

Unfortunately, public speaking isn’t a skill that is widely taught. You may feel like you’ve got this one checked off your list, because you often had to argue effectively in your law classes, or, if you’re a litigator, you’re arguing in the courtroom. But over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to see a LOT of lawyers present. And while they have all been brilliant and talented practitioners, only rarely have they also been compelling presenters. Presenting is really a skill to master.

What’s a lawyer to do?

While there are a lot of articles for how you can best compose and develop effective presentations, there are four key ways I’d like to share with you for enhancing your presentation skills.

Practice, Practice, Practice

This is an obvious one, so it will come as no surprise to you. If you want to improve at something, you have to keep doing it.

  • Volunteer to present at any opportunity: Start small if you’re anxious, and consider volunteering to present outside of the industry – think charitable events, toasting your friends, alumni panels at your law school, even events within your firm, etc. Get creative, find things you’re passionate about, and agree to speak on them.
  • Rehearse like crazy: I can be guilty of developing a presentation at the last minute, when I have a lot of other things going on. But if you prepare your presentation well in advance of any speaking opportunity, you will have the time to rehearse extensively. This will give you confidence in the presentation, you’ll see where any phrases or words may trip you up, and you can even take advantage of the second point, which is…

Ask for Feedback

The general rule when asking for feedback is that you have to be prepared to implement it. Put your ego to the side for the moment and remember that whoever you ask has your best interests at heart.

  • Ask friends and trusted advisers to watch your speeches/presentations and give you their thoughts. This is especially helpful when you are presenting IN the industry and may be offering something that is a bit too technical. Even when presenting to an audience of your peers, no one wants to hear a lot of jargon and legalese. If you can develop something that’s compelling and engaging enough for your friends and advisers to enjoy, your legal audience will too.
  • Find a mentor in the industry, and role play with them (yes, even if you’re an experienced lawyer). Do this both for your presentations, and also smaller scenarios. Role play question and answer sessions, engaging with the audience before and after presentations, and how you may interact in a business meeting. This will help build confidence and give you the practice you need to develop the skills you’re looking for.
  • Record your speeches/presentations and critique them. You may deliver a presentation and feel like you’ve nailed it, only to realize when you watch the recording that you waved your hands too much, or you never looked up at the audience (we’ve all done it). Watching a recording of yourself can be eye-opening and help you to overcome some of the quirks of your presentation delivery that you may not even realize you have. Bring your mentor, friends and advisers in to watch too if they can offer additional tips.

Watch Others

There are some really amazing speakers out there, and thanks to the internet, we have access to them!

  • Choose presenters that you find compelling and make a list of what is so engaging about them. Is it their body language, is it their speech patterns, is it their use of the stage? Identify what you’d like to emulate about them and try to include it in your own presentations while remaining authentic to your style.
  • See as many local speakers as you can as well. If you’re in a city, you’ll have no end of opportunities for this, but even less urban environments will have a lot of local presentations. Watch not only for content, but also for style – what do you like about the presenter? What would you have done differently? What are some things to emulate? What might you avoid?

Get some Expert Assistance

Presenting effectively seems like it would be something that we should be able to just do. But sometimes, you need a little bit of extra help and practice, and that’s what’s going to take you the extra mile.

  • Join your local Toastmasters: these groups are all over the world and are specifically dedicated to helping their members improve their presentation skills. Groups gather in the evenings or at lunch, and present on an agreed-upon topic, which they then share feedback on. It’s a great way to practice your skills, get feedback, and improve!
  • Take an improv class: While not directly related to presentations, taking an improv class will get you thinking on your feet and responding to unusual situations quickly and effectively. You’ll be forced to gain confidence in your speaking skills, and you may even have a little fun while you’re at it.

Learning how to present well may seem like something that is necessary only if you’re on the regular speaking circuit, but it’s really about how to communicate an idea to an audience effectively – and that’s a skill that will come in handy as soon as you start refining it.