Lawyers (other than litigators, I suppose) don’t like public speaking much more than other people do, and most people rank public speaking as their greatest fear, just before death.
As best as I can tell, there are two potential audiences for lawyers to speak to. The first group is comprised of potential clients. The reason for speaking to them is obvious.
When I first tried speaking to drum up business, I made all of the usual mistakes. I wrote out a script and read it. I tried to make my presentation as comprehensive and accurate as possible. I bored the hell out of everyone in the room. I was absolutely horrible at it.
Eventually I figured out that I was going about it all wrong because I did not understand the fundamental purpose of giving seminars to develop business. I actually thought that the goal was to provide a detailed explanation of the subject matter to my audience. That was just dumb.
Over time I came to realize that the purpose of speaking to prospective clients is to entertain them, appear to be likable and approachable, and get them to think that you know what you are talking about and that they should call you if they need help. Casting a bit of doubt on their existing advisers is also fair game if you can subtly work that in.
When speaking on a panel of ‘experts,’ there is one additional goal, and that is to impress the other speakers who may be potential referral sources.
If, while in the course of doing this, you happen to provide a scrap or two of useful information to the participants, that is perfectly acceptable. Just don’t overdo it. It gets boring, and you do not want to be remembered for being boring.
If you have a deep need to speak to people who will be bored by what you have to say, just skip the seminar circuit altogether and go home and speak to your teenagers. If you don’t have any teenagers at home, you can always try talking to the managing partner at your firm who very likely will be no more interested in your thoughts than your teenagers.
The second group is made up of lawyers. I avoided presenting to them like the plague. Half of them are just there for the professional development credits and will simply ignore you. The other half think that they know more about the law than you do and are just waiting to jump in and tell you why you are wrong.
The only safe topics to speak to lawyers about are things that they know nothing about, like mental health and work/life balance. Gender parity is also a fairly safe topic, especially if your audience is mostly male.
As best as I can figure, there are only three possible reasons for giving seminars to lawyers. From least popular to most popular, they are as follows: (1) to give back to the profession and society by helping those who come behind you; (2) the possibility of referral work; and (3) stroking your ego.