Client Development

Would You Rather Die or Give a Speech?

“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”                   Jerry Seinfeld

Early in my career I spoke to a group of lawyers about opinion letters. I was awful. I read the entire presentation, which was chock full of technical details, and bored the audience to tears. To this day, if I close my eyes, I can still hear them snoring and crying at the same time.

About thirty-five years later, I reluctantly spoke to another group of lawyers. This time the topic was business succession. If I must say so myself (which I pretty much have to, because nobody else will), I was pretty damn good.

Somewhere in between those two events, I spoke to a great many groups (other than lawyers) and learned a few things. Here are my tips:

  1. Never, ever read from a script. Write out your presentation if you find that doing so helps you organize your thoughts, but you cannot under any circumstances bring your written presentation with you to the podium.
  2. This does not mean that you should memorize your speech. You cannot do that either.
  3. The goal is to thoroughly understand your topic and be able to discuss it using whatever words come to you at the time.  
  4. So how do you remember the topics that you want to discuss?  Some people can just do that. I was not able to, but I could cue off of my slide deck or use simple cue cards.
  5. You may think that you are there to educate your audience. That would be wrong. Or you might believe that you are supposed to sell yourself as being the most brilliant lawyer around. Wrong again.
  6. Your real purpose is to entertain your audience, while appearing to be intelligent and likeable.
  7. You should include just enough substance so that the audience thinks that you are knowledgeable about the topic and would be a swell person to call if they had a problem.
  8. Remember that the attendees have not read your script. They will never know if you forget to include a point. So don’t worry about it.

My mother used to try to convince my father to go to movies which ‘had something to say.’  My father would respond, “I go to movies to be entertained, not to be educated.” Perhaps I just do not come from a long line of deep thinkers. Or perhaps my Dad was on to something. Whether it be a movie, play or seminar, people cannot learn anything if they are tuned out or fast asleep. If you can entertain them just enough that they stay awake, you have a chance that they may call you for a further discussion.

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