Public Speaking Pointers from the ABA Annual Meeting

It unusually, delightfully temperate now in Atlanta at the American Bar Association annual meeting. Adding to the pleasure was that we attracted 40 experienced litigators (people who have tried 30+ cases to a verdict) to our program: Public Speaking: The Basics and Beyond..

On the program were Tim W. Hrastar of Rapport Marketing in Englewood, Ohio; Robert Kincaid, Litigation Partner at Baker & Hostetler in Columbus, Ohio; Chris Fritsch, Legal Technologist with Martindale-Hubbell; Leah Pappas, Partner in Government Relations with Calfee Halter & Griswold in Columbus, Ohio, and yours truly.

Tim led off by noting that many speakers fail because they:

  • Lack of audience rapport
  • Have stage fright, fear of failure
  • Have an awkward stage presence and posture
  • Are too serious, have no sense of humor
  • Don't make eye contact
  • Present a data dump. Give facts only, no emotional appeal
  • Are not prepared
  • Show no enthusiasm, passion or energy
  • Use non-words or useless words (like um, er, ah)
  • Make little or no use of visual aids or verbal support

    I following next by explaining that you can overcome stage fright by (a) preparing in advance and (b) practice, practice, practice. I recommended picking a single topic and speaking on it again and again, researching the audience so you know whom you're addressing, and using the 1-2-3 formula: tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you told them.

    Noting that PowerPoint is now taught in high school, it is essential that every professional know how to run a slide show and make a slide: I offered some practical PowerPoint tips:

  • Minimum headline size: 44 points
  • Minimum second level size: 32 points
  • Minimum third level size: 28 points
  • Max: 6 words in a line
  • Max: 6 lines in a slide
  • Use a single font, maximum two

    me_as_abe_lincoln_closeup135I pointed out that research shows that there are aggressive or warm colors: Red, Orange, Yellow; and receding or cool colors: Blue, Green, Purple

    Then I showed how to do bad PowerPoint: use too many special effects and put your entire speech on your slides. Finally, I showed how PowerPoint can ruin even a superb speech by giving the Gettysburg Address with PowerPoint, donning an Abe Lincoln stovepipe hat and fake beard. I found the original Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation online at

    Chris Fritsch
    emphasized the importance of knowing your audience, finding out about their interests, accommodating their learning styles and asking questions of the audience. Every time someone asked her a question, she would give them a T-shirt or piece of chocolate, which I thought was very clever.

    Before the presentation, speakers should pass out additional handouts, know your material cold, rehearse, time you presentation, and meet audience members at the door to get to know them.

    During the presentation, she advised speakers, "when in doubt, slow down," to smile and look relaxed, and to tell stories. She recommended using props and humor, to stay within your allotted time and to leave time at the end for questions. Here speech clearly resonated with the audience because she got more questions than anyone else.

    After the presentation, speakers should network with the audience, post their slide show on the Web, send copies of the slides to people in exchange for their business cards and to follow up on all leads.

    Robert Kincaid was the only trial lawyer among us. He noted that today's jurors are younger people from Generation X and Y, and they've grown up with TV, video games and AOL. Typical jurors have seen 300 ads before 9 a.m., have watched two million TV ads before age 30 and seen 24,000 supermarket items per month. They expect to see graphics in a presentation, and will remember what you say much better if you show illustrations in your speech. In fact after 12 hours, only 10% of people retained verbally presented information; 20% remembered visually presented info; but 85% remembered verbally and visually presented information.

    Kincaid strongly recommended using computer animations in trials, noting research that 90% of jurors favor multimedia presentations. The trick is to get the court to admit your demonstrative multimedia evidence at trial after you've spent $10,000 of the client's money to create it.

    Courts are so high-tech now that he showed a cartoon depicting a judge looking at a TV replay monitor on the bench. The judge said, "After viewing the replay several times from different angles, it's clear that counsel did, in fact, badger the witness. Objection sustained."

    Leah Pappas is a lobbyist whose target audience is legislators. Clearly knowing your target's occupation, family and personal facts make a big difference. She also advised knowing your opposition's argument, style of communication and environment for communication.

    In delivering a lobbying speech she advised:

  • Communicate that you understand their position.
  • Show political sensitivity.
  • Understand their different pressure points.

    She recommended using the echo effect, where you let others voice your client's message. It's always smart to get independent, third-party affirmation of your viewpoint.

    Repetition is key in lobbying. When addressing a legislator, she recalled her key target leave the audience just as she was about to make her main point. She continued, waited for him to return to the room, and then reiterated her key point.

    And Pappas gave us a point we can all benefit from: Don't be outworked by others.

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    Comments (1) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
    Jokes Page! - September 29, 2004 4:27 AM

    Hey, i heard this today ;-)

    Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn't seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed.

    The other guy takes out his phone and calls the emergency services.
    He gasps: "My friend is dead! What can I do?"

    The operator says: "Calm down, I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead."

    There is a silence, then a gunshot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says: "OK, now what?"

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