It happened again last week, and it made me madder than usual. A whip-smart, socially skilled mid-level associate at a major law firm arrived at a communication coaching and confided that she had been taught not to gesture. In law school she had been instructed to speak by placing her hands straight down at her sides, or alternatively, clutching a lectern. Though this made her feel uncomfortable, she had persevered for several years, coping with the resulting awkward style. She was hoping I could help her become comfortable not talking with her hands. She seemed to be searching for a cure for a mysterious affliction.Read More
Brian Johnson and I have been at several trial skills programs lately, both together and separately. Since we only teach for practitioners, not law students (I teach in one program at the University of Chicago Law School), we are always interested in how the programs are designed for today’s super-busy lawyers. What case files are used, and how long are they? What other reading is assigned? In other words, how much time are attorneys expected to spend studying and preparing for a trial skills program?Read More
I recently came across this blog called “Terrible Public Speaking Tips.” The title made me chuckle, but I agree with most of the content. Many of these “terrible tips” apply to lawyers speaking in the courtroom, boardroom, or most anywhere.
We’ve written before about avoiding attempts at humor. We are big proponents of “less is more” when it comes to PowerPoint slides (see pages 91-95 in The Articulate Attorney). And we think of notes as the speaker’s own big, legible, and simple visual aid. Read More
Anyone familiar with our teaching methods knows our mantra “Speak in phrases, not whole sentences.” Speaking in phrases, or chunks, is the key to controlling your pace, especially when you first start speaking. The Pledge of Allegiance is a perfect, and familiar, example of speaking in phrases. Use it to set the proper pace at the beginning of every presentation.
Watch this video clip and use our Six-Minute Fix to practice.
The world’s foremost gesture researcher is Dr. David McNeill, a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. The capstone of his career is his book Why We Gesture: The Surprising Role of Hand Movements in Communication. His research, plus that of many others around the globe, reveals a “gesture–speech unity” with “gesture as the orchestrating force of the whole.” It proves that “gesture-orchestrated speech is essential to speech.” Gesture is an integral part of how people think and speak. If you want to speak well, you must consciously jump-start your unconscious instinct to gesture. Read More
Bringing a lesson from vacation into the courtroom
I once took a downhill ski lesson. My luck-of-the-draw instructor turned out to be a seasoned master teacher whose few suggestions made a big difference to my performance. For three hours, he and I worked on three things: finding the edge on my right foot, staying upright with a calmer torso, and sliding my skis onto the edges during turns. As a bonus, I’m faster. Read More
Practice is the only way to improve any skill – whether it’s playing the piano or public speaking. We’ve posted many times about the importance of practice in becoming a more articulate speaker, and we encourage busy lawyers to select specific practice goals, one at a time. When you have a big case coming up, it’s important to devote some of your practice time to courtroom rituals. Read More
Counseling a client is closely related to teaching a student. A good teacher adjusts the pace of delivery to give students time to understand, process and synthesize a lesson. Whether literally taking notes on paper, or simply taking note in one’s head, attentive students and clients both need time for that learning to happen. Read More
Wandering around the historic district of Philadelphia one day, I found myself at Independence Hall just as its Centennial bell struck the hour. Resonant, pear-shaped tones floated over the sunlit trees, making impromptu music with songbirds. I imagined other sounds that once rang out across the square from open windows—voices in heated debate over details of the Constitution, for example. What did they sound like? Read More
Sports psychologists advise athletes to visualize their actions prior to competing. Athletes practice what they call “mental rehearsal.” The Olympic skier imagines the moment when the buzzer sounds and she pushes off to plunge down the mountain in the giant slalom. The sprinter sees the moment when the gun goes off and he explodes out of the starting blocks. As a speaker, you can visualize the initial gestures you’ve practiced. Visualizing an action that has been ingrained through practice frees you to gesture with even greater skill and confidence. Read More
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