How to get better at public speaking
Sooner or later, almost all attorneys realise that speaking in public is part of the job, according to Brian Johnson and Marsha Hunter in their book The Articulate Attorney: Public Speaking for Lawyers. Most lawyers do not particularly enjoy public speaking, and most are not particularly good at it; but anyone who is smart enough to become a lawyer is smart enough to become a proficient and polished presenter, given appropriate technique and sufficient practice.
The book goes on to describe physiological and mental processes which can help you prepare, practise and deliver talks successfully:
- Chapter 1 relates to your body, and covers such things as stance, breathing, movement and gestures.
- Chapter 2 relates to your brain, and covers memory, structured improvisation, the use of notes and PowerPoint.
- Chapter 3 relates to your voice, and covers projecting your voice, expression, the use of phrasing and verbal skills.
- Chapter 4 relates to practice, and covers techniques and checklists for practising.
The authors do briefly discuss the importance of content, but I was surprised that this was not given greater prominence. In my experience, the success of public speaking rises or falls on the speaker’s ability to engage the listeners’ imagination by creating and resolving tension. A person can have poor stance, a weak voice, and be reading from a script, and still deliver a compelling speech if the content is strong enough.
On the other hand, if a speech contains compelling content, the physiological and mental preparation advocated by the authors can significantly improve the impact. Most speakers will find in this book some useful ideas for improving their speaking technique, and I recommend that it be read in conjunction with another book focusing more on content, such as Confessions of a Public Speaker.