Presentations are commonplace for legal professionals; they may be delivered in a conference setting, one-to-one with a client, or during a meeting with multiple stakeholders, but delivering an effective, persuasive presentation for legal professionals is key to success in winning business and influencing decision makers.
Common issues with presentations are often linked to one of two issues:
• Audience Connection and Speaker Charisma
• Design, Layout and Content of presentation
The first issue can take time to resolve but is often improved through training and repetition – the more frequently you do a task, the more comfortable and confident you become. Around 75% of adults suggest they have a fear of public speaking so you are not alone if you suffer from nervousness about public speaking and presentations.
The second issue is more easily resolved through prior preparation, using basic models as a base for presentations, and considering format options appropriate to each audience. A clear, concise message displayed with interesting visuals and offered with stimulating dialogue is more likely to command attention from your audience.
The following tips give guidelines for creating appealing digital presentations and proactive ways to improve audience connection and speaker confidence.
Audience Connection and Speaker Charisma
Even professional public speakers can suffer from nerves, but they are experts at dealing with this stress and use some of the following techniques to focus their mind on the task at hand so they appear confident and in control when they’re the centre of attention.
1. Preparation – plan ahead for your presentation and do your homework so you are confident your work is the best it can be. Print your speech and rehearse it beforehand. If possible, visit the venue and check for possible technical faults prior to event. Use positive mental imagery to visualise yourself giving a confident performance.
2. Nerves – one thing that every nervous presenter struggles with is controlling their breathing once nerves begin. This can often be overcome through mindfulness techniques which allow you to master your breathing, and by including frequent pauses in your presentation to allow you to calm your breathing. Avoiding caffeine before a presentation will reduce stimulant effects on you, or performing some exercise beforehand as this will release endorphins designed to reduce stress and elevate well-being.
3. Practice makes perfect – if you are well acquainted with your presentation, you’ll come across as confident. Read and re-read your notes (aloud, and in-front of a mirror, or camera if possible), and go over all your visual aids at the same time. Try to add some improvisations as you perform your rehearsals so that on the day it feels more relaxed and not like you are reading verbatim. Training can help with practical advice and tips for public speaking.
4. Body language – is just as important as the actual language you’ll speak. Looking relaxed and confident is key to feeling confident. Tricks such as, maintaining eye contact, gestures to emphasise points, moving around the stage and relaxed facial expressions all indicate a person who is comfortable at their task. Avoid nervous habits like biting nails or folding your arms in front of your body as these indicate tension and lack of confidence. Speaking slowly, clearly and calmly will help to slow your breathing giving a more natural feel to your speech.
5. Connections – the first few minutes are vital in forming a connection with your audience so finding something that ensures they can relate to you is a good way of guaranteeing they remain engaged. Tell them a story about a failure or mistake you have made (if relevant to your presentation) as this makes you more human to your audience.
6. Identify your weaknesses – understanding our weaknesses allows us to challenge and overcome them. For example, if you don’t speak up in meetings for fear of seeming incompetent, then examine instances when you have done this successfully and recall your ability to perform well when needed in order to raise confidence levels.
7. Focus – during your presentation try to stay focused on what you are doing, and saying, so you can deliver your message with as much presence as possible. If you keep your focus throughout the audience can stay connected and interested.
8. Stage persona – if you are a more confident public speaker it is possible to create a stage persona, however, this should be linked to natural attributes or personal qualities such as, humour, empathy or energy as it is more difficult to maintain a false persona. If using humour within your presentation, ensure you are aware of any inappropriate cultural contexts or possible misinterpretations that may arise from what you share.
9. Mistakes – we all make them, and they are bound to occur at some point, but having the ability to recognise this and prepare in advance will allow you to retain confidence and overcome any issues. Being able to laugh at yourself, instead of reacting awkwardly to a mistake, will reassure your audience and keep them on your side.
10. Positivity – we have a tendency to only asses the negative moments of any presentations we have given but by looking at the positives we give ourselves a more balanced view of what we can achieve. Make a mental, or physical note, of any positive moments to remind yourself with later and use these to boost your confidence before further presentations.
Pushing yourself to take part in presentations, or meetings where you may be uncomfortable, will allow you to grow and develop your skills.
Design, Layout and Content of presentation
Good presentations not only require confident speakers but also knowledgeable use of presentation tools and a competent delivery.
The following points will help when creating presentations (both on paper and on-screen) and will ensure that your audience are able to interpret your message clearly and understand your presentation.
1. Less text, more images – lawyers are so familiar with wordy documents that they can often forget that during presentations too much text makes slides difficult to read and assess. More impact is created with one or two images and a few words, so limit the amount of text on each slide (or page) and counter this with more informed dialogue. Use colourful graphs, images, pie-charts and so on, to keep your audiences’ attention while offering the same information in a non-text manner.
2. Be clear and concise – use headers and bold text to highlight the main point of each slide. Meaningful information should be shown in a clear, concise way and expanded upon through your dialogue. Don’t assume your audience knows what you mean so you must be prepared to explain laws, or statutes, as needed.
3. Sections, subheadings and information – in order to form a clear presentation your audience must be able to follow not only your speech but also your slides. If you have information on one point that requires the use of 10 slides then consider condensing this into sub-groups using sub-headers to explain the point in more depth. However, don’t try to minimise the text so that it all fits on one page either!
4. Scanned documents – are often difficult to read on a slide if you use the whole document. Instead, try highlighting sections or using a callout that has taken the salient part and superimposed it in a larger text.
5. Visual appearance – visual representations of text often convey far more meaning and are more easily interpreted by the audience. If you want to stand out from the crowd, find images that convey your message and compel clients, colleagues, or businesses to act upon your presentation.