(p. 305) 10. Persuasive oral communication and presentations
After studying this chapter you should be able to:
● Appreciate why you need good oral communication skills as a student and a professional.
● Understand how both verbal and non-verbal skills will influence the effectiveness of your oral communication.
● Practise and develop these skills during your legal studies and in everyday life, to improve your influence and have your voice heard.
● Learn techniques which will help you to deliver a presentation which is persuasive and well-received, as a student and a professional.
This is the first of five chapters on communication skills. Chapter 11 discusses specifically client interviews and meetings, Chapter 12 negotiation and mediation, Chapter 13 mooting and advocacy, and Chapter 14 communication in the form of writing and drafting. This chapter will help you understand the essential foundations for oral communication to be persuasive and influential, and then shows you how to use these skills specifically to give an effective presentation.
As you progress through your legal studies, seek employment opportunities, and then start developing your career, your communication skills will be fundamental to your success. They are the primary means by which you impart what you know and what you think. How you communicate will determine the extent to which you will be heard and understood; it will also determine the extent of your influence.
There are a range of situations in which you will need to employ oral communication skills during your studies. In due course, the graduate job interview process will also test your communication skills, and so you will want to have practised and honed these skills by then.
It is a fundamental professional skill to be able to communicate complex ideas in a way that is easy to understand. However, when faced with a real audience, in a situation where there is a little pressure and where you may have to think ‘on your feet’, you can expect your communication skills to be the first thing to suffer. Unfortunately your audience are likely to (p. 306) notice, too. If you are inclined right now to think the skills in this chapter are all too obvious, then you might like to consider how it was that Ed Miliband in his most important speech as leader of the opposition (at the Labour Party Conference in the year before the General Election), managed to forget to mention the key issue (the UK’s significant financial deficit).1
Like most skills, developing your communication skills requires preparation, common sense, and subsequent reflection. This chapter aims to refresh you about the skills essential for good oral communication, then help you employ them to deliver a confident and effective presentation during your studies (10.1) and in consideration of practice (10.2). If the thought of this strikes fear into you, show yourself some compassion; fear of public speaking is the biggest phobia worldwide. So, take comfort that you are taking your first steps to certain success in learning a skill, in a supportive environment, that many fear more than snakes or spiders.
10.1 Oral communication skills and presentations: during your studies
10.1.1 What are oral communication skills?
The term ‘oral communication skills’ can be understood as speaking effectively. However, to really be heard, and to have influence, you are encouraged to understand that this really includes several different skills which you use together to allow you to convey effectively information, opinion, and advice, and to receive the same from others. During your studies, you may be asked to: contribute to class discussion and debate in tutorials and seminars; give presentations, in class and for assessment; compete in a moot or criminal advocacy competition; be involved in pro bono work such as a law clinic or similar initiative; interview for vacation placements, or other work experience schemes.
10.1.1.1 Non-verbal communication
Before you even begin to speak, you communicate through your body language, and very effectively too. Babies are very adept at communicating to get their needs met. Are you as effective, now you have your words? Are you aware how, if at all, your eye contact and body language change when you are dealing with a complex issue or difficult situation, or when you are deep in thought, or nervous? Nerves can have the effect of making even the most naturally pleasant and outgoing people appear hostile, severe, or unapproachable. You may be surprised to find yourself unable to look someone in the eye or offer a firm handshake at interview or assessment—just when you need to be at your most influential. The good news is that much of this can be overcome through self-awareness, preparation, practice, and experience. The first step is to be aware of what you should be aiming for. What follows will help you with your non-verbal communication.
Eye contact is extremely powerful. In Western cultures, avoiding eye contact can be deemed to be a sign of dishonesty. Conversely, good eye contact can be very reassuring, instil confidence, (p. 307) be persuasive, and also allow you to pick up on cues that others are making with their eyes. Therefore eye contact is important. If you struggle with it, and many do, then it is something you can work on to good effect. You can practise making good eye contact in everyday life. Experimenting in situations where you are comfortable can help you develop this skill, so that you can then deploy it when you are outside your comfort zone. A good tip is to focus just behind a person’s head to begin with. This helps to practise the habit and gives the other person the impression of eye contact. When you are comfortable doing this, you can progress to looking at their eyes, allowing you to read their cues. Take care to avoid becoming ‘locked in’; being able to break off eye contact, then seamlessly re-establish it, is another skill you can practise now.
If you have been diagnosed with, or suspect you may have, Autism Spectrum Disorder, you may find eye contact particularly challenging. Even if you have learned to make eye contact, it may be that you still do not pick up on any cues from other people’s eye contact. To take another example, if you are lip reading, your eye contact will reduce. In such cases, simply being aware of the importance of eye contact, and the messages it conveys, can be helpful. For example, you may feel comfortable to explain, where you feel appropriate, that just because you are not making eye contact does not mean you are not listening or paying attention to what someone is saying. This in itself is demonstrating a high level of self-awareness and good communication skills. In other cases, be aware enough to know when you may be reducing eye contact in a way which is avoidable (for example, by taking notes at an inappropriate time, and Chapter 11 explores how to avoid that, and still take a decent note).
Our bodies can betray feelings that we would prefer to keep to ourselves. To some people, this is not desperately important. If the bass player in a band comes across as surly, hyperactive, or very shy, no one will use this to judge her ability to play guitar. However, in contrast, a lawyer must project a professional persona at all times, and we are professional communicators. As a student, practise paying attention to, and actively manage, the messages your body may be sending to the contrary. Folding your arms, for example, puts a barrier between you and anyone you are speaking to, and you risk looking defensive and hostile, however inadvertently. Persistent habits such as foot jiggling, pen tapping, hand waving, hair flicking, knuckle cracking, fidgeting, or pacing around can be distracting and reduce your power to influence. Consider what messages you might have been communicating to those who have taught or presented to you during your studies. If you are slumped and yawning, or distracted by your phone, throughout a lecture or presentation, the person delivering it will notice. This knowledge is not to shame you, but to become an effective communicator, you will need to become self-aware. We will all do something inadvertently which has a negative effect on our influence, but only some of us will learn to become aware of that fact in order to improve. Painful though it may be, the best way to identify this is to ask someone you trust to be brutally honest, or alternatively record and analyse yourself. This latter technique is an established form of teacher and media training. Smartphones make this process much more accessible than it used to be. Simply recording yourself talking about your favourite subject for five minutes is likely to reveal aspects of your body language of which you were not aware. Even watching yourself present to a mirror will help.
So far, we have discussed inadvertent body language, and it is also worth considering how to use body language deliberately to send messages to others. When presenting in class, (p. 308) formally or otherwise, you will want to influence others, and encourage them to engage with you. This starts by showing, when they are speaking, that you are actively listening and open to hearing what they have to say. Be the audience you would like to have yourself. When it comes to your turn to speak, there will be key points which you will want to make firmly and clearly, so you are certain they are heard and taken seriously. Non-verbal communication can help you here too. Mirroring (see Gorman, Further Reading) is a technique you may be interested to explore during your studies (and practice when you feel it is safe to do so).
Consider the interview candidate who wears scuffed shoes or has not washed his hair. Have you made a judgement about them already, before they have started to speak? While encouraging you to learn the skills which will give you the confidence to be your best, authentic self, this chapter also encourages good self-awareness. Any judgement that people may make is, of course, a first impression, which may be refined or even dramatically changed by what you go on to say or do (see the film Legally Blonde). You can enjoy reflecting on what impression your current appearance might be conveying to others, and whether that aligns with one you are happy to convey (now, or in the future).
If you have a formal assessment which involves oral communication, such as a presentation, you might be given guidance as to what you should wear, to prepare your expectations for life after graduation. Sometimes students report it can also help you to ‘step into’ a more professional demeanour if you are wearing different clothes from those you would usually wear in class as a student. If you are at all unsure about what might be appropriate to wear, ask your lecturer and/or, reflect on what professionals have been wearing when you have met them during your studies (another reason to attend careers fairs, or pro bono events).Who have you seen who dresses both professionally and in a way you would feel comfortable dressing? It may be an opportunity for you to start thinking about what you might need to budget for now, to buy and wear for interview and/or assessment (where you can ‘road test’ your choice to make sure you feel both comfortable and confident while wearing it). Chapter 16 provides further guidance on this.
Most people really appreciate feeling listened to, and in today’s busy and technologically driven world, it might be an increasingly rare experience. If you can show someone you are truly listening, they will likely be predisposed towards you. The term ‘active listening’ refers to the fact that, to do this well, you must be seen to be listening too. Body language is clearly important here and nodding and eye contact will convey that you are paying attention and engaged. Similarly, glancing down at your phone, laptop, or watch, or tying your shoelace, and suchlike, will have the opposite effect (and eventually whoever you are listening to will likely stop talking—of course, sometimes this can be useful, but only if you are using it knowingly). Generally, you need to show that you are engaged, and whoever is speaking will appreciate these signs; we tend to remember fondly people who help us to feel comfortable when we might be feeling out of own comfort zones. This is true for large groups as well as for small groups or one-to-one encounters. Any presenter, be it a classmate, your lecturer, or a guest speaker, will appreciate an engaged audience, and your learning community will thrive when those in it are adapting a good practice of active listening.
(p. 309) Conversely, if you are speaking, you are not listening. If you chat through a presentation, whispering or not, the presenter will notice you are not listening to them. Interrupting someone is also an error, and common on the part of lawyers, even student lawyers, because we tend to like to be in control of a situation, and to solve problems and, being bright individuals, can be tempted to feel we have thought of a solution or a response before we have really listened properly. Resist this temptation and use Example 1 to practise being open to hearing all that someone is really telling you (and this includes listening to their feelings as well as their words).
In a suitable situation, resolve to experiment by concentrating only on listening to someone, digesting what they are saying to you, and feeling flexible in terms of your response (rather than listening to respond, which is appearing to listen while actually rehearsing in your head what you are going to say—and were always going to say—next). You will be surprised at the value of the further information which may be revealed to you, and the other person will feel infinitely more valued by being allowed to have his say.
If on occasion you do feel it is appropriate to interrupt (perhaps if someone is clearly upset or nervous and it is best for everyone that they take a break), then reflect now on how you might do this most effectively using body language, and/or the specific words you want to choose to communicate specifically what you are doing and why.
The more you have an authentic and well-founded confidence in your own abilities, the more likely you will succeed in persuading others to have confidence in you. Confidence is not the same as arrogance or brashness, however, and the line is a fine one to draw. It will help if you can think now of someone you admire who inspires confidence, and consider them as a role model. What, specifically, do they do which impresses you? How, specifically, do they strike the right balance between confidence and arrogance? What is it, in particular, about their verbal and non-verbal communication that tells you they are a confident person? Consider how you might enjoy incorporating some of the behaviour you have just identified into your own communication skills, and practice until it has become habit.
Feel reassured, those people who come across as truly confident often might not have considered themselves to be naturally confident when they were students of their own discipline. They were, however, astute enough to understand that, to succeed, they needed to project confidence. As with most skills, the earlier and the more you practise looking and sounding confident, even (especially) when you feel nervous, the more adept at it you will become.
10.1.1.2 Verbal communication
It is not just what you say, but how you say it, that will determine the effectiveness of your oral communication. Your legal knowledge and skills are vital to ensuring that what you say is technically correct. However, your communication should not only be correct, it should also be effective. The assessment criteria against which your oral communication will be assessed (p. 310) is likely to include reference to good structure and communication. Let us consider some factors which will affect the effectiveness of your verbal communication during your studies.
The tone of your verbal communication is very important. It can help you to convey a range of messages: empathy; sympathy; humour; whether something is problematic. If you are not communicating face to face, for example when using the telephone (perhaps during a telephone interview or speaking to a mentor), very subtle changes in tone can be important. Does your tone indicate that you are engaged, or bored? When you are concentrating, what happens to your tone? Do you slip into a monotone? How might that affect your power to influence and persuade? Enjoy exploring the effect of varying the tone of your voice, when it is safe to do so (that is, not during your first formal interview, but perhaps when you are ordering food or buying a newspaper). It is likely to keep others interested and engaged. As explained (and see Gorman, Further Reading) people tend to ‘mirror’ emotions, and so if you want people to engage with and show interest in what you have to say, then model that behaviour for them.
You may tend to speed up what you are saying if you are nervous. In one way, this does work because you reach the end of your communication more quickly. Unfortunately, the impact of your message is likely to have suffered as a consequence. Use Example 2 to inform the pace of your communication.
Ask a friend to give you some feedback specifically as to how your emotions and feelings may affect your pace, and enjoy experimenting with changing your pace to respond to any such feedback. You may find that your perception does not match your friend’s. In particular, you may feel really uncomfortable with what you perceive to be an eternally long pause, only to hear that it was perceived by your friend as a welcome break, effective as providing time to think, or even entirely unnoticeable.
While the research data about the bias for received pronunciation is far from encouraging (see Smith, Further Reading), provided that you are clear in your speech, there is no good reason that having an accent should pose a problem in communicating (and Eswaran cites data supporting the effects of a diverse workforce on innovation, decision-making, performance, and revenue). During your studies, ensure that you work to avoid any habits you may have developed with colloquialism and regional slang phrases. If you do think that your accent may be causing difficulties with your clarity in class discussion and so forth, you can address this simply by slowing down your speech. The Law Society, the SRA, the Bar Standards Board, and the Judiciary have all spoken of their commitment to inclusion and to promote diversity in the law (including socio-economic diversity), and the Bridge Group Report (see Further Reading) refers to the need for a professional culture that allows candidates from socio-diverse backgrounds to thrive. You might imagine it could be easier to change your accent, and yet note how the Report cites an interviewee lawyer who responded, ‘..when I (p. 311) am here, I play the middle-class version of me to fit in. I can see the cultural dominance … I don’t fit in at work, and now I don't fit in at home either.’ Whether you perceive ‘fitting in’ as an issue for you or not, you are encouraged to read the articles under ‘Further Reading’ about diversity, to inform yourself further about the ongoing debate, and reflect on how, if at all, you might choose to respond to and influence the issues it raises.
Just as you may do things inadvertently which affect your communication, you may also say things inadvertently that impede your power to influence others. Asking for feedback or listening to a recording of yourself can also be helpful in revealing these traits. Common examples are saying ‘erm’ frequently rather than simply pausing. You may have a word you use frequently to punctuate or to fill a gap, such as ‘ok’, ‘yeah?’, ‘hmm, hmm’, ‘fine’, ‘great’, or ‘like’. Practice eliminating any such habits you may have developed, as soon as you can, because they can irritate whoever you are speaking to, and distract them from hearing the message you want them to hear.
10.1.2 Considering the specific needs of your audience
Thinking about your recipient, or audience, is the key to informing the content of any communication, and oral communication is no exception. Throughout, their needs are paramount. Example 3 illustrates how this can affect the content of your presentation.
You are asked to deliver a presentation on employment law.
Here, you would need to know who is in your audience.
Students will need to take a good note of the details of the law you are explaining, because it will be useful for their revision and future learning.
2.Students role-playing employees
Employees will be particularly interested in learning about their rights, and how to enforce them against their employer.
3.Students role-playing employers
Employers will be more interested in hearing about how they, as employers, should act in a way that does not infringe those rights of their employees.
So, all three presentations would cover aspects of the same employment law, but your emphasis, as to which particular parts on which to focus, would be informed by the need to engage the different audiences and meet their different needs.
10.1.2.2 Jargon and clarity
While clear and plain English is a good recommendation at all times, some audiences will find jargon easier to deal with than others. Example 4 illustrates the point.
Your lecturer has just asked you to present your answer to ‘question 2’, on restrictive covenants, to the class.
Here, you would need to consider the needs of your audience, which may include the following:
1. Students who have all prepared an answer to question 2 as part of their preparation for this class. Question 2 was preparation for everyone. Everyone should be familiar with jargon which was explained in the preparation. They may not have understood it as clearly as you have, however. Conversely, you may have found it tricky to understand all nuances of the question. You can make sure you do your best to meet their need, using the techniques above, including thinking about your audibility, pace and tone, and when to pause, depending on the complexity of the point and jargon you are dealing with, and be willing to invite questions. You might also practise being confident enough to outline the nuance with which you have been struggling and ask if anyone can engage you on that point. They are likely to respond well, and work collaboratively with you, because they are mirroring the support you gave to them with the rest of the question. Your lecturer can correct and add to your understanding, if required.
2. As with 1 above, however these students did not do their preparation and they are currently engaged in an animated discussion, hurriedly preparing their presentation which they will deliver after yours. Effective communication is not about people-pleasing, and you will form your own view about how inclined you feel to ensure these students understand your presentation. Nevertheless, here is an opportunity for you, to receive some real-time feedback about your current levels of persuasion and influence, in a supported environment (because your lecturer is present), if you wish to take it. You may or may not manage to instil in these students an understanding of the correct answer, or an enthusiasm to do things differently in their preparation for the next class, but some message is likely to land, if not on this group of students, then on the other students, and on your lecturer, all of whose needs you are showing you have heard and want to meet. You will certainly learn how, if someone is talking, the presenter will definitely notice and will not feel heard (see 10.1.1.1). You may begin to learn what are effective techniques to quieten a room so you can be heard, and what are not. Silence can be effective, to try as a starting point. If not, perhaps consider the specific words you might use to get the attention of these students, so you can begin. In short, even this experience, however uncomfortable, will provide you with valuable feedback (not failure) to inform your future practice.
3. Students who have not prepared an answer to question 2, because question 2 is an in-class task and each student has a different question to answer. These students have a greater need for you to be clear and explain any jargon, because (through design, not fault this time), they are entirely dependent on you to help them understand the answer. They are certainly not as familiar with the subject matter as you are (and may be entirely unfamiliar with it). This is an opportunity for you to test the effectiveness of your oral communication, including how approachable they feel you are to ask follow-up questions, while your lecturer is present to support you. These in-class exercises give your learning community a chance to enjoy interacting and teaching each other (which is a very effective method of learning) while it is safe to do so (because your lecturer is present to correct any errors or highlight any omissions).
4. Your lecturer, who set question 2. If all is well, your lecturer will know and understand the answer to question 2 in some detail, and be able to explain it herself with structure, application, and analysis. Her need is to test that you not only know the law and its source but are willing to practice, in class, developing the other skills you need to succeed in law, including communication, structure, application, and analysis. If you have not understood her need, you may be tempted to offer a token answer, feeling safe in the knowledge she will happily complete it to give the class the full picture so they all have a good set of notes, and that will certainly feel more comfortable all round. Except she might not, and after class students might ask you independently what the answer was, and email your lecturer to ask her too. It’s not an enjoyable prospect, for anyone in your learning community. Better to have a go and practise providing a full answer, while it is still safe to get it wrong and make mistakes you can learn from before the summative assessment.
Certainly all four categories of audience will benefit from clarity in your expression. Bear in mind that a good approach to jargon and clarity in general, is an inclusive approach; that by being clear (note, not patronising) for everyone, you will meet all of their needs.
You should consider any specific learning needs of all the individuals in your audience, including any you are aware of, and any you might not be. Adapting a good, inclusive practice, by giving thought to your audience, certainly will improve your presentation for your entire audience, so take the initiative and decide you will do what you can to ensure your oral communication is as clear as it can be for everyone. It is common sense to understand that standing up, moving to the front of the class and if there is a microphone, actually using it, will be helpful for all students, not least anyone who experiences hearing impairment. (It is surprising, however, just how many presenters decide not to use a microphone when it is available, and leave their audience to struggle—and one wonders if it is self-awareness, or confidence, which is lacking. Not a good impression.) Well-structured, clear visual aids will help everyone, and students who may have dyslexia or autism will appreciate them too. Taking care to make sure your pace is not too fast will make sure everyone can follow you and your visual aids, including students with hearing or visual impairment. Asking if everyone can hear and see you and your presentation, while you are still in time to do something meaningful about it, is another technique you can adopt into your own inclusive practice that will be appreciated by all.
10.1.3 Presentations during your studies
During your studies, you are likely to be asked to deliver a presentation at some point. The advice in this chapter (and in Further Reading) will give you what you need to enjoy delivering a presentation more effectively than you can imagine right now. Practice will then help you improve further. You are encouraged to turn any fear into curiosity as to how you can learn, with relative ease, what so many find so difficult.
The purpose, as with essays, problem questions, and other written pieces of work, is for you to demonstrate your understanding of and opinions on a particular topic. You may be asked to present a pre-prepared answer in class, or you may be asked to prepare a presentation for an assessment. This may be individually, or in a group, which also tests your team-working skills. As you study, you are likely also to be applying for a graduate role, and it is common for graduate employers to ask candidates at interview to deliver a presentation too. This helps them to compare all candidates objectively, assess your communication and time-management skills, observe how you perform under pressure, and generally assess your self-awareness.
(p. 314) The following guidance will help you to prepare for a presentation during your studies. Of course, nothing will enhance your presentation skills more than actually practising presenting. The more familiar and comfortable you become with presentation skills, the more you will be able to concentrate on the subject matter of that presentation without losing your audience. So, whenever appropriate, take the opportunity to speak up and be heard. There is no failure only feedback (at least, until you reach the point of assessment, by which time, if you follow the advice in this chapter, you will be well prepared for success).
You may be given your title, or you may be able to choose it, either freely, or in relation to a particular topic. If you are able to choose your title, make sure that it is broad enough to fill the time and meet all of the assessment criteria you have been given, but narrow enough so you will not overrun. Be prepared to revise your title as you progress with your preparation, and can make a more informed decision about content and timing.
Before you begin planning your presentation, you need to identify the relevant law on which you have been asked to present. You may already have this from your lecture notes, or you may need to use the Rule stage of Figure 9.1, and the guidance in Chapters 7 to 9, to identify the relevant law, relevant cause of action, and necessary elements of that law.
You will be given a target time frame for delivery of the presentation. There are likely to be others presenting before and after you, so your timing does matter. You must make sure that you do not run significantly under or over. Practise in advance to check your timing. Is an amendment to the title required, to narrow (or broaden) the subject matter you will cover? If not, you can add some flexibility to your final presentation by preparing some extra items that you can bring in, and identifying some items that you can cut out, if necessary. Note that the more interactive your presentation, the longer it is likely to take, and the more flexibility you will need to build in. Twenty minutes passes very quickly when you are delivering a presentation. So make sure you have a technique to keep an eye on the time. This could be taking off your watch and placing it directly in front of you, or knowing from your preparation that you should advance one slide every five minutes. One key stipulation given to all TED talk speakers is that they have a maximum of 18 minutes to present their material, based on an understanding that this is long enough to have a serious presentation but short enough to hold a person’s attention.2 You are encouraged to watch some, on topics in which you are interested, paying particular attention to how the presenters manage their timing and content, and how the period of 18 minutes feels for you as the audience.
10.1.3.5 Structure and content
Once you have your title, or working title, Figure 10.1 will help you to see that a presentation is really just a way of communicating, orally, what you already are learning to communicate, (p. 315) in writing, by answering a problem or essay question. Consider, as a starting point, whether your presentation resembles more:
● an oral presentation of the answer to a problem question (‘problem style’ presentation), (for example, you have certain specific facts such as names, places, dates, and events and are expected to apply the law to the facts in your presentation), or
● an essay question (‘essay style’ presentation) (for example, you are asked for critical analysis of an area of law, such as one which is new, controversial, ripe for reform, or the subject of several inconsistent judgments, but you do not have a detailed fact pattern to which you can apply the law, other than any familiarity you may already have with whoever is in the audience).
If the former, Figure 9.1 (problem-solving) will help you with your preparation. If the latter, you can use Figure 14.1 (essay-writing). Figure 10.1 assimilates them both into a strategy you can use for any presentation.
(p. 316) 10.1.3.6 Communication of your presentation
When you have completed all of the preparation above, you can progress to thinking carefully about how best to communicate what you want to say. Ensure you plan to allow enough time for this important stage of preparing your presentation.
Even experienced and professional presenters can feel nervous before they begin. However, a veneer of confidence will increase your chance of making a good impact. Chapter 15 and the two articles by Johnson and Tsaousides in Further Reading discuss effective techniques to control nervousness, and you are encouraged to experiment with these now, to discover what works best for you. Be patient with yourself, and be prepared to make mistakes, and to expect an element of discomfort. It is all part of the learning curve (see Adams, Further Reading, Chapter 11). In their article for the British Council (see Further Reading), Ros and Neil Johnson observe the nervousness shown by actress Emma Watson, in her presentation to the UN on women and leadership at university, and the techniques she uses effectively to stop her nerves detracting from what she has to say. Note, however, that a little nervousness is a good thing as it will produce adrenalin to enhance your performance.
You must do your best to establish good rapport with your audience from the outset. Employ good body language, smile, hold yourself confidently, and make eye contact with everyone in the room if possible. Remember that people like to mirror, so you must begin positively if you want your audience to react positively. Introduce yourself, and any other presenters, very clearly. Now is the time to check that everyone can hear you, to avoid the embarrassment of someone asking later if you can speak up, or, worse, getting to the end of your presentation only to discover that no one has heard a word you have said.
The best presentations are interactive; think of the needs of your audience (and what they do not need, including to be bored by your monotonous reading of a script), engage the audience and make them active contributors rather than passive observers. Depending on the size and nature of your audience, you may wish to set the interactive tone from the outset by asking them to introduce themselves. It can be very impressive if you can refer to them (p. 317) by name when you interact with members of your audience during your presentation. If in doubt, ask your lecturer in advance about their expectations of you in terms of interacting with your audience in any assessed presentation.
For clarity, share how your presentation will be structured (in general terms) with your audience. This is a technique known as signposting. You let your audience know what is in store. It is good practice to refer to the title and the specific aims of your presentation, including what the intended outcome is for your audience. Your lecturers are likely to do this at the beginning of a seminar or lecture, by referring to ‘learning outcomes’ (typically based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, see Further Reading). The SMART model (see 220.127.116.11) will also help you to structure and articulate the aims of your presentation.
This is where you will deliver the bulk of the content of your presentation. You need to use all of the communication skills discussed in this chapter to keep your audience engaged during this period. Be confident, clear and succinct, continue to use effective body language, and provide examples that are tailored to and will appeal to your audience. Again, make sure your audience is aware of the structure of the body of your presentation. If you were communicating in writing, and there are obvious headings and subheadings which would clarify your answer, then also make these clear in your presentation. (First, we will consider … Let’s move now to examine the second requirement under section one …). You can also underscore the structure of your presentation in your visual aid (see 10.1.3.7), making it even easier for your audience to follow your chosen structure.
Having tailored the content of your presentation to your audience, you should consider how else to appeal to them. Address your audience directly. If you are asked to present to an audience of (during your studies, imaginary) employers, say ‘You, as employers, will need to bear this cost’ rather than, say, ‘This cost is borne by employers’. You are looking to produce ‘light bulb moments’; when what you say truly resonates with your audience. Involve your audience at this stage wherever possible. Ask them questions. Ask their opinions. Give them a short time to discuss something with the person next to them. Do anything and everything to keep them engaged. Just as varying the tone of your own voice can add interest, a change of presenter can also renew your audience’s enthusiasm. Think about whether there is a timely point in your presentation when a change of presenter might be well received. In a world where attention span is reportedly decreasing due to technology, paying attention to how you can focus your audience’s attention is important.
Broadcasters and politicians are trained to identify and summarise concisely for themselves the key points which they want to make, in order to be certain that they will both remember and deliver them (regardless of whether they answer any question asked). Make sure you follow suit and have identified and are very familiar with the key messages of your own presentation, so you can be certain that you will deliver them. As a rule of thumb, any more than three is likely to be unwieldy. You will need to reiterate your key messages, too, so that you can be certain your audience will hear them. The maxim ‘say what you’re going to say; say it; then say it again’ is a good one (see Chapter 14 for its application in your written communications). As a minimum you should deliver your key message three times: Signpost in the introduction what you intend to say. In the middle, say it, then, at the end, summarise what you have said.
(p. 318) Relax, be your best authentic self, and enjoy the experience. Your audience will ‘catch’ your enthusiasm (and vice versa).
You must draw everything together. Identify and summarise the key points of your presentation (which will refer back to your presentation’s title). Remind your audience of the aims or learning outcomes of your presentation and check whether they have achieved those aims, in an interactive way if possible. Leave the audience with a good lasting impression. Ask if they have any questions. If they do not, do not end your presentation there; it comes across as a damp squib. Instead, wrap up the presentation properly and enthusiastically, signposting clearly that it has come to an end. If appropriate, ensure everyone has your name and your contact details and make clear you are available for questions afterwards. It is common for audience members to be shy about asking questions in front of others, but relish the chance to speak to you one to one, so make sure your audience know exactly where and when you will be available for questions after your presentation ends. When you do face questions, the good news is that, unlike with advocacy, they are not certain to be calling into question what you have just said (although they may do so). They may also be checking their understanding, asking for further information, or thanking you. Feel curious (not afraid) of their questions. In all cases, allow your questioner to feel heard. Repeat the question so that everyone in the audience has heard it. Thank them for their question (unless it really is inappropriate). Resist the pressure to answer any question to which you do not know the answer. Do be prepared for questions, though. They will test your own understanding of your presentation, and it will become immediately clear (if it hasn’t already) if you are delivering a script you have learned by rote.
10.1.3.7 Visual aids
Typically you will be given the option of preparing visual aids. Visual aids have several advantages. They can help to focus your audience, add interest, act as your prompt, and give the audience something else to look at other than you. Used well, they can add impact to a presentation. However, you are encouraged to use them with caution. Many presenters use slides poorly, and ‘presentation’ is frequently misinterpreted as a ‘slide show’. While PowerPoint remains popular in university lectures, and indeed among lawyers, it is not without its critics, so be sure to use it wisely (see articles by Noah and Microsoft in Further Reading). Remember to use slides to supplement what you say, not to replace it. The human brain is wired for storytelling (Noah) so use your visual aid to engage your audience with narrative, not replace it. These are the hallmarks of a poor presentation, and they may already be familiar to you:
● put everything you want to say on the slides;
● create lots of slides;
● fill each slide with as many words as you can;
● do not provide handouts;
● do not allow enough time for your audience to copy down the slide either;
● add some token clip art or randomly chosen stock photographs;
● choose your favourite colours, regardless of whether they are easy to read;
(p. 319) ● fail to proofread your slides properly;
● do not leave enough time to familiarise yourself with the projection equipment;
● progress too many slides at once and leave your audience hanging while you work out how to go back one slide, engaging them in a one-way dialogue about every step of this process;
● read out the slides, and read from the screen so that your back is facing the audience and they cannot see or hear you.
Example 5 explores this further.
People learn in lots of different ways, and these ways are referred to as learning styles. If you prefer to read a book rather than listen to a presentation on the same topic, like lecturers to use slides or write on a whiteboard rather than just speak, and find it helpful to distil information into a mind map or diagram, then your preferred learning style may be visual. If conversely you would much rather attend a lecture to listen to a speaker, or download a podcast, then your preferred learning style may be aural. If you prefer to write down what you are learning, in order to learn it, or learn best while doing a repetitive activity like walking, or gardening, then your preferred style might be kinaesthetic. There are other learning styles on which further reading is suggested at the end of this chapter. A good presentation will contain a mixture of elements which appeal to the full spectrum of learning styles. This is one of the reasons why visual aids, to supplement what you are saying, can be helpful in having your message heard.
Compare the two slides at Figure 10.2. They both convey the same messages in the same basic font and colour, and neither are wonderful. However, we can use these basic tools to explore our thoughts about visual aids. The first slide needs an injection of colour, creativity, and interest, but as a starting point, it is a better visual aid than the other figure. It captures key points and lets the audience know what is to come. It has been proofread properly. This slide needs a good presenter to embellish these key points with an engaging narrative.
The second slide is a disaster, but may feel familiar, because slides are frequently used poorly. It attempts to convey the entire message in full sentences. You will need to read it out, because the audience towards the back of the room will not be able to read it. The rest of the audience will not be listening to you while they are reading the slide, of course. This will probably not be a problem however, because you will not be audible as you will be facing the screen, to read the slide. As they will be focusing all of their attention on this slide, the audience will notice your inconsistent use of full stops, your erroneous comma, and your misspelling of reliant.
Which slide do you prefer, as a starting point, if you had to choose? From the audience’s perspective, the written content of the first slide is clear, readable, and prepares them to listen to the presenter. The written content of the second slide could be a good note to take away (if corrected), but the presentation is likely to add little to it.
From your perspective as a presenter, the second slide does provide a safety net for you, in terms of content. However it will actually detract from your ability to use all the communication skills set out in this chapter to influence your audience. The first slide provides a decent prompt for you, but will encourage you to become more familiar with, and to understand, the content of your presentation and to employ effective communication skills to engage and inspire your audience with your narrative.
(p. 320) 10.1.3.8 Notes
The second slide in Figure 10.2 is attempting to fulfil not only the role of slide, but also of script and notes. As a good presenter, you should not rely on a script, and a slide is not the ideal way to provide notes for your audience either. If you would like your audience to have a note to take away, then prepare a separate note for them. Most software packages have a function to allow you to prepare and print notes next to the slides, and for you to have your notes available only to you, on a separate screen to that which the audience can see, while you present (see Microsoft article, in Further Reading).
10.1.3.9 Scripts and prompts
Reading from a script will severely inhibit your ability to use the effective communication skills discussed in this chapter, including eye contact and body language, and is bound to detract from your presentation and your ability to influence and have your message heard. Your audience, certainly, will notice this. They are, though, unlikely to notice, or be too concerned, if you omit to mention one esoteric point because you were not reading from a script. On balance, the risks of reading from a script far outweigh the risks of jettisoning a script and being prepared for a few minor omissions. Never just read out a pre-prepared, scripted presentation if you are expecting to influence your audience.
The best presenters do not use separate prompts either. It is of course a good idea for even the most experienced presenter to have a prompt (remember Ed Miliband forgetting to mention (p. 321) the key issue of the deficit, to his detriment1), and it will be particularly important for you if your assessment is being assessed and there is content you absolutely must remember to cover. However, as discussed, it is best to rely on a basic prompt from the visual aids you have prepared for the benefit of the audience. If you really cannot do without a more detailed prompt, restrict yourself to bullet points on cards or to using the software’s presenter notes facility.
10.1.3.10 Developing your skills
Think about someone—a lecturer, a colleague, or someone on television who you think presents well. Watch them. What are they doing (or not doing) that makes them so good? Do not make the mistake of thinking what they are doing is spontaneous. That is unlikely. To be a good presenter takes rigorous practice. It is not by chance that television presenters stand in the correct place, look at the correct camera, and deliver an effortless joke which is absolutely suitable for their target audience. Talented presenters practise. They also improve with experience. Now think of someone who you consider to be a poor presenter. What are they doing (or not doing)? Why do you think they continue to do this, even as a professional? As with most performance skills, observation, reflection, and practice will show you what works and what does not. The Practical Exercises at the end of this chapter provide links to three presentations in very different contexts (one by Lady Hale in the Supreme Court; one by Professor Jeanette Winterson, delivering the annual Richard Dimbleby speech in the House of Lords; and a third by Emma Watson, delivering a speech to the UN), which you can enjoy watching and critiquing, to inform and inspire your own practice.
10.2 Oral communication skills and presentations: in practice
Once again, you can feel reassured that what you have learned from 10.1 in terms of the skills you need during your studies, are highly relevant for practice (and units designed to prepare you specifically for practice). There are various ways you will be required to use good oral communication skills in practice, and Chapter 11 will help you with interviews and meetings, Chapter 12 with negotiation and mediation, and Chapter 13 with advocacy. These skills, even advocacy, have generic qualities that are transferable. That is, they can be employed in contexts and careers other than law (see Chapter 16). Indeed the requirements or job specification for most professions and careers will stipulate ‘excellent communication skills’. Once you are in a graduate role, providing advice and services as a professional, you will be communicating with a wide range of people, including clients or customers, other employees, suppliers, officials of public bodies, and/or other professionals. You will need to deploy your good communication skills in diverse situations, such as interviews, meetings, telephone calls, negotiations, presentations, and court appearances. The rest of this chapter provides guidance specifically about how to use what you have learned about good oral communication in order to deliver effective presentations in practice. At the end of 10.2 we will consider Example 6 to illustrate how you can assimilate the learning in this chapter. It uses a business law example, concerning directors’ duties and insolvency. Other examples might include advising partners in a partnership about the effect of running their business as a company, or advising a board on corporate manslaughter, or updates to employment law. You can transfer the learning from the example to other scenarios relatively easily, such as advising the police on the latest thinking regarding domestic violence and coercive control legislation, or providing information about the trends in environmental prosecutions to a local authority.
(p. 322) 10.2.1 Oral communication skills in practice
You may be surprised to consider how a client receiving legal advice might be likely to assume (not necessarily correctly) that every lawyer has learned what they need to know about the current law, and would deliver the same advice as you (just as you might assume that doctors have learned what they need to know about medicine, and would recommend the same treatment). This means that, while a client might not actually spot immediately if your advice is below par, or plain wrong, they are much more likely to judge you rather quickly, and decide whether to remain loyal to you, on how you deliver your advice. So, in practice, your verbal communication is very important, and will influence whether a client instructs you again. You should pay particular attention to the techniques set out so far in this chapter which will help you establish rapport, provide clarity in your advice, and allow you to be at your most persuasive, through what you say and how you choose to say it. The articles in the Further Reading section will help you to develop these techniques for practice.
10.2.2 Presentations in practice
There are several reasons why you might need to deliver a presentation in legal practice. One is to pitch for new work. In effect this presentation is to sell the firm to a client, and the stakes are high as a good presentation can secure high value work from a reliable client over a sustained period of time (see the Essential explanation which follows). Other reasons are to deliver training or advice, either internally to trainees, your peers, or other departments in the firm, or externally, to clients. In this type of presentation you need to convey your message clearly, succinctly and persuasively, in a way which will appeal to your audience. Finally, you may be delivering a presentation in order to recruit new trainees for your firm, for example, when presenting to a law school, in which case your presentation needs to fulfill both the selling and training functions. As earlier, thinking about your audience is paramount, and key to your preparation and delivery of an influential presentation with impact.
Larger clients will put their legal work out to competitive tender, which is sometimes referred to as a beauty parade (because it involves law firms showing how attractive they are in order to win the competition). Usually the beauty parade involves a panel of people from each firm having to present to a panel of people from the client as to why they are the best firm for the job, and this presentation is known as a pitch. Lawyers and members of the firm’s business development team will invest a significant amount of time preparing the pitch and tailoring the selling message to the client.
Law firms will visit university careers fairs to advertise their graduate vacancies, with a view to recruiting the best candidates to work for them. This was known as the milk round, to reflect the atypical position that the employers are delivered to the students at their universities, just like milk is delivered to people at their homes. Most firms no longer recruit directly in the milk round, but instead will advertise why they are a good place to work as a lawyer and encourage students to apply using their centralised and uniform (often online) application process.
10.2.2.2 Structure and content
As with for presentations during your studies, Figure 9.1 will provide essential help in preparing the content and increasing the effectiveness of any problem-style presentation, and (p. 323) Figure 14.1 of any essay-style presentation. You will recall that Figure 10.1 amalgamates the two, and this is likely to be particularly helpful to prepare presentations for practice, which are likely to be a hybrid of the two styles. This is because, however much the presentation you have been asked to give may seem to resemble the essay style, unlike in your studies, in practice you are likely to know at least some facts about the recipient, your client, and so will be expected to apply the relevant law to any facts you do know, however basic.
10.2.2.3 Persuasive communication
During your studies, you may end a problem-style presentation (as with an answer to a problem-question) with a conclusion that identifies a cause of action and a remedy, and leave it there. Similarly, you may conclude an essay-style presentation with a definitive conclusion, based on your own view informed by critical analysis. Chapters 9 and 14 explain that, in both cases, in practice, there is more to do at the conclusion stage. You may need to help the client evaluate options, manage their expectations, and, in some cases, persuade them of the merits of seeing sense, if they have their head in the sand. Example 6 illustrates this point. In order to do this, you will need to be as interactive as possible in your presentation.
You need to keep in mind relevant professional ethical matters and the SRA’s Codes of Conduct, such as not mentioning confidential matters about other clients (see 6.4).
10.2.2.5 Practical considerations
During your studies, you may have little control over the environment in which you deliver your presentation. As you enter practice, or practice-focused units, this is something you will be expected to consider. The following guidance will help you.
Setting up your room
Consider this from the audience’s perspective. The layout of the room can make a difference to your presentation.
Will your audience be able to hear you?
Test the acoustics. Consider whether there is likely to be any background noise. Check if there is a microphone you can use. If the audience is struggling to hear, they will switch off. Always ask the audience at the beginning of the presentation if they can hear, and encourage them to let you know if they cannot. Also remember to ask the audience to turn off their mobile telephones, and always remember to switch off your own. As a presenter, there should not be a need to switch your telephone to silent mode, and switching it off is a better solution. However, if you are in the audience and you must leave your telephone on, then make sure it is set to silent mode and that your silent mode settings do not allow the telephone to vibrate.
Will your audience be able to read your slides?
We have discussed what you can do to make your slides readable at 10.1.3.7. However, the layout of the room may prevent the audience from reading even the best slides. Check if there is anything impeding the audience’s view, or whether people at the back are too far away, and change the layout of the room accordingly. Take hard copies of the slides with you (p. 324) in case you cannot overcome any problems with audience members being able to read the screen. Do not obstruct their view yourself by standing in front of the screen.
Will your audience be able to interact with you?
The best presenters engage with their audience. This can be difficult to do if you are far away from them, or on a stage. Do what you can with the room to make it as intimate as possible. When you have exhausted the possibilities for this, then there are other steps you can take to allow you to interact with your audience. If they have all sat at the back of the room, encourage them to come to the front just before you start. If you are on a platform or stage, it can be very effective to leave it from time to time and walk among your audience. You will need to have a cordless microphone and mouse to do this most effectively, so that the audience can still hear you and you do not have to return to the stage to progress your slides.
Do your audience need anything?
It is usual to leave at least a pen and some paper for each member of the audience, in case they arrive unprepared for taking notes. Law firms often have branded pens and paper for this purpose, which will also help with business development. You should have prepared a handout for use during the session, so it is helpful to put this out in advance too, and to leave copies on spare chairs for any latecomers. If you have prepared further notes to take away, consider whether you want to give these out at the beginning or the end. Consider whether you should leave anything else on chairs for business development purposes (such as business cards, brochures, or other branded materials). You should also check whether the room will have WiFi. If not, then make sure you take screenshots of any webpages you intend to show instead of using hyperlinks.
Do you need anything from your audience?
You may wish to capture the audience’s contact details for networking or marketing purposes. If so, you will need to think about how to capture this information lawfully, in accordance with data protection laws such as The Data Protection Act 2018 (the UK’s implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)).
If you are delivering a presentation at someone else’s premises, do not assume you have no control over the layout. If you can show that you are putting the needs of your audience first, then your enquiries are likely to be well received by the person who has control of the room. Always arrive well in advance of your presentation too. You want to spend the time before your presentation welcoming your audience as they arrive, networking and generally making a good first impression. You will not be able to do this if you are setting up your presentation on your laptop. As a general rule, aim to arrive at least an hour before you are due to begin. You need enough time to get lost on the way, go to the toilet, check your appearance, greet your host, set up (sometimes completely rearrange) the room, wait for IT to fix any glitches with the technology, write up any information on a whiteboard or flip chart, check you have all the equipment you need, and then be ready to network before you begin.
Often you will be asked what equipment you need, or told what equipment will be available. The following list of equipment is a good guide as to what you might need.
● laptop or tablet;
● back up copy on a memory stick or in cloud storage;
(p. 325) ● projector and screen;
● cordless mouse;
● cordless microphone;
● marker pens;
● pens/pencils for the audience;
● paper for the audience;
● name cards or badges.
10.2.2.6 Commercial awareness
Make sure you are aware of what is going on in the world around you and your target audience. Read newspapers, read Part III of this book, and pay particular attention in the run up to your presentation not only to developments in the legal field but also to issues which are close to the heart of your audience.
10.2.2.7 Visual aids, notes, scripts, and prompts
You might imagine that your approach to visual aids, notes, scripts, and prompts in practice might differ to that during your studies, because the law and events you are dealing with are more complex. This is not so. You should continue to use what you have learned from 10.1.3.7–10.1.3.9, which is best practice whatever the context. Whether during your studies, in practice, or in a wedding speech, a script will not enhance the audience’s experience. In addition, all of your visual aids and notes must meet a professional standard, and follow your firm’s house style (see 18.104.22.168) which will include font, colour, and design. You should be referring to the client company and directors by name, and applying the law to any facts you have about the company, rather than using a ‘one size fits all’ set of slides.
A presentation in practice
Read Example 3 in Chapter 15, which explains what happened to Patisserie Valerie in 2018/19. Imagine you are invited by Juke Lonson, CEO, to deliver to the board of directors of Café Catherine a ‘refresher presentation’ about insolvency law and director’s duties, as a follow up to that which you delivered three years ago. The title is, ‘Insolvency and Directors’ Duties: a refresher for Café Catherine’.
Purpose and Title
Have a curious mind about why the board has asked you to present on this subject, and why they have asked you now. Has the board recently changed, or is there a possibility the company is in financial difficulty? Resist making assumptions. In practice, you can ask. In practice assessments, look for clues in the question about context, and prepare for any eventuality.
Research and commercial awareness
The title has given you the relevant law: insolvency and directors’ duties. You would use the skills set out in Chapters 7 and 8 to find and read the relevant law (here, legislation and case law), using the research strategy at Figure 8.1. Before reading the primary sources, you would use a decent secondary source to both identify the primary sources and provide commentary about what you might expect to find in them. Now that you are researching the law for practice, an electronic database, such as Practical Law or Lexis®PSL, will be particularly helpful, because they will include commentary which is specifically practice-focused. They will make clear, for example, the draconian effect of the sanctions that directors can face in theory, and make the link to a domino effect that can lead from corporate insolvency to personal insolvency. They will also provide important information about the extent to which those theoretical sanctions have been used in practice, and any current trends or imminent reform. You should also refresh your relevant commercial awareness. What is happening in the economy and the client’s sector. How are its competitors? Has the client, its competitors, or the sector been in the news recently? What announcements have they made?
You need to check how long they are expecting the presentation to last, and tailor your content, or otherwise manage the client’s expectations if they are unrealistic. The board will have other events scheduled into their day, and so your timing is as important as for any assessment during your studies. As discussed in 20.1.7, costs are also calculated by reference to time, among other things.
Client Matters and Professional Ethics
● Cost. You would need to consider costs generally, and discuss them with the client in good time before you begin your presentation, so you are all in agreement. Are you charging for this presentation, and if so, how much is your hourly rate, and how long will your presentation take? Will you be charging for travel, in terms of tickets, petrol and/or time taken? (You might like to consider the following ethical issue: if you are travelling by train to see one client, and do some work while on the train for another, can you charge both clients for that same time?). What effect might the particular topic of your presentation have on your decisions about costs, if at all?
● Acting in the client’s best interests. Sometimes this involves having a difficult conversation with the client (see 6.4.3, and ‘Persuasive oral communication’ later in this example).
● Conflict. If this is a new client, you would need to conduct a conflict check to make sure your firm does not have to refuse to act for conflict reasons. (You would also have to comply with anti-money laundering guidance.3) See 6.4.3
● Confidentiality. You need to comply with the SRA’s confidentiality requirements in its Codes of Conduct (see 6.4.3). What will be your response if the client discloses something to you about their adverse financial position?
Structure and content
If you were answering this in writing, would it most resemble a problem question, or an essay? There are elements, here, of both, because you have information about the client, and will be able to access some facts about the company, however it is not as specific as a title such as ‘What to do now you have discovered the issue of fraud in your accounts’ … and so in some ways this resembles an essay question, where you will have to outline the law and provide examples, not based in any fact provided, by way of illustration. As such, using Figure 10.1, we will use the hybrid model to prepare an effective presentation.
Where will the presentation take place? Do you have a choice, and what is your preference? You should run through the list at 10.2.2.5 to ensure that you have thought about what you need, in advance.
Visual aids, notes, scripts, and prompts
You should prepare these to a professional standard, using your firm’s house style, well in advance, to give you plenty of time to proofread, and familiarise yourself with the content. The more you practise your presenting skills including, for example, the summarising key issues, the more you will be able to cope to assimilate and present information effectively on the occasion you are not given as much notice as you would have liked.
Persuasive oral communication
You would use the techniques set out at 10.1.3.6, bearing in mind that there is likely to be more scope for, and indeed more expectation of, interaction using the techniques described than there might be during your academic studies:
● Engage the board; address them by name, apply the law to the facts you know about the client company and the board. Consider the impact of hearing ‘you, as directors, have a duty’ rather than ‘company directors have a duty’.
● Use open and closed questions (see 11.1.8) and silences to fill in any remaining gaps about the purpose of your presentation. Is there something specific, and timely, informing their request?
● As explained, you may need to draw on your powers of persuasion in this practical context, compared to during your studies. For example, discussing remedies and sanctions for breach, including:
● personal liability, (fines, prison, and disqualification from working as a director)
● the effect on the company (the end of the company; loss of jobs (including those of the directors))
● loss of income profit by way of dividend for shareholders (including directors who are shareholders)
● the likely loss of their capital investment (being bottom of the list for return of capital)
● needing to honour any personal guarantees
works very persuasively, as you might imagine, to focus the mind and pull any heads out of any sand in which they may be buried.
● Conversely, if you omitted this detail from your presentation, then the outcome of it might be to convince the board that the situation is not as concerning as they thought it might be, and nothing too awful is likely to happen.
● Compassion and empathy are also important. If you anticipate that the effect of your presentation might be to bring your client out of a state of denial and into a state of awareness, you need to anticipate the emotional impact too, and adjust your tone accordingly. Make sure they feel heard.
● Conversely, is the client reacting in a way which suggests they have not heard your message, for example, are they preoccupied with calling a board meeting to discuss their next pay rise? Are all directors acting similarly, or not? What are they telling you, by their verbal and non-verbal communication? How will you bring up the subject of fraud in your presentation, and how do you anticipate you might feel when you do that?
● Having some flexibility in your approach will help you to reach your goal, if your preferred approach is not working (see 22.214.171.124).
● Consider what follow up activity is necessary, and have you addressed this so your client is clear about what will happen next. For example:
● do you need to arrange a meeting to provide further advice (see Chapter 11)?
● how are you going to respond to any questions you may have been asked but need to look up?
● will you be following up with an email?
● do you have any notes to leave the client or will you be emailing them?
● do you need the client to do anything as a follow up to the meeting?
● what, specifically, are the next steps?
● Oral communication comprises both verbal and non-verbal communication.
● There are ways to address issues with non-verbal communication; self-awareness is the key.
● Confidence can be practised.
● Recognise and take every opportunity to practise oral presentations during your studies, however informal (for example, speaking in class).
● Adopt an inclusive practice; the needs of your audience are key.
● Think carefully about your visual aids, and their purpose.
● In practice, practicalities such as setting up the room are important aspects reflecting your attitude to client care.
As technology continues to evolve in such a way that clients can now obtain legal advice and insight through a wider variety of media than ever before (including webinars, podcasts, videos, blogs, Tweets, and other social media as well as by Skype, letters, emails, and telephone calls), the skill of being able to communicate effectively has never been more important for a career in law.
I first practised these skills during interviewing practice on the Legal Practice Course. I remember having reams of notes with me, but suddenly realising that being a solicitor meant so much more than knowing and understanding the law: I needed to be able to think on the spot, select the most relevant points from my legal knowledge and then articulate them to a layperson in a simple and meaningful way. My notes were actually nothing more than a safety net and the real skill lay in being able to explain complex legal concepts to someone with little or no legal knowledge.
Since then, I’ve continued to develop and adapt my communication skills throughout my career. As an employment solicitor, I regularly advised HR professionals and business owners with limited legal knowledge, but would take a slightly different approach to advising experienced in-house employment counsel. Frequently, I’d be negotiating with other employment solicitors on the other side of a case/issue, which requires a different approach again and I’d also attend at the Employment Tribunal to conduct advocacy, where a more formal and procedural style is appropriate. Finally, I was fortunate to spend time with a client on secondment, where I was advising a wide variety of people within the business on the day-to-day management of legal matters and even presenting to large groups of employees to up-skill them in certain areas. Now, in my current role, I am responsible for training both clients and the solicitors in our team on employment law matters. I do this in a variety of different ways, including face-to-face training sessions, producing written or video articles, and posting about employment law issues on social media. Communication is key for all of these aspects to my role and I think it always will be. So, for anyone considering a career in law, my advice would be to start practising early!
Helen Almond, 2001 LPC student and Senior Knowledge Lawyer in the Employment, Incentives and Immigration Group at Addleshaw Goddard LLP.
(p. 329) Practical exercises
Consider how you would answer these questions. Reflect on how your reading of this chapter has informed or changed how you might answer them. How might you use what you have learned in an interview or exam situation?
1. What do you do in terms of body language that you need to pay attention to? What effect might this have on your communication skills?
2. What is your preferred learning style? What would you do in a presentation to make sure you appealed to those in the audience who have a different learning style from you?
3. Who do you admire for their communication skills? Can you articulate precisely what it is that they do that you admire? Is this transferable into what you do now, as a student, or will do later, as a professional?
4. If you can, find and watch all or some of the The Richard Dimbleby Lecture 2018, presented by Professor Jeanette Winterson (referred to in Further Reading), which is 45 minutes long. (For example, if you have Box of Broadcasts, at the time of writing you can find it here: The Richard Dimbleby Lecture 22:45 06/06/2018, BBC1 London, 45 mins. https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/prog/1165D976?bcast=126849762.) Reflect on the effectiveness of Professor Winterson’s communication skills to influence and have her message heard. What does she do to engage and inspire her audience? How is she remembering the content of her presentation? What else about her presentation strikes you, having read this chapter?
5. Watch Lady Hale delivering her summary of the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Miller case (which you read in Chapter 7) available on the Supreme Court website (https://www.supremecourt.uk/watch/uksc-2019-0192/judgment.html). Reflect on the effectiveness of Lady Hale’s communication skills to influence and have her message heard. In what way does Lady Hale’s presentation style differ from Professor Winterson’s, and why might this be?
6. Watch, and reflect on, Emma Watson’s presentation to the UN, on women and leadership at university, via an interesting article on the British Council website (https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/how-overcome-fear-public-speaking). What can you learn from this? In what way does her presentation style differ from Lady Hale’s, and Professor Winterson’s, and why might this be?
7. Read and reflect on Luke Johnson’s reaction to his business’ collapse (see Unwin, Further Reading). How, if at all, does this inform your chosen approach to making presentations in practice as a lawyer?
Visit the online resources for the authors’ reflections and to check your progress.
Bridge Group (2018) Socio-economic background and early career progression in the law. Available at: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5c18e090b40b9d6b43b093d8/t/5cd180d73cfb160001436429/1557233888333/03+Research+2018+Progression+law.pdfFind this resource:
—Working with eight global law firms and the Sutton Trust, this study examines the correlation between background characteristics and early career progression in the legal profession. The research includes the analysis of data relating to over 2,800 early career professionals and interviews with current and former employees. It provides a compelling evidence base to drive a shift in mindset, and to boost firms’ efforts to increase socio-economic diversity and inclusion in the legal sector.
Eswaran, V., 2019. The business case for diversity in the workplace is now overwhelming. World Economic Forum. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/business-case-for-diversity-in-the-workplace/
—An article which references multiple studies to argue that diversity has a positive financial impact in the workplace.
Gorman, C.K. (2011) Forbes. The Art and Science of Mirroring. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolkinseygoman/2011/05/31/the-art-and-science-of-mirroring/#761fda3c1318Find this resource:
—This article explains the concept of mirroring (‘limbic synchrony’) and how you can use it to establish rapport and build good business relationships.
Honey, P. and Mumford, A. (2006) The Learning Styles Questionnaire. Maidenhead: Peter Honey Publications LimitedFind this resource:
—A useful source of further information on learning styles.
Johnson, R. and Johnson, N. (2016) British Council. How to overcome your fear of public speaking. Available at: https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/how-overcome-fear-public-speakingFind this resource:
—An interesting article analysing the public speaking techniques used by Emma Watson in her presentation to the UN about leadership and women in university.
Kurt, S. ‘Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to Write Effective Learning Objectives: The ABCD Approach’ in Educational Technology, April 24, 2019. Available at: https://educationaltechnology.net/using-blooms-taxonomy-to-write-effective-learning-objectives-the-abcd-approach/Find this resource:
—A quick guide to writing learning outcomes that you can use to inform your presentations in the classroom.
Microsoft. Create a Presentation in PowerPoint. Available at: https://support.office.com/en-gb/article/create-a-presentation-in-powerpoint-422250f8-5721-4cea-92cc-202fa7b89617Find this resource:
—A link to PowerPoint training on the Office website. Learn how to create presentations from scratch or a template, add text, images, art, and videos, select a professional design with PowerPoint Designer, add transitions, animations, and motion, save to OneDrive, to get to your presentations from your computer, tablet, or phone, and share and work with others, wherever they are.
Noah. A. (2018) Presentation Panda. The Pros and Cons of Amazon’s ‘No PowerPoint’ policy. Available at: https://presentationpanda.com/blog/the-pros-and-cons-of-amazons-no-powerpoint-policy/Find this resource:
—A blog post discussing how Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, banned PowerPoint in meetings in favour of narrative, and what we can learn about visual aids as a result.
—In this short video, Dr Richard Bandler, the co-creator of neuro-linguistic programming, gives his tips for charismatic and inspirational public speaking.
Smith, L. (2019) ‘Why we need to tackle discrimination at work’. Available at: https://uk.finance.yahoo.com/news/accent-bias-why-we-need-to-tackle-discrimination-at-work-115900839.htmlFind this resource:
—An article exploring research findings that employers make discriminating decisions based on regional accents.
Social Mobility Business Partnership (2019) Social Mobility Business Partnership. Available at: https://smbp.org.uk/Find this resource:
—Provides opportunities and support for students from less privileged backgrounds, to break down psychological ‘fitting in’ barriers.
Solicitors Regulation Authority (2019) ‘The business case for diversity’. Available at: https://www.sra.org.uk/risk/risk-resources/risk-business-case-diversity/Find this resource:
—This paper is about the business benefits of a diverse and inclusive legal profession. It provides practical examples of the actions firms can take and what the SRA are doing to support firms.
Tsaousides. T. (2017) Psychology Today. How to Conquer the Fear of Public Speaking: Are you ready for a standing ovation? Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/smashing-the-brainblocks/201711/how-conquer-the-fear-public-speakingFind this resource:
—A neuropsychologist advises how you can train your brain to overcome the most common phobia, the fear of public speaking.
Urwin, R. (2019) ‘I felt like fleeing UK, says Patisserie Valerie boss Luke Johnson’, The Times, 9 June. Available at: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/i-felt-like-fleeing-uk-says-patisserie-valerie-boss-0tb70z5zxFind this resource:
—The former chairman of Patisserie Valerie reveals that his ego took such a battering after his business collapsed that he considered fleeing the country, developed chronic insomnia, was despairing, rarely ventured out and felt ashamed that he had brought such difficulties upon his family.
Winterson, J. (2018) The Dimbleby Lecture: ‘Don’t protect me, respect me’. The House of Lords. BBC. 6 June 2018Find this resource:
—A hundred years on from the first women in the UK securing the right to vote, and 60 years since women could be members of the House of Lords for the first time, Professor Jeanette Winterson in her Dimbleby Lecture engages her audience in examining the recent campaigns promoting the equality of women and explores what can be learnt from the Suffragette movement a century ago.
For the authors’ reflections on the practical exercises, additional self-test questions, sample interview questions and a library of links to useful websites, visit the free online resources.
1 Wintour, P. (2015) ‘The Undoing of Ed Miliband—and how Labour lost the election’ The Guardian, 3 June 2015.
2 Bradbury, N. (2016). American Physiological Society. Attention span during lectures: 8 seconds, 10 minutes, or more? Available at: https://www.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/advan.00109.2016.