Attorneys and legal professionals often spend their days entrenched in the written word, but effectively delivering the spoken word is a vital skill for 21st century legal teams.
Knowing what to say and how to say it can help firms successfully attract talent, obtain new business and secure favorable rulings. Each of these outcomes requires an element of persuasion – a cornerstone of the legal profession since the beginning of civilization.
"In the 5th century BCE, persuasion was the cornerstone of Greek education because citizens were expected to represent themselves in legal matters, legislative debates, as well as in ceremonial settings like funerals,” says Christine Clapp, Founder and President of Spoken with Authority, a communication and presentation skills consultancy. “And while attorneys and legal professionals are more specialized today, their ability to cultivate a strong speaking presence to connect and influence is no less crucial."
Connecting with clients and influencing desired outcomes on their behalf is accomplished through strong communication skills. The tangible elements of speaking – facial expressions, stance, pace – contribute to establishing a connection with the audience. April Campbell is the Executive Director of Bennett Bigelow & Leedom P.S. and says an attorney’s strong executive presence inspires confidence not only in themselves but in the entirety of their firm.
“When clients are paying a fair amount of money for the services of a lawyer, they want to feel confident in the person and firm they have hired. Knowing how to display that genuine confidence and project that you are capable and reliable are key components. This is true not only for attorneys but for the business professionals and leaders of the firm,” Campbell says.
Campbell notes that employees of all types want to be confident in their leader’s ability to make good and informed decisions, particularly during a time of crisis or economic recession. Improved communication skills and an enhanced executive presence is important not only for attorneys but all members of a firm.
“The more people on your team with high levels of executive presence, the more successful the team will be, as truly great leaders also make great followers when the time is right.”
With the shift from boardrooms and courtrooms to online meeting rooms comes a shift in the way information is shared and received. The science of strong public speaking skills still applies but variables like lighting, microphone quality and internet connections now contribute to an audience’s response. James Cornell is the Office Administrator of Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P and says knowing how to meaningfully connect with a video meeting audience requires sincerity, presence and polish from the speaker.
“PowerPoint presentations cannot compensate for a lack of these qualities and when the audience is the board of directors for the firm or an important firm client, executive presence and the ability to create a feeling of being in the room is a differentiator between those that motivate and inspire confidence and those that merely communicate.”
As firms consider the type of professional development programs to pursue for their teams, speaking and presentation skills are worth strong consideration.