Improve Your Delivery by Avoiding These 7 "Deadly Sins" of Public Speaking During Legal Training

Legal training preparation often involves researching and summarizing topics of legal substance, such as the elements of a discrimination claim or new case law defining "foreign officials" under FCPA. 

Of course, it's important for corporate counsel to be up to speed on the law to provide effective legal training.

But there's a part of training we rarely practice or research:

The Delivery 

The "Delivery" refers to the way we present information to employees. It includes qualities such as tone, posture, eye-contact, mannerisms, presentation medium and style. 

Why don't we research or practice our Delivery, which is arguably just as important as our knowledge of the law?

Here's why: it's a lot easier to focus on what you know (the law) and get on with your day than to put in the time to develop effective Delivery strategies.

Let's be honest. How often do you drill down to the basics of getting people to listen to you? Like me, I bet you haven't thought much about it since your public speaking class in college. 

But think about this. Does it matter how well you know the law if you don't effectively communicate it to employees?

No. 

There's so much information out there on Delivery. Where do you start?

You start with the absolute basics.

Speaking so people to want to listen to you. 

Julian Treasure is an expert on speaking and motivating audiences. He has given a number of TED Talks, but the most relevant for corporate counsel is "How to Speak So That People Want to Listen."

In the video, Julian details the "7 Deadly Sins" of speaking which corporate counsel should avoid to prevent employees from tuning out during legal training. Each of the sins is a bad habit which stunts our ability to connect with our audience. 

1. Gossip

We usually think of gossip occurring over the phone or a cup of coffee when a group of friends complains about someone who's not present. But how often during training have you heard (or said) negative comments about a current or past employee who isn't in the room? 

This is gossip, and it will prevent employees from listening to your message.

Gossip can be extremely detrimental to the effectiveness of your legal training. You undermine your credibility when you speak negatively about someone else (even if it's an example of a "what-not-to-do). Employees will tune out your message as they focus on the negative aspects of the conversation.  

It's important for corporate counsel to rise above gossip during legal training (and really all the time). You can prevent the same by never "naming names" and redirecting employees if you sense the conversation heading in a negative direction. 

2. Judging

"It's very hard to listen to somebody if you know that you're being judged and found wanting."

"Judging" (or the perception thereof) is a common trap for corporate counsel. How do you discuss the company's deficiencies without employees feeling like you're judging them directly?

One helpful tip is never to call out an individual or a group directly. Keep any discussion of areas of improvement to the company as a whole. Additionally, I've found it helpful to talk about improvements as "best practices" versus focusing on the negative (i.e., the current lack of "best practices"). 

3. Negativity

It's really hard to listen to someone with a negative message. Unfortunately, negativity can be status quo for legal training presentations which are often focused on gaps in employee skills or corporate processes. 

Instead, focus your message on the positive developments at the company. By highlighting specific examples where employees have excelled (e.g., where an employee helped expose a problematic transaction, etc.), it will take some of the sting out of your discussion of the company's weaknesses. 

Feel free to call out specific employees for doing a great job! 

4. Complaining

"Complaining is viral misery." 

Corporate counsel should never use legal training as an arena for complaining. Even small complaints will cause employees tune out. How can they be expected to get excited about compliance training when you're complaining about how difficult it's going to be to get international customers to sign anti-corruption certifications?

Instituting best practices is already difficult. Don't make it any harder on yourself by complaining to your audience. 

5. Excuses

Don't use a "blamethrower". 

Spreading blame to individuals (or even groups) within a company is not productive. By avoiding the blame game during legal training, you will empower employees to take responsibility for themselves instead of thinking that your message is meant for someone else "blameworthy." 

Additionally, by accepting blame for your shortcomings (when applicable), employees will see you as honest and trustworthy. This leads to better relationships and more effective training. 

6. Exaggeration

Exaggerating the importance of your key points will quickly cause you to lose credibility (see diving soccer player above). Do you pay attention to messages that lack credibility? I bet not. 

Save BIG SCARY language for when it's actually merited. 

7. Confusing Fact & Opinion

It's difficult to listen when facts and opinions are mixed. This is a difficult concept in the "shades of grey" world of legal training, but sometimes attorneys get caught confusing their personal viewpoints for legal fact. 

Don't be that attorney. 

If you approach legal training with a black and white message, employees may stop listening if they've heard or read differently. In a world moving closer to information access parity between attorneys and employees, corporate counsel need to understand the grey areas and present the information with an honest viewpoint. 

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