PRESENTATION SKILLS IN A LEGAL CONTEXT
Essentially an advocate’s task is one of presenting, as they need to:
- be heard (engage and maintain the audience’s interest)
- get the message across (select the right contents and emphasis)
- persuade the audience to accept the view advocated.
Aristotle identified three elements of persuasion:
- Ethos: the speaker has to convince the audience that he or she is credible, trustworthy, genuine and believable.
- Pathos: the speech must appeal to the emotions, so that the audience is psychologically inclined to accept the arguments.
- Logos: the arguments must be reasoned, and supported by law and fact.
Advocates must consider these key points when presenting:
- Addressing the audience
- Body language
Addressing the audience
Whether your audience is a judge, a jury, a group of lay magistrates or the Lords of Appeal, you always need to be clear and convincing. Consider who your audience is and tailor your presentation to make sure they will follow all your nuances and inferences.
Make sure you have prepared well, and have a structured and organised argument. Use notes and mind maps as prompts if you need them but remember that you will lose voice projection and eye contact if you are read from a speech. Presenting is not a test of fluency of reading. You should conduct yourself as an advocate, not a newsreader.
Everybody presents in a slightly different way and should find a personal style you are comfortable with. Try to be honest, sincere and authoritative (though you do not always need to be right). Try not to be pompous or arrogant. Ultimately, be yourself, an accomplished advocate, rather than an automaton.
Cultivate the art of fine speaking and the power of persuasion. Make sure you use appropriate and simple language (complex language can obscure the message) and keep your role and audience in mind. Where appropriate, use active language rather than passive phrases and make use of questions, emotion and repetition. Consider the pace of your presentation and include pauses for effect if required.
Be sure to consider your appearance, posture and performance when you are presenting. Different stances can communicate confidence or make you look like a bag of nerves. Think about how you interact with other people in the presentation, and the signals your appearance and behaviour may be sending.
Try it yourself! In no more than five minutes, try and persuade a friend to do something which they have never done before. How easy did you find that? What tactics worked well?