CLE Speakers NEED Public Speaking Training
This past week I spoke at a State Bar convention. I had a great audience (with a few of the usual exceptions, to be blogged about next), and I had fun giving the presentation.
I presented a shortened version of one of my attorney speaking seminars “Improving your Public Speaking Skills.” The host of the event invited my company to exhibit in exchange for my presentation, which was great because I (and my staff) stayed for a great deal longer than usual and we had much more interaction with the event attendees as well.
While walking around the exhibit hall for 2.5 days I chatted up a bunch of the attendees. And, unfortunately, the consensus was that the vast majority of speakers at the annual convention needed public speaking training – before they presented their CLEs to the bar attendees.
I know this is a pretty common issue, since I used to be a practicing attorney and I know how bad CLE programs can get. Additionally, my company puts on 60 – 70 CLE ligitation skills training programs per year; so I even know that some speakers are resistant to public speaking training and suggestions for improvement.
What I don’t understand is why bar associations don’t make the investment and offer training programs, or DVDs, to the attorneys who are going to speak at the bar’s annual event. It’s a small investment compared to the event budget and income and the rewards always outweigh the cost.
I understand that not all of the speakers will take you up on your offered training, but enough of them will to make a difference and to cut down on attendees’ dissapointment and complaints.
Not surprisingly several attendees told me they weren’t sure they would return the next year due to the quality of presentations they saw.
Here is an open plea to bar associations:
You don’t have to hire me to train your CLE speakers at your annual events, but you do have to hire someone. Or at least license someone’s training program to distribute to your speakers.
Or maybe even just buy Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen or Nancy Duarte’s Slide:ology in bulk and send them off to all CLE speakers booked for your annual event. Yes, I really wish I’d written one of these books 20 years ago when I first started complaining about Power Point.
Seriously, do something!
Faith, this is so true. And it’s not just at CLEs. I’m actually shocked by the number of presenters at State Bar events and professional seminars that appear as if it’s their first time presenting to a group.
RULE 1: In my (admittedly limited) experience, event organizers tend to focus on having a harmoniously-developed event in which speakers are made happy, rather then be a hard-@ss’d byotch who sets standards that will be met or the speaker ejected.
RULE 2: As long as CLEs don’t come with measurable standards for learning (other than mere physical attendance), organizers need not care that learning doesn’t occur.
RULE 3: For someone to admit that they are not an excellent public speaker can be very difficult, yet it is as absurd to assume one can be a competent public speaker without training as it would be to assume one can sink a 3-point shot without coaching. A very few are “naturals” (…but it’s surprising how many “naturals” practice and practice and practice …); the rest of us mere mortals need the training, but may not be able to admit it, since it’s a weakness. Suggesting to a speaker that he needs to do something about his “uhms” or perhaps do something other than read his powerpoint slides risks offending the speaker and violate Rule 1.
P.S. The old-timey Toastmasters has been very good for me, since it was both a training experience and a social event. Hopefully public speaking training can be made fun as well as useful!
Thanks for taking the time to read the post and comment. I think.
I pretty much disagree with everything you said other than your P.S. about Toastmasters, which is a very valuable organization that I strongly recommend people join if they want to improve their skills and/or reduce their fear of public speaking.
I am not sure if you are referring to me as the “hard-@ss’d byotch” or not, but I presume you are since I’m a woman and you used the standard epithet thrown at women. If you weren’t then you might want to re-consider how you post comments, as it’s a pretty nasty way to start off a discussion.
My response is as follows: That’s the problem. Attorneys pay a lot to go to CLE events and conventions, as you know. Associations that put on events, and CLE organizers like myself, have a responsibility to provide a modicum of training to their speakers to ensure quality programs. As I mentioned, not everyone will take the offer, both those that do, will.
Public speaking is a skill. It is a learnable skill that everyone, and I do mean everyone, can improve upon with training and effort. Not everyone will be JFK or MLK, but everyone can get better, just like they can in golf (your analogy) or martial arts, or tennis, or painting, or singing, or acting, or cooking, or spelling, or writing, etc.
Yes, it is also a talent, but there are some basic rules (not even counting the advanced techniques) that can be incorporated into any presentation to make it better for the audience and the speaker.
I really hate broad based all or nothing statements like your Rule #2 above. I’ve been a CLE “organizer” (private provider) for eight years and I care very much about the quality of our programs and that learning occurs. Not everyone does, but I know a lot of bar association organizers that do care. Unfortunately, I know a lot of people that speak at bar CLE events that don’t care (and I’ve met quite a few organizers that don’t care as well).
Careful screening is needed, as is good communication from organizer to speaker, as are clear expectations. I’m not getting into the debate over “measureable standards” here, but I do strongly insist that speakers need to know what is expected of them and they need to appreciate that they must make an effort at CLE programs to provide valuable information in an understandable manner.
As far as careful screening… that’s the point of standards and I firmly believe there is no reason to invite back a speaker who that doesn’t meet those standards. “hard assed” or not. That is especially true because the bottom line is, CLE audiences will tolerate and forgive A LOT if the speaker provides quality information, even if they aren’t a top-notch speaker. What they won’t tolerate is laziness, disorganization, condescension, being completely off topic, an hour of nothing other than war stories, etc. All of this can be cured with a little training and instruction.
As far as your Rule #3 goes, I really don’t know what you are getting at. First, it’s actually pretty easy to admit you need help with your public speaking. I have people come up to me regularly at all of our public speaking for attorneys seminars and admit that they don’t speak well and want help. In fact, I’d estimate that at least 2/3 of every audience in that course admits that they need help improving (I ask every person, one-on-one, as I walk around before I speak, what they’d like to learn).
Second, it’s not like you’re admitting you’re an alcoholic. Third, you don’t even need to admit it; if you’re going to speak in public, you just need to learn the skill in the same way you learn how to be a lawyer, whether you admit it to someone or not.
Fourth, I really don’t know what you’re talking about in your last sentence of Rule #3. Public speaking training encompasses a myriad of options, tips, techniques, and areas of improvement, from paying attention to who your audience is and meeting their wants and needs, to being organized, to having a good introduction and conclusion, to using stories, using transitions, varying one’s vocals, using interesting analogies, etc. Visit any blog on public speaking skills and you’ll see hundreds of suggestions on how to improve your public speaking skills, way beyond just “not reading your power point slides” or saying “um.”
I certainly have never refused to invite a speaker back to one of our CLE programs for saying “um” too many times, but I definitely would if I encountered a CLE speaker who did nothing more than read Power Point slides to an audience. No audience wants that.
As I mentioned, I am still unclear as to the overall point of your comment, but I do agree that Toastmasters is an excellent group and I have heard it is very fun.