Trials are all storytelling, nothing more . . . The problem is that we, as lawyers, have forgotten how to speak to ordinary folks . . . Lawyers long ago abandoned ordinary English. – Gerry Spence
A great speech is less about being perfect and more about understandably conveying your message. Lawyers need to effectively inform and convince a judge, jury, and even their client. To alleviate your public speaking anxiety, follow these tricks below.
1. Hold the Caffeine
A cup of coffee or two a day is the norm for many Americans in 2022. You may be used to getting your favorite caffeinated beverage every morning before you go to work or school. The day of a public speech could be a day to deviate from that routine. Caffeine is a stimulant that can make you jittery and increase anxiety, which is the exact opposite of what you need during public speaking. If you are prone to anxiety in public situations, caffeine will intensify your nerves further, making the situation worse.
There is another reason to hold off on the urge for that triple shot of coffee or the energy drinks. Coffee and overly caffeinated beverages can make you feel like you need to use the bathroom, which is not what you need when you’re up in front of a crowd. Needing to use the bathroom frequently can lead to dehydration, so in addition to feeling off, your throat could be dry when you try to speak. If you need caffeine to get through the day, consider lower caffeine alternatives to coffee or energy drinks, such as green tea.
2. Prepare, Prepare, and Prepare Some More
Nothing like being unprepared for an important presentation will make you feel overwhelmed. The only way to fix that is by preparing adequately. Have a deep understanding of the topic, make sure your presentation materials are clear and concise, and understand the technology you are working with to ensure any technical issues you face can be worked out quickly.
Practice the speech exhaustingly until you can rehearse it in your sleep. Ask a friend or family member to pretend to be an audience member and let you rehearse in front of them. This will let you practice your lines, and they can give you feedback on unclear things.
3. Make the Anxiety Work for You
Maybe you are someone who gets jittery and can not stop moving when you are nervous. Perhaps those nerves make you fumble your words or bounce too quickly from topic to topic in your speech. That can be problematic, but those nerves can be used to your advantage.
When you get nervous, your body goes into “fight or flight mode“. In this state of mind, your body generates more energy so that you can fight or run. As a public speaker, you should harness that extra energy and utilize it in your speech. Energetic and enthusiastic speakers are much more enjoyable to listen to and can get their audiences to respond with similar energy. Your ‘weakness’ of having heightened anxiety can be flipped to work for you.
4. Shrug off the Stumbles
You are human, which means you are not perfect. You will inevitably stumble over a word, mispronounce something, leave a point out of your speech that you intended to make, or do some combination of the three. It is okay! It happens to even the most outstanding speakers of all time. Listen to a few speeches by professional speakers like Bear Grylls, Magic Johnson, or Tim Tebow, and you will see they had their share of gaffes. The important thing is that they did not let these little mistakes get to them and derail their whole point. A good speaker can either shrug it off instantly or take a quick second to gather themselves and move on.