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If you law practice includes trial work, you undoubtedly know the importance of a good presentation. If you are presenting to a judge or jury, a good oral argument can make or break your case. The same is true for any presentation. If you stayed up late enough last night, you may have caught Congresswoman Michelle Bachman's Teaparty response to the President's State of the Union Speech. Needless to say, it was a prime example of what not to do.
I hate to pick on a former lawyer. Giving any kind of oral argument can be nerve racking. But as one of the most important legal blogs in the nation based on totally fabricated statistics, it is my duty to point out the lesson to be learned for my readers. Last night, Congresswoman Bachmann was selected to give the Teaparty rebuttal to President Obama's State of the Union speech. She had a difficult road ahead of her. The Harvard Law graduate gave a text book example of a good speech. He made eye contact. He wove in humor. He knew his material. He established a rapport with his audience.
A graduate of the now defunct Oral Roberts Law School, Congresswoman Bachmann needed to hit one out of the park. The Teaparty favorite used to work for the government representing the IRS in "hundreds of cases" prosecuting people who underpaid or failed to pay their taxes. As such, she should have the skills. In my humble opinion, she struck out. Whatever her message was, it was lost on the audience.
Perhaps I am being too harsh towards the Congressman. Nevertheless, I couldn't help thinking I was watching a bad weather girl audition for some small market television station. It appeared to be a hastily thrown together school project, put together the night before it was due. Bachmann kept looking away from the camera. I felt the need to move to the left side of my couch. When she lost eye contact with me, she immediately lost her message. She used random visual aides. A picture of Iwo Jima? Her message was supposed to be on the economy. Were we at war with the Japanese? Had she confused the Japanese with the Chinese? Whatever he message was I humbly offer the Congresswoman the following tips:
1. Make Eye Contact With Your Audience: Congresswoman Bachman seemed to lose her audience the moment she lost eye contact. Her audience couldn't help but wonder what was she staring at off camera. The effectiveness of her message became lost. As you're speaking, it's a good idea to make eye contact with your audience. Don't stare or dart your eyes around the room. Three second glances is a good rule of thumb. It will give your audience the sense that they are involved.
2. Keep a steady pace. If you notice when the President speaks, he tends to pause to let his words sink in. Let your audience think about what you said. Be careful not to over use the pauses. You will come off sounding like a caricature of William Shatner on Star Trek.
3. Add Humor When Appropriate. Humor can be a tool to keep your audience interested. Some people just aren't funny. If you completely lack a sense of humor, you may want to skip this tip. If you do add humor to your presentations, try to make it appropriate. For example, you don't want to tell fat jokes at a Jenny Craig convention.
4. Use visual aids when appropriate. Another problem the Congresswoman had was her use of visual aids. Before giving your presentation, it is a good idea to make sure everything is in proper working order. In her case, the camera angle was off. Apparently, she was looking at a second camera for a tea party internet feed. The set up had complications and did not work. She also used visual aids that seemed to be placed awkwardly behind her. As she tried to point to things on a graph, she looked off camera. Her presentation came off looking odd.
5. If Possible, Do not Read from Notes: If your presentation requires you to stare down at a piece of paper for long periods of time, you will lose your audience.I like to prepare bullet points to jog my memory and to keep my thoughts in sequence. You will look less confident.
6. Your Body Language Also Sends a Message: Are you slouching? Are you making proper hand gestures? Are you fidgeting? Body language can exude incompetence or competence. You want to be the latter.
7. Emphasize Your Strong Points. You want to send your message home. Speak with conviction and emphasize the strengths in your case.
8. Know When to Shut Up. In the age of twitter and soundbites, it is becoming increasingly difficult to hold the attention of audiences with increasingly shorter attention spans. Sadly, the days of long eloquent orations have been replaced within the confines of 140 character tweets. You don't want to lose your audience. So know when to shut up.