Be Present and Focus Before You Speak

(4 Minute Read)

When you are preparing to speak to an audience of one, or one thousand, you will stand alone. You will not be squaring off against a visible adversary. Instead, the adversary that we face lives within us and within our audience: doubt. That hesitation which exists when we are asked for the very first time to accept the unknown is the enemy, and the enemy must be vanquished. Conquering doubt is the key to success, and we conquer it through education and preparation.

In late 2017, I watched a newbie lawyer argue a case before a judge. He had mastered his research; he knew his stuff. Unfortunately, the fear and confusion in his eyes as the judge began to question him was reminiscent of a small rabbit in the talons of an eagle.

The young lawyer understood the method and rule of law, but he was ill prepared for the judge’s unexpected diversion. In show business, the interaction with spectators can lead us astray if we don’t learn to control the moment through experienced fluidity. We must roll with the punches.

We must set out with a script that proves our power to create belief and entertain, and no matter what occurs, we must guide our spectators back toward the conclusion that we are wonderful. We must understand how belief is created, reinforced, and argued. We must know how to use all available resources to create our desired reality.

Every presentation can be understood in the terms of an argument. According to Webster’s Dictionary, an argument is a reason given in proof or rebuttal; discourse intended to persuade; the act or process of arguing; a coherent series of statements leading from a premise to a conclusion.

An argument is not the throwing of dinner plates, getting a divorce, or fighting with a teenage child. While those moments are responsible for some of our most memorable arguments, they are extreme examples. Our culture has attached notions of anger and enmity to the concept of argument, but at its root level, an argument is simply an attempt to do more than make a statement or an assertion. It is an intentional act or series of intentional acts designed to allow others to conclude or believe that what you present is true rather than false.

We must prepare our presentations, whether on stage, in court, in the marketplace, or in the boardroom, as a series of intentional acts focused upon our desired conclusion that the audience will accept us and the world as we wish them to see it — our reality. Your audience may not care what you believe, but they will care about what you inspire them to believe. Only when you believe fully in the position of your argument—when you have bought in completely and without reservation—can you expect to persuade others to believe in it too.

During my career as criminal trial lawyer, I meticulously scripted every detail. I studied the facts and issues in the case until the intricacies were ingrained in my mind. I rehearsed and practiced each thought and phrase. Then, as I walked into a courtroom, I checked my notes and script at the door and became fluid. When we watch shows about lawyers on television, we see scripted dialogue and argument where, by virtue of the script, everyone knows what the next response will be and who will say it. In the real world, we must be ready for anything. Keeping a trial on your planned course is akin to herding cats. Just when you get a witness under control, opposing counsel acts contrary to your plan, or worse yet, the judge sustains an objection and you must move on without affect. Fear and weakness will cause a setback.

The script is essential, but we must have a built-in GPS to bring our presentations back on course. While our outlines and scripts are a road map, we need to have the fluidity to alter the course around detours and other unanticipated road blocks.

Much as a lawyer calls each witness to prove his case, you must use each point you make to prove your power and skill. Each word you intend to speak must contribute to the pool of evidence that supports the proposition or premise you seek to establish. All roads must lead to your credibility and believability.

The good news is that your audience is there, for the most part, by choice. In trial, the audience of jurors is forced under penalty of law to sit through the duration of the event. Talk about a tough crowd!