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Public speakers confess at INTA Annual Meeting

“My name is Brian and I am a public speaker,” confessed Brian W. Brokate of Gibney Anthony & Flaherty in the U.S. So began a series of testimonials from the eight speakers on a panel on public speaking yesterday about their presentation mishaps.

Designed to reassure novice presenters that they can bounce back from public speaking calamities, the session, Speak Your Mind: Public Speaking Gets Personal, saw the panelists recall wardrobe malfunctions, jokes that fell flat and forgetting their train of thought.

Daniela Rojas of U.S. based Hilborne Hawkin explained how a white dress she once wore for a keynote address had turned transparent under the stage lighting. “I was standing next to some very important people but all eyes were on me,” she said. “I started mumbling through my allotted 10-minute speech.”

Pier Luigi Roncaglia of Studio Legale in Italy talked about the time that he had to wear a mismatched blue suit for a television interview about counterfeiting after taking the wrong bag with him to the studio. “Italian men can be quite vain and care a lot about clothes,” he said. “It was all I was thinking about during the interview and for days afterwards. But of course no one noticed.”

Brokate himself talked about the time he listened to speaker after speaker talk about the issues he planned to address about during his end-of-the-day presentation at a conference. “As they spoke I crossed point after point off my list. My name was called out to go up on stage, I heard a rustling of papers as people hurried off to catch their flights home, and I realized I had nothing to say. So I said nothing.”

Once they finished recounting their tales of presentation problems, the speakers explained what their experiences had taught them about giving talks.

“Focus on the takeaway”, advised Casey Daum Nakata of Hewlett-Packard. “That’s my takeaway. Focus on who your audience is, what level of information they need and what you want them to take away from the session.”

She added that as something of an over-achiever, she was often tempted to cram every piece of relevant information into her presentations. “Don’t do it,” she said.

Brokate advised people not to rely too much on visual aids. “There should be more power than points in any PowerPoint presentation”. Unless they are powerful points, images and text can distract people from what you have to say.

The speakers advised presenters to be themselves. While humor can help a presentation, speakers should not feel obliged to shoehorn jokes into a talk. “We are lawyers, not comedians”, one of the panelists reminded would-be stand-up comics in the audience. “Above all, be yourself.”

Being yourself means finding what suits you best when it comes to preparing a talk. Understanding your material and the issues involved is crucial, but while some speakers said they like to present their material fresh, with little preparation, some advocated practicing what you plan to say.

“My wife is the mother of five and a Spanish speaker but she knows more about trademark law than most people after listening to me practicing my speeches,” said one panelist.

Another said she had been advised to practice making eye contact with an audience before giving a speech—even if the rehearsal is to an audience of stuffed animals or pets. Daum Nakata explained how Hewlett-Packard requires attorneys of a certain seniority to give a 30-minute presentation to the General Counsel and other senior staff. “My boss said, ‘I don’t want to freak you out but this could be the most important speech of your career’. There are now toy pandas in the state of Oregon than are very well informed about IP rights”, she said.

Lisa Iverson of Neal & McDevitt in the U.S. advised speakers to return to their presentations a number of times before the big day. “Practice, step away, practice and step away,” she recommended.

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