Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fear of Public Speaking

People expect that all lawyers are good public speakers.  Lawyers, and even law students, are frequently asked to be the spokesperson for a group in many different settings on the theory that since they are lawyers, they are quick on their feet.  However, speaking in front of a group can be a very stressful and frightening experience for some people.  Many law schools require students take a course which includes an oral advocacy component.  Other students may choose to take a trial practice course or other class which requires a verbal presentation.  What can a student do to conquer their fears and become an eloquent public speaker?  As we know from the television show, Fear Factor, the best way to overcome a fear is to face it.  The problem becomes finding the best opportunity to practice this skill.  This can be difficult due to the lack of time and resources. Some possible strategies to practice include having a student start an oral argument study group.  Students can gather at regular intervals and practice speaking in front of each other in one of the school’s moot court rooms.  If students are reluctant to practice with each other, encourage a student to attend or start a Toastmasters group at your school. There is an excellent book called The Articulate Attorney by Brian Johnson and Marsha Hunter which breaks down the process of public speaking into the areas of body awareness, mind discipline and control of the voice.  Help students really understand from where their fear arises.  For many, the fear of being “judged” by their peers in class while speaking is the root cause. Students should know that as lawyers, they will be judged daily by clients, opposing counsel and judges.  This is an opportunity for the student to see that practicing the skill of conversation in the form of client counseling, oral argument or giving a public speech is invaluable.  Once the student is comfortable talking in front of a group, transition to the next level by arranging with your media center to record a student’s moot court argument.  Debrief together in person. Examine what is happening on the tape and ask the student what they are thinking and feeling at each moment.  They might  be surprised to find that they do not appear as nervous as they feel.  Finally, help the student to find strategies that make them prepared to speak by taking a written script down to an outline and finally to a memorized list of topics.  Hopefully with time, the student will feel more comfortable speaking in front of a group and maybe even come to enjoy it. (Bonnie Stepleton)

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