October 21, 2011

Forget Expertise; Go for Immediate Engagement

This morning, I had the pleasure of coaching a brilliant law professor on an upcoming presentation. We've been working together for two and a half years, and I am continually impressed with her passion for the law, and her sense of it as a creative and forward-thinking field. And I continually struck by how the tenets of being a good lawyer contrast with the skill set of a good presenter.

Most notably. when presenting a case to judge, or teaching to a classroom of law students, a lawyer must defend his or her position by thoroughly establishing context and background, and providing all relevant data. Expertise - and thus the right to win, pontificate, or hold forth - must be established.

When one is asked to be on a panel, present a speech, or deliver a keynote, however, expertise is already established. You are there precisely because of your expertise and the audience is anticipating - and deserves - engagement. As a speaker, you must immediately engage with your audience, and give them reason to trust you. And then, especially in the limited time allotted to a presentation, you must continue to engage them in a compelling discovery of information.

Establishing trust with an audience is different than proving expertise to a judge or oppositional lawyer. If you know your stuff, it will be communicated whether or not you say it in the bulk of your limited remarks. (You can always share it, if necessary, during Q&A.)

You don't have to prove yourself; you have to offer an invitation to conversation.

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