Teaching Your First CLE
Last month we talked about some of the benefits of teaching a CLE. But let’s say you’ve already been asked to teach a CLE. Maybe somebody found your blog and thought you sounded knowledgeable on a topic. Or maybe you were at a happy hour and tricked someone into thinking you know what you’re talking about. Either way, let’s assume someone asked you to teach, and you agreed. “It could be fun!” you thought. “How hard could it be?” Then all of a sudden the presentation was looming, and you had to figure out a plan.
Start with an Outline
Like a good paper, one key to an effective CLe is organization. Nobody paid to hear you yammer on up there, darting from one topic to the next. That’s why an outline is critical. If you start there, it’s easy to see the big picture. You’ll understand how you want the topics to transition and fit together. An outline can also make it clear where there is a gap in your presentation, or highlight repetitive topics.
Powerpoint or Bust?
After you have your outline, it’s time to determine if you should use slides to amplify your presentation. First, make sure the facility has that capability. Assuming they do, think about whether you really need a Powerpoint, or if you just think you do because everyone else uses them. Some of the best CLEs I’ve seen don’t involve anything besides a presenter and a microphone.
Assuming you want to use Powerpoint, follow some easy rules. Guy Kawasaki implores presenters to not use more than ten slides, and only use thirty-point font or greater. I agree about the font, but there probably is not a magical number of slides. Instead, just use as few as possible.
Most importantly, remember that the audience is there to hear you (or pretend to anyway) and not read things off a slide. So keep the information on the slides limited, and make sure you are the one giving the lesson, not the slides. Finally, have a backup plan. Computers crash. Flash drives get corrupted. Your presentation may not work. Attendees won’t get their money back just because you couldn’t get your software to work. That means you need to be ready to roll without the aid of a Powerpoint slideshow.
Talk to the Experts
If this is your first CLE, chances are good that you aren’t the most experienced lawyer in the field. It’s just the way these things work. Everyone has to start somewhere. So find the more experienced people in the field and talk to them. Ask them if they will let you bounce ideas off of them, or quote from their publications. Run over your outline with them to see if there are things you missed.
Prepare Relevant Materials
If you’re required to prepare materials, do so. Don’t just print out a bunch of statutes or old articles you wrote. Attendees can look up the statutes, and unless the articles are still current, nobody will read them. If possible, put together check lists, forms, and other useful materials for people to use once they leave the CLE. Doing a case law update? You don’t need to include the full opinion of every case you cite. That’s what Google Scholar is for.
Use Your Public Speaking Skills
Through my various bar association affiliations, I go to a lot of CLEs in various states. I’m always surprised when someone who has presented dozens of times before doesn’t use basic public speaking skills.
Don’t Read From Your Notes
How many times have you been to an “update” CLE where the presenter simply reads case names and holdings from their notes while sitting at a table? It’s brutal. Notes should be an aide, not a crutch. Glance at them, then present to the audience. Also, if your notes are the same thing the attendees have in their handouts, it may be a good idea to point them to a proper page.
Be Aware of Your Voice
Two weeks ago I was sitting in a CLE about roadways. Already a very interesting topic, and the presenter decided that the most appropriate way to deliver the material was by reading from her notes in a monotone whisper for 45 minutes. Impressively, she kept going and going, almost without any breaks. Impressed as I was, I retained little of the information.
I’m not saying you need to be an actor or a trial lawyer to effectively present. I’m just saying that if you aren’t aware of your own voice, others will be. Think about the speed, tone, inflection, and volume of your voice. They’re all tools to use throughout your presentation to keep it interesting.
Adapt to the Audience
I was giving a CLE a few months ago to a room for 75 people. There was a snow storm, so the audience shrunk to seven people. The presentation was about opening a law firm. It was geared to young lawyers, law students, and law clerks. I was there to discuss how scary it still is, and things I wish I would have done differently. But by this time in the day, the young lawyers had all packed up. None of them wanted to risk the storm. So the audience was now one young lawyer and six lawyers who had been practicing for more than forty years.
The presenter before me had his script, and he stuck to it. He spoke about the risks of solo practice, the benefits, etc. None of which applied to the audience. For my piece, I decided to make it interactive and allowed everyone to give advice to both myself and the other young lawyer in the room. But by doing that, the senior attorneys learned from each other as well.
The point is that things may not go as you planned. Be ready to adapt.