Perfecting Persuasion Through Practice and Feedback

If you find it hard to find the time to practice your speeches before you give them, you’re not alone. A study found that attorneys tend to overestimate their performance in trials and the more experienced the attorney, the more the over-estimation. I believe there are two major reasons for why attorneys do this, both of which are addressable through practice and feedback.

Speaking Hurts

First, it’s just plain hard to get feedback about how we express ourselves. There’s nothing closer to our sense of identity than how we talk. Despite the discomfort, as the study indicates, it’s incredibly vital to do so or run the risk outlined in the study.

No Help From Law School

The biggest reason for the study’s findings is that attorneys simply aren’t trained speakers.  Yes, we get paid to speak and persuade, but the vast majority of attorneys pick it up on-the-job. some strange reason, the American Bar Association requires that law students only learn how to write like lawyers. There is no similar requirement to learn how to speak, no comprehensive training on the tools and techniques available to advocates to capitalize on face-to-face opportunities.

As a result of this lack of training, a young attorney brings only the value they personally can muster in face-to-face situations. Whether it is before a client, judge, or senior partner, the first years of an attorney’s career are spent learning on-the-job.

Limits of Learning On-The-Job

Experience may eventually impart the necessary skill set, but in a sporadic and haphazard fashion. Experienced attorneys who bring tremendous value through their interpersonal communication are hard pressed to articulate to younger associates what exactly makes them effective. Most unfortunately, because they acquired their prowess through experience, there is very little practical advice beyond that to offer attorneys seeking to improve themselves.

Cycle of Efficient Speaking Preparation

The resource I advocate for attorneys looking to adopt efficient and effective communication techniques is from other professional communicators. No matter the profession, efficient communication centers around

  1. Tailoring a clear, specific and memorable message for an audience,
  2. Practicing delivering that message; and
  3. Internalizing feedback as to the difference between #1 and #2.

The repetition of this process allows speakers to hone their communication by paring away superfluous or counterproductive messaging.

In acting, the rehearsal process involves constant feedback and adaptation. Every rehearsal, actors offer up attempts to communicate a thought and emotion for feedback from the director. Playing the role of audience proxy, the director gives the actor the impression the actor made through his words, delivery and action.

This bridges the gap that often exists between perception and intention. An actor may intend to deliver a line with credibility, but the director may perceive aspects of the delivery as communicating nervousness. This insight from the audience allows the actor to extend his awareness of himself beyond what he intends. He may then alter his delivery to illicit the intended thought and emotion. The art of the process lies in the specificity and constructiveness of the feedback as well as the ingenuity of the actor’s adaptive techniques to hone in on the desired communication.

The study I mentioned seems to indicate that attorneys don’t engage in this process. The more experienced attorneys get, the more they overestimate and thereby perpetuate a fundamental disconnection with their audiences.

The Solution

The simple solution to this is to incorporate the process outlined above:

  1. Practice. Practicing a speech or opening argument gets the communication is the first step to see how closely your intent is to its actual impact.
  2. Get Feedback. Feedback can come from a mirror, a video, or, ideally, from an astute audience proxy.

Implement something like this and you’ll notice a huge increase in your comfort, ability, and accurateness in your speaking.


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