Public Speaking: How to Say What to Say

Onyinyechi Ukegbu

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Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking is number one on the top 10 phobias in the world’s list. This means that more people are afraid of public speaking than they are of dying – which came in at number two. Most statistics agree that over 70% of the world’s population is glossophobic, with 44% of women and 37% of men admitting to glossophobia. Some surveys even indicate that a deficiency in public speaking skills can lead to a 10% earning impairment.  For lawyers, whose stock-in-trade, whether in the court or boardroom, is clear, confident, and intelligent communication, this constraint can be catastrophic.

With the aim of turning out better, more confident speakers at the Bar, the NBA-SBL held an interactive virtual training on Public Speaking, themed, “How to Say What to Say”. The latest in its series of trainings to improve the members of the bar, it was facilitated by Melissa Davis and Camilla Reed, the Chief Executive, MD Communications Ltd, London, UK and Camilla Reed, Training & Digital Media Director, MD Communications Ltd, UK, respectively.

Tolu Aderemi, Partner, Perchstone & Graeys and Chairman, NBA-SBL Training Committee, in his opening remarks noted that this is one of the most important trainings by the Section and encouraged participants to take advantage of the expertise being shared by the facilitators.

The following tips, among others, were shared to help the participants make their presentations, and other public communications clear, concise, and compelling:

Know Your Audience: Knowing your audience is key as it affects several elements critical to successful public speaking, including the message and the delivery. The way you would speak to a roomful of personal workers would likely differ from the way you would to a room full of nationally elected officers. Similarly, the key message of a subject, say constitutional reform would differ if you were speaking to fresh wigs or to learned silks. Accurately identifying your audience ensures that your message and delivery is tailored to suit them. To know your audience, determine what the occasion is; is it a seminar or a client pitch? Who is likely to be in the room? What is the theme of the meeting? What kind of public presentation are you giving – welcome remarks, keynote address, opening statements? These questions will help you get a sense of the audience, their expectations and prepare accordingly.

Practice: In his opening remarks, Aderemi recommended that participants should practice alone, aloud and a lot. This advice was also advocated by the facilitators who insist that preparation is an inalienable part of public speaking, and to be prepared, practice is required. In fact, Melissa says, “It doesn’t matter if you’ve done public speaking 100,000 times before…you still need to practice.” Practicing allows you to assess your presentation and adjust where necessary. Practicing helps you to familiarize yourself with your ideas which improves fluency. Furthermore, this prevents you from glancing at your notes all the time and allows more engagement with the audience. Practicing would also help to quiet the anxiety that most people experience when faced with public speaking. During practice sessions, ask yourself what makes you so nervous and find responses or solutions to them before the event.

Nerves Can Work to Your Advantage: Nervousness is a major concern for aspiring public speakers and even those who have had some practice. However, not all nerves are bad. The facilitators indicate that some apprehension can keep you on your toes and even work to your advantage. In certain circumstances, you can share your nervousness with the audience with “I would normally not do this,” or “I’m feeling a bit nervous”, then calmly proceed to your presentation. This is likely to generate empathy with the audience as most people have a fear of public speaking. However, they advise that this approach should only be used before the right audience. For instance, if you have been invited as an expert, communicating nervousness can belie your expertise. To deal with nervousness before speaking engagements, the facilitators recommend smiling, as this releases endorphins and would help to relax the jaw muscles. Another recommendation was to think about one person you would want to speak to and imagine that you are speaking only to that person.

The Rule of Three: Public speakers, especially those sought after, are acknowledged as experts in their subject matter. However, this expertise may not always translate to information passed to the audience because of how it delivered. The facilitators advised that speakers should keep their main points to three and a maximum of 5 when speaking.

“Getting your message right is really important.” Camille says.  “Now, one of my previous roles was I used to head up all of the communications for the Law Society of England and Wales, which meant that I needed to work with a different president every year… Now, what was interesting…and sometimes happened was, instead of sticking to the three key messages, they wanted to talk different things, and often we would come away from an interview, and it was quite chaotic. It was quite stressful. And we didn’t really know what had been said.”

Determine what you want to say. What is the beginning, middle and end of the narrative? What are the three main points you would like the audience to leave with? Maintaining the rule of three is also beneficial to the audience as it creates room for repetition. The average person needs to hear something three times to absorb it, and even more when it is virtual. Keeping your points to three, allows room for emphasis and allows the listeners to grasp, remember, and leave the presentation with most of the information communicated.

Understand Your Style: There are different types of speakers. Some more extroverted than others. Listening to different speakers – world leaders, sector specialist to TED talkers – will expose you to different speaking styles and help you identify what style you’re most comfortable with. The facilitators advise that while listening to these speakers you ask yourself, “what did I find engaging?” “Did I want to listen to them again? Why?” These are pointers to attributes that you are likely to desire in your speaking style.

How to Remember things: Once you are clear on your message and its three main points, think of three keywords that will act as a trigger for each point. “The idea is not to rehearse everything to death” – says Melissa, who has trained the President of the Maldives.

“The place where I would encourage more rehearsal is with the initial paragraphs when you’re introducing your presentation. Keep it simple, short. The average person can read 275 words per minute but can only listen to 150 words per minute.

 How to Deal with the Unexpected:

“I once had an incident where I thought I would be speaking to a small group and didn’t realise that I would be giving the keynote speech as well as interviewing two people. I solved this by getting more audience engagement.” – Melissa

Where there is an unsettling event just before your speaking you can determine whether to remark on it during the presentation or no at all. If it is something that is related to the topic of your presentation or so present it cannot be ignored, remark on it briefly then move into your presentation. Otherwise, the facilitators suggest that you ignore it.

Presenting on Zoom v. In-Person: Public speaking is not just standing on a stage, but incorporates professional presentations inside and outside the office, and, in the times, virtual presentations. Since, the world is most likely to maintain virtual interactions as part of its regular activities, learning how to effectively communicate in-person and in a virtual room would work greatly to the speaker’s advantage. The two major issues that affect virtual public speaking are “speaking to yourself” i.e. with no clarity on audience engagement and technological interruptions. The facilitators advise that you familiarize yourself with the technology of the platform that you’re using and practice in front of the camera. Doing this, will eliminate the interruptions within your control and help you see what camera angles and mannerisms you prefer.


Becoming a good public speaker is a journey that takes practice and patience.

“A good communicator is one who is able to make the audience understand and feel comfortable.  The good speakers are the ones that are engaging and perhaps vulnerable i.e., share a story of something that didn’t go well in the past. The ones who did well were the ones who wanted to prepare, help and support and those who did not do well, where they were over-confident.” – say Camilla, who has trained the President of Togo.

The conference which was well-received and attended by practitioners at all levels of the bar was sponsored by Boderick Bozimo & Company, Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie, SacPat Training Consultancy and MD Communications Limited with BusinessDay Legal Business as Media Partner.





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