The Street Smart Law Blog

Writing 2
  • Frederick L Shelton

How to Get Insanely Good at Public Speaking, Fast & Inexpensively

There are many facets to client development for attorneys and other professionals. The new techniques include social media, digital marketing etc. but the old school, tried & true practices include building and maintaining a valuable network, writing and public speaking. These will always be valuable tools when used properly.

The First Rule of Public Speaking for Professionals: Until you're good, don't do it.

A lot of speakers say the first rule of public speaking is Know Your Audience. I would

disagree. The reason for my dissent is because it assumes competency in public speaking.

   The Dunning-Kruger Effect was a principle forwarded by a couple of psychologist who proved what we all knew on an instinctual level: People think they’re better at things than they really are.  

   This definitely applies to a lot of attorneys. If you’ve been to as many conferences as I have, you’ve seen a lot of horrible public speakers. What’s worse is many of the worst speakers think they’re “okay” (or even good!) at elocution.

Unless you’re a solid public speaker, don’t do speaking for client development purposes. “Okay” isn’t good enough. If you don’t give a speech at all, that’s better than if you give a bad or boring speech. The former has no impact whereas the latter is a net negative.

Any speaking engagement could have the potential to become a client development opportunity. I’ve given speeches for no charge and with no agenda, other than to help a worthy cause – and ended up with incredibly valuable clients and a net six-figure increase in my personal income as a result.

Over 90% of Fortune 500 CEO checked solid public speaking skills as an essential factor to success. Strong speaking ability is a game-changer. It is the difference between professionals who choose their clients, and those who are always looking for them.

   Public speaking is definitely my space. I’ve been a paid public speaker, paid speech coach, gotten paid gigs as a comedian at The Comedy Store and Mandalay Bay Casino, and won dozens of Area, Division and District speech contests in Toastmasters International (those are a few of my trophies above).

   And therein lies the answer to rapidly improving your speaking skills. Toastmasters International ( Toastmasters is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the public speaking, communication and leadership skills of its members. There are thousands of clubs worldwide.

I can state unequivocally, that Toastmasters International will make you a better public speaker, more quickly than any college course, coaching program or anything else available. And it's convenient.

Whether you need to meet at 7am on a Tuesday, noon on a Saturday or 6pm on a Thursday, there’s a club available for you. There are over 80 clubs that meet every week, just in Las Vegas alone. I’m sure they have more in larger markets.

   Toastmasters is also ridiculously inexpensive. It comes out to about $60 for six months. If you only make one or two meetings a month, I assure you, you will dramatically improve your speaking skills.

   The (properly run) meetings go like this:

   A Toastmaster (the equivalent of the MC for the evening) will run things. Two or three people will give relatively short (5 - 10 minute) speeches with the goal of improving one aspect of their speaking eg. vocal variety, body language, organizing a speech etc.

   Then comes “Table Topics”. This is actually kind of fun and incredibly useful in business. The Table Topics Master will ask three or four people questions that range from something you might expect in Improv Comedy, to something that could be asked in an interview. This helps you become adept at thinking quickly on your feet and handling the unexpected.

   Finally comes the Evaluation Portion of the meeting. Each of the earlier speakers is assigned an evaluator. The evaluator is very encouraging, while letting the speaker know what their strengths and weaknesses were. There are only two cardinal rules in Toastmaster evaluations:

The evaluator will NEVER say anything that would make someone uncomfortable or embarrassed.

The evaluator will be honest and helpful.

   Imagine if in college, you had a professor who cared about only your speech. That’s what you get, every time you speak at Toastmasters. A singular, focused speech coach whose only goal is to make you a better speaker.

   Another personal observation is that members of Toastmasters seem to have a higher level of appreciation for academic and professional achievement than most professionals. This is natural as virtually everyone at these clubs is there for personal and professional self-improvement. Which in many cases, makes it an excellent networking opportunity as well.

   Thus, Toastmasters is like spending $10 a month for a speech class, a speech coach, practice in the pitch process, interview practice, and networking.

   The one thing Toastmasters will also do is verify whether you’re good public speaker. Don’t listen to loved ones, friends or colleagues. They’re biased. They will be too easy or with "those relatives" too harsh.

   Go to Toastmasters and you will quickly discover whether you have to work to do. The expense is nominal so the only consideration is whether the 60 - 90 minutes per week or two is a solid investment. After over 20 years, I still find this to be the case.

   First, you will quickly discover whether you’re ready to integrate public speaking into your marketing campaigns. Second, no matter your skill level, you will improve and finally, you'll have opportunities to turn speeches into clients.

   We’ll cover how and where to do that in the next segment on this subject.

Frederick L Shelton

CEO, Shelton & Steele

Legal Recruiters & Consulants