-By Howard Reill

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“All great speakers,” Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “were bad speakers at first.” But even attorneys who aren’t bad speakers can become, if not great, at least better. Here’s how.

Las Vegas criminal attorney Nick Wooldridge, founder of LV Criminal Defense, says there are no “tips” on public speaking that apply to all occasions. “We use the same rules of speech when we’re speaking in a courtroom, at an awards ceremony, talking to our best friend, or out on a date.” In fact, the occasion, or venue, “determines which of the public speaking rules we pull out. The dilemma with most people when it comes to speaking in public is the tendency to over-complicate.”

“The important do of public speaking is to stay on topic,” says Jason P. Stoffel of Roberts Stoffel Family Law Group, “so if the topic is about substance abuse, don’t throw in politics. If the topic is tort reform, don’t talk about how great you are as a speaker. An audience has come to see the speaker, so staying on topic is always best.” Stoffel also urges speakers to maintain eye contact as much as possible and look around the room. “Make everyone in the audience feel important, not just front and center attendees.”

An important don’t, Stoffel continues, is to not offend anyone. “If the speech is on the importance of life insurance or annuities, don’t insult the crowd and say they are idiots for not having a particular product or service. Also, don’t ramble on and waste time.”

Charlie Harary, a professional speaker and attorney, as well as Clinical Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship at the Syms School of Business at Yeshiva University and Senior Director of Capital Markets at RXR Realty, identifies six keys for speaking publicly:

1. Prepare. “Make sure you are fully prepared before you get up there.”

2. Relax. “Most of what your audience is looking for is an experience; a tense speaker ruins it for them. Regardless of what you are saying, if you are more relaxed it will be accepted better by your audience.”

3. Be Personal. “It is so much better to tell a story from your life, even if it may not be as dramatic than something else you don’t personally connect to. People want to connect to you personally.”

4. Eye contact. “If you have to read from a script, fine. But practice it enough times so you could make eye contact. No one wants to look at the top of someone’s head as they read though a speech.”

5. Speak slowly. “Naturally, as the fear kicks in, people tend to speak quickly. Quick speeches are difficult to process. It’s better to slow down and give people a chance to understand than to whiz though it.”

6. Smile. “Enjoy yourself. Even if you are nervous, smiling produces relaxation hormones. It also shows the audience that you’re having a good time which then puts them in a better mood.”

Jennifer Hadley Catero, a partner and Co-Chair of Financial Services Litigation and Commercial Litigation for Snell & Wilmer, LLP, advises those standing in front of a crowd to always “be thoroughly prepared, such that you are very comfortable with the subject matter. Familiarity with your subject matter will help you speak more extemporaneously, as opposed to delivering a memorized or overly-rehearsed speech or presentation.”

A speaker’s manner should be conversational, Catero adds, “so vary the inflection of your voice, smile, laugh where appropriate. Also, don’t put the entirety of your speech or presentation in your PowerPoint if you are using one. If the audience can read the entirety of your remarks on the screen they have no need to listen to what you are saying.”

Indeed, making the audience feel they absolutely need to hear what you say may just be the most important tip of all.

Howard Riell is a veteran journalist who over the past 39 years has written and edited for nearly 200 business and consumer publications, national trade associations, advertising/PR agencies, newspapers, research firms, newsletters, non‑profit groups, e‑zines, blogs, manufacturers and other clients across the country and abroad. He lives in Henderson.