Byte of Prevention Blog

by Mark Scruggs |

"Whole Body" Public Speaking

Mark ScruggsWhether you are a “courtroom lawyer” or not, you should be able to speak in front of a group. People expect lawyers to be good at this. (Think Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas.) With apologies to Whole Foods Market, public speaking should be a “whole body” experience. Here are my top tips for polishing your public speaking skills. Thanks to Linda Shields for teaching me some of these ideas, including this first one:

Write and memorize your opening and closing.

“Primacy” and “recency” are terms used in psychology to describe the phenomenon that results in the earliest and latest information in a given presentation being recalled best, with information in the middle being least remembered. If you want your presentation to be memorable, don’t leave your opening or your closing to chance. Open with a story, a word picture, or a good joke (if you can tell one). Close your presentation by reminding your audience what you have told them. Reinforce the point of your presentation. Give your audience an action plan – one or two things they can do right now to put into action the things you have told them.

Get out from behind the podium!

Why do we insist on putting up a pedagogical wall between ourselves and our audience? Because it t is difficult to unleash ourselves from the relative security of a podium. You will find though it is worth the effort. You will instantly connect with your audience when you move out from behind the podium or table and interact with your audience.

Your voice is an instrument.

Your speaking voice can do much more than merely convey words. Your vocal inflections, pacing, pitch, volume, all can add meaning to the words you are speaking. Breath control is key here. If you are not in control of your breathing, you will not be able to use your voice to its full potential.

Eliminate distracting speech.

How many times have you been listening to a speaker and heard nothing but the constant “uh” “um” “er” or (heaven forbid) “like.” These words are “fillers.” They impart no useful information or meaning and serve only to distract. Eliminate them from you speech to the extent you are able. Try this next time you give a presentation: Record it and afterwards count the number of “filler” words you used. You will probably be surprised and likely dismayed.

Your body is an instrument.

Just as your voice can be an instrument to convey meaning, so can your body. Stand tall. Use good posture. Use movement to make a point or change topics. For example, if there’s a particular point you want to emphasize, stop and move to another location – maybe front and center – before you make it. Your movement will add impact to your words.  Use facial expressions, especially remember to smile. A smile can actually lighten the voice. Have you ever been talking to someone on the phone and gotten the mental picture of that person smiling on the other end of the phone? People can “hear” you smile over the phone.

Eliminate distracting gestures and movement.

Pacing back and forth or overuse of hand gestures are the most common culprits. The video you make of your presentation will help you identify distracting gestures. Most of us don’t even realize we are walking back and forth with no purpose, shifting from foot to foot, or using hand gestures too much and with no particular purpose.  Hand gestures and movement can be used to good effect, but you should use them deliberately.

Put these tips into practice at your next public speaking opportunity. You will grow as a public speaker and your audience will be grateful for your attention to details that help make listening so much more enjoyable.

Mark Scruggs is a claims attorney with Lawyers Mutual specializing in litigation, workers compensation and family law matters. You can reach Mark at 800.662.8843 or at



About the Author

Mark Scruggs

Mark Scruggs is senior claims counsel with Lawyers Mutual specializing in litigation, workers compensation and family law matters. You can reach Mark at 800.662.8843 or at

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