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Leveraging the Lunch and Learn

02-07-2011

These informal lectures are perfect practice for client presentations.

Every day, at law firms across the country, partners and associates gather at noon to share a meal and share knowledge. “Lunch & Learn” lectures have long been considered a great way to update attorneys on the latest developments in the law, and, in some states, earn continuing legal education credit in the process.

These lectures are also excellent opportunities to hone the speakers’ presentation skills for when they are speaking to potential client audiences. Here are some basic pointers on how to structure an effective in-house talk that will enhance your approach to speaking to clients.

Keep in mind a basic principle: You will communicate more effectively if you focus less on yourself and more on the needs of your audience. That applies to the title of the talk, the structure of the information, and the way you deliver the content.

The Title

In short, it’s about the audience, not about you.

Many lunch and learn lectures are titled after the latest case that the partner delivering the talk won, or the deal he or she closed. News flash: No one cares about your deal. They care about what you learned in the process that they can apply to their next matter.

Instead of titling the talk “The Acme Deal,” call it, “New Ways to Think About ‘X’,” with “X” representing the key theme about whatever you learned executing the Acme deal. By titling the talk about the audience instead of about you, you are more likely to gain the audience’s attention faster.

You are also more likely to keep the audience in mind as you determine what information you want to share, what level of detail you will need to provide to help the audience grasp the key point, and what language is appropriate for this particular audience.

The Structure

Over the last 10 years, I have coached literally hundreds of partners and associates as they prepared lectures to colleagues and clients. Almost all have begun their presentations with lengthy history lessons about the client and the nature of the deal.

In a presentation setting, “more” isn’t “better.” Sometimes, “more” is just clutter, clouding the main message.

Instead of beginning with a diatribe on how the deal came about, start by saying,
“Today I’d like to share with you three things you need to know as you apply the new (admiralty, bankruptcy, corporate finance) laws to your clients’ issues.”

Then briefly list the three topics you’re going to share. Use the Acme deal as the catalyst for demonstrating the teaching points. Don’t make it the focus of your talk.

If you keep the audience’s needs at the forefront of your mind, you will instinctively cull out all of the unnecessary details that seem to creep into many of these presentations.

For every slide that you create, challenge yourself: Is the particular fact you’re sharing relevant to the teaching point? If not, get rid of it. It’s just in the way. You have important insights to share with people. They will be lost if you overwhelm the audience with irrelevant details.

Every time you think to yourself, “But this is a really interesting fact about this deal,” ask yourself: “Interesting to me, because I lived this deal for six months?” or “Interesting to someone who needs to apply this concept to a different deal tomorrow?” Your answer will tell you whether to keep the fact in, or pitch it.

Use short anecdotes from what happened in the Acme deal to demonstrate your points. Your stories are powerful and important, and must hit the listeners over the head with their relevance.

Wrap up each story by saying, “And why is this important to you? It’s important because you need to consider X when you…”

That kind of reinforcement isn’t patronizing, it’s helpful. Remember: It’s lunchtime. While you were talking, half the audience members were thinking they should have taken the other salad dressing, or hoping some of the chocolate torte will still be left when you’re done talking. They need a clear, direct statement of your key messages.

Here’s the flow:

  • Introduce the overarching concept you plan to share and the three key elements the audience needs to consider.
  • Briefly describe the matter—provide only as much detail as they need to process the three elements.
  • Explain issue 1 and demonstrate with an anecdote from the deal.
  • Repeat for issues 2 and 3.
  • Summarize the three points.
  • Take questions.
  • Tell the audience to call you with questions that arise for them in the coming months.

The Delivery

When putting the presentation materials together, consider two elements, the language you choose, and the “Ugh” factor.

The language you choose is important. We all spend more time working with other people who do what we do, than with lay people. We all get steeped in our own language and have a hard time separating it from plain English.

A number of years ago, I was teaching presentation skills to a group of partners from a large law firm. One senior litigation partner mentioned that he had four grown children. At the lunch break, I asked him where his kids live. He replied in all earnestness, “They live in four different venues.”

Anyone else in the world would have said, “Across the county,” or, “In four different cities.” Only a lawyer would describe where his children live based on what court he would need to sue them in.

If you are a corporate finance attorney and you are speaking to other attorneys in your department, feel free to include relevant corporate finance jargon. If you have invited other departments, or if you are talking to an audience of general counsels who may or may not have corporate finance background, challenge yourself regarding your lingo.

Are your case and statute references, abbreviations and acronyms immediately understandable to your audience? If not, when you use them the audience will spend their mental energy figuring out your language rather than digesting your main point. You will simply have less impact.

As to avoiding the Ugh! factor, when your slide appears on the screen, can you hear and feel the collective groan from the audience? Did you put too much on the slide?

Stop using the excuse that you needed all of that information to deliver a complete story. Make a distinction between the PowerPoint slides you hand out as a “leave behind,” and the slides you project on the wall.

The handout should stand alone to convey the information. The slides you present from should simply prompt your memory about what you want to say.

Consider the “6 x 6” rule when creating your presentation slides: no more than six bullets down the page, no more than six words in any one bullet. If you follow this rule you won’t alienate your audience with slides that overwhelm them.

Applying This to Clients

These same suggestions will help you craft client presentations that have more impact.

You probably deliver very few formal presentations. As a result, you need to find opportunities to practice.

Firm “Lunch & Learn” sessions are the perfect opportunity to hone your skills. Apply consistently the theories and techniques described above in the low-risk setting of an internal meeting, and they will come naturally to you once you are in the highrisk setting when you are sharing information with a client.

 

By: Jay Sullivan

Jay Sullivan is managing partner of Exec-Comm, a communications consulting firm that works closely with
attorneys.

Reprinted with permission from the February 7, 2011 edition of the NEW YORK LAW JOURNAL© 2011 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 877-257- 3382 or reprints@alm.com. # 070-02-11-22

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