Source of the following article Persuasive Litigator.

By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:

In Part One of this two-part post, I discussed the remarkable success of the “TED Talk” formula in repopularizing the idea of a single-speaker, large-audience presentation. I noted that the format is worth looking at for lawyers and others who present legal CLE’s, often in front of large conference audiences. The question is, “Could lawyers and other legal presenters have more success by acting more like TED speakers?” I think the answer is, “absolutely, yes.” I reviewed some of the most successful TED talks and came up with ten common principles, my “TED Commandments” for large-audience presenters. Part One covered the first five, and now Part Two will cover six through ten.

VI. Thy Delivery Shalt Be Dynamic

TED presenters spend a great deal of time honing their physical delivery so that it is dynamic and interesting to watch. As I wrote in a previous post on gesture and movement, “TED Moves,” much of the success in a TED talk, and the differentiator between the viral and nonviral talks, comes down to nonverbal messages, giving sustained and natural smiles, and making the most of the first seven seconds of the talk. In the most successful talks, presenters gestured an average of 272 times in 18 minutes. The goal is to be active and original, not necessarily perfect or slick.

VII. Thou Shalt Avoid (or Minimize) the Lectern

I wrote recently about the need to lose the lectern as a speaking crutch, because it blocks you from the audience, anchors you in one place, and encourages you to focus on your notes instead of the audience. The TED conferences functionally ban them. According to their rules,

“Speakers may not use a podium or lectern unless special circumstances warrant it. These objects disconnect the speaker from the audience, create an overly formal atmosphere, and encourage presenters to read from their notes (which is always boring to watch.)

CLE presentations and conferences, however, are usually set up for the ease of the organizers, and not necessarily for the most effective communication. So they likely will  have a lectern. In response, speakers can ask for a wireless microphone so you can at least roam a little. If that fails, you can still minimize the problems of the lectern by standing to the side of it rather than directly behind it.

VIII. Thou Shalt Practice

What puts you in the position of not needing the lectern is a solid familiarity with your content, and that is built through practice. TED speakers often begin preparing at least six months in advance of the presentation itself. The TED organizers enforce an extremely high-practice ethic. That includes running through the talks many times on your feet, either alone or in front of a friendly audience able to provide feedback. There is also the opportunity to engage in what I call “passive practice,” by recording yourself going through your notes and then listening to the audio over and over again. My own standard is to review at least ten times. Listening at a faster speed also helps by causing the next thoughts to load into your mind at a faster rate. You still deliver it slowly, of course, but the habit of listening faster makes your recall faster, which is what you’ll want when you are standing in front of the audience and wondering what content comes next.

IX. Thou Shalt Not Wear Out Thy Welcome

TED talks are much more concise than typical speeches: Eighteen minutes is the standard length. Why so short? Ted’s chief executive, Chris Anderson, explains: “It’s long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention.” He also notes that the length works well for online viewing in being about as long as a coffee break, and hence more likely to be watched and shared. A final reason for the shorter length is that it forces strategic brevity. He notes, “Twitter forces people to be disciplined” (and I should add, forces some people to be disciplined), and he argues that shorter talks accomplish the same, “by forcing speakers who are used to going on for 45 minutes to bring it down to 18 minutes, you get them to really think about what they want to say.” CLE’s are still based on units of an hour or more, and most conferences follow the 60, 75, or 90-minute format as well. Still, if you can see your own presentation as composed of shorter chunks, or if you can make it a panel presentation — three people for 20 minutes each, for example — then you’re better off.

X. Thou Shalt Not Read (But Neither Shalt Thou ‘Wing It’)

If presentations are more concise and focused, they’re also more able to be prepared at a very specific level. Most TED talks, for example, are memorized word for word. Then, they are practiced enough that they look fresh and not canned. Attorneys cannot always do that for a CLE. But it is possible to memorize the introduction and the key moments of your presentation. In addition, you can memorize the outline and then extemporize through each of the main points. In any event, what you want to avoid is reading — and that means reading notes, and also means reading off of your slides. Consistent with the advice to keep your slides visual and simple, it is critical to avoid treating your slides as your speaking notes.

One TED talk that ties a lot of this together is one presented by Derek Sivers on “How to Make a Movement.” It has a focused point, natural dynamic delivery, and humorous and memorable visuals. Overall, it underscores the point that speaking in front of a large audience is a matter of good communication habits writ large.


Thanks for reading. I am a litigation consultant (bio here) specializing in mock trial research, witness preparation, jury selection, and case strategy, generally (but not always) in high-value civil cases. If you have a comment, a request for a future topic, or a concern about a current case, contact me now.

Other Posts on Effective Presentation Habits: 


Image credit:, used under license, edited by the author