Presentation Secrets of a Barrister

Presentation Secrets of a Barrister

Presentation Secrets of a Barrister 5066 3377 Neil Seligman
Mastering Your Craft

In this article, International Mindfulness Advocate and former Civil Law Barrister, Neil Seligman considers five key qualities of the accomplished public speaker:

1. Poise

We are told so often that we must be confident that the word has lost its power. The word poise communicates far more. Poise immediately conjures images of excellence and mastery.  Poise invites us to hold ourselves physically, emotionally, even intellectually in a state of effortless ease.

The poised advocate is:









2. Presence

Often overlooked in skills training, presence in this context describes two things:

  • The degree to which you are alert to the moment-to-moment experience of communicating your message to your audience.
  • The degree to which you are able to generate focus and listening in your audience.

In respect of the first issue, it stands to reason that your alertness should be absolute when presenting. This means we must divulge ourselves of all distractions to allow one hundred percent focus on the task at hand.

Regarding the second issue; imagine that you were in a meeting of twenty people where you had something important to say and were finding it hard to insert your voice into an already crowded discussion. When you offer your contribution, consider what impact you would make on your colleagues and the meeting?

Are others quiet, attending on your every word?

Do people shuffle their papers and wait for you to finish?

How many people turn to face you as you speak?

Do people talk over you?

How would you describe the degree of listening in the room?

Are you able to shift the focus or course of the meeting in a favourable way?

Keep in mind these questions:

What is my impact upon my audience when I speak?

Why might I be receiving this response?

How can I generate listening when I talk?

3. Perception

Perception can be defined as:

The ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.

The accomplished presenter perceives everything in the room.

The very best presenters:

  • Observe and listen attentively to audience members and respond in the moment, trusting their intuitions, hunches, and wit often in preference to their notes.
  • Intuitively know how far to push against objections and when to concede.
  • Listen respectfully to interjections and consider their answer fully before responding.
  • Watch the audience like a hawk, picking up on subtleties of facial expression, body language, attitude, and vocal tone when they speak. These cues act as prompts: Have I said enough? Is my tone effective? Should I explain this another way? Should I move on?
4. Authority

A common error while presenting is demonstrating through tone of voice, demeanour, and body language that you do not believe in your own points. In other words: speaking without authority.

When you make your points, imagine what is at stake, and connect with energy and emotion appropriate to the context.

Remember that it is not in your control how the information is going to be received. Nevertheless, you must give the point its best shot, aiming for it to hit home.

Authoritative points are




Uniquely Tailored

A Note on Authority and Preparation

The authoritative advocate is thoroughly prepared, knows their facts inside out and has mastered the paperwork.

Whilst you may not know the answer to every single question put to you immediately, you should be able to turn up relevant information quickly.

The use of small post-it notes is recommended even when there are relatively few documents to master. There is a relationship between how speedily you can find material and your credibility in the eyes of your audience.

5. Gravitas 

The word gravitas derives from the word gravity: the force exerted on your body which gives you weight. It follows therefore that to speak with gravitas means that your words must have a weightiness to them.

Light, superficial phrases delivered without seriousness or solemnity will not do. Your words should each weigh at least ten kilograms!

Gravitas is conveyed by


Tone of voice

Rhythmic Cadence

Owning Silence

Standing Still

Confident Eye Contact

Finally: Bridging The Divide

At any public speaking event, we might say that there is a chasm between speaker and audience. A successful presenter is able to reach across this chasm to influence his or her audience, in other words, to bridge the divide.

There is an enormous difference between speaking just to get the words out, and speaking to be understood, to inform, motivate, or persuade.

Remember that every speaker has a duty of care to ensure as far as possible that:

  1. Their words reach the audience.
  2. The audience becomes receptive to the message.
  3. The presentation creates a useful response in the mind of the listener.

By Neil Seligman


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