Rhetorical prowess is one of a lawyer’s key tools. It does not only matter what you say, but also how you say it. Skilled presentation and substance go together.
The ability to concisely frame the key issues in a case and to captivate an audience is essential to convincing a judge to decide in favor of the client or explaining the suggested approach to move forward to a client. Yet the art of speaking and presenting is not the focus of a traditional German legal education. In law school, we are taught to analyse legal texts, structure arguments well and be precise in our choice of words. But the seemingly simple skill of communicating and connecting with a judge, a client or just the people around you is also a key step in becoming a skilled advocate. And delivering a message confidently and calmly yet with conviction needs practice.
In the first weeks of our legal traineeship with WAGNER Arbitration, we were very fortunate to be granted the opportunity to take part in several rhetoric coaching sessions with @John Faulk. John is a master in storytelling and has a unique approach to his coachings. He is passionate about empowering his students and making them aware of their “Wirkung” during a speech. John’s intention is very clear – the point is not to focus on: “What am I not good at?” in a negative way but rather to create a positive awareness for the way posture, gestures or voice modulation contribute to the speaker’s message.
Gestures and bookshelves – getting a feeling for the digital room
A fun and very helpful first coaching session was to practice our “online conference” skills from our respective home offices. The usual rituals in real life of “getting a feeling for the room” when you enter, having a short introduction around the table or even just having a chat over coffee with someone after a meeting – all this does not fully transfer into a digital format. John had invaluable reflections on what to think about before and during an online call: How do I intentionally create a professional yet welcoming atmosphere in a digital room? How do I guide participants through a virtual conversation or discussion? How do I maintain eye contact and focus the camera at a level angle? And what makes a good background? Though, admittedly, it has been entertaining in these trying times to see the “humanness” added to expert and politician interviews by getting a glimpse at noisy dogs, great art work or messy bookshelves in the background (Tip: @ratemyskyperoom on Twitter).
Speakers’ corner – coaching sessions open air
We followed up with a couple of coaching sessions outside in a park, enabling us to meet in person while still keeping at a safe distance due to the current pandemic. John exemplified what it means to craft a story and how to make it clear to the audience “what is at stake” in a case. John easily observes and points out habits in posture, manner of speaking or gesturing while always having an exercise ready on how to improve. As John filmed our presentations, we were able to observe for ourselves and quickly see a difference. Working as a group was great as well, since we could practice how to give the audience members equal attention. His method to simply stand and deliver enabled us to fine-tune our skills in presenting while maintaining our authenticity. Often, the seemingly easy skills like a calm and grounded stance or supple and controlled gestures are the hardest to master. We were often surprised at how seemingly small changes immediately make a difference.
We are very grateful to John and to Philipp and WAGNER Arbitration for their generosity in granting us this very rewarding experience! John has been working with the WAGNER Arbitration team for a long time. It says a lot about both that they care about every team member not just as lawyers but as people and enjoy investing in and empowering the younger generation! Thank you!