Knowing that associates are half tempted to check halftime scores on their smartphones during CLE presentations makes the idea of giving one that much more nerve-wracking.
But other than offering a picture-in-picture screen that can display PowerPoint and the Cowboys-Redskins game, how can an attorney impart both value and points to his or her peers during a CLE?
1. Choose a stand-alone topic
The first step in organizing a killer CLE is identifying topical legal subjects. What are the recent, local legislative issues affecting your practice of late? What was the last question a first-year posed to you in the office? What did your favorite celebrity lawyer tweet to his followers last night?
The topic and title of your CLE should be intriguing enough that it stands alone in piquing associate interest.
And, choosing a subject that is narrow, relevant, and current will ensure your audience arrives interested.
2. Prepare and practice
To keep your audience’s attention, however, the second step in presenting a successful CLE is to prepare your talking points thoroughly in advance. This doesn’t simply mean make eye contact, write flashcards, and be sure to use no less than 14-point font on your PPT slides.
Preparation involves practice.
Once your speech is outlined, practice the delivery. Audiences respond best to a more conversational tone. If humor is in your arsenal, don’t be afraid to tell a joke. If research is your forte, dazzle people with details via statistics or anecdotal legal history.
During your presentation, plan one or two moments to ask questions of the audience. Active participation in your CLE will ensure associates pocket those iPhones and remain focused on you.
Unlike your favorite sports star, if you’re not a fan of the spotlight, ask a colleague to co-host. Only being responsible for half the preparation and presentation eases the pressure.
3. Develop hype
For a football fan, you should already be well-versed in the art of advertising. Half-time shows, Superbowl commercials, and Nike-branded everything adds to the hype that is the pro-sports Fall season.
If your law firm has a blog, write a quick, provocative article about your presentation ahead of time. E-mail save-the-dates. Post handouts and supporting material online.
Invite neighboring firms to join. Not only will this tactic provide your firm with free marketing, extolling the intelligence and wit of your associates, but a joint-CLE also offers an occasion for friendship and tip-sharing among traditional rivals.
In addition, the more associates, the more dynamic and lively the audience participation. CLEs are a forum for brainstorming best practices and facilitating peer interaction. Literally, in this case, the more the merrier.
By the end of the presentation, your audience should be able to respond “yes” to the question, “did you learn something new?” In keeping with the spirit of the practice of law, CLEs should promote innovative thought, ethical standards, and honed legal skills in all attending attorneys.
By the same token, when asked, “did you ever look at your smartphone to see the time or check the scores,” ideally, with the right attitude and preparation, your guests will be surprised to find their answer is “no.”
The best part? Next Monday you’ll get to pass the ball to somebody else.