10.13 Presentation Skills

Some people live to be center stage while others prefer to stay backstage. Whether you’re a performer at heart or not you will need to do some public speaking at court. Speaking in a courtroom can be especially nerve-wracking. But don’t worry there are strategies and tools that can help.

Lawyer’s Tip:

A good way to prepare for how you should present in court is by going to watch a court case. Courts are open to the public to watch. 

Learning how to be an effective presenter will help you present your case in front of a judge. 


9 Tips for Presenting your Case

1. Preparation

You have finally reached the courtroom. What the judge decides can have a serious, long-term effect on your life. This is your chance to tell your side of the story. You want to make sure you’re telling a story that makes sense. You only have a few opportunities to tell your story. To make good use of every opportunity, think about what you want to say beforehand.

On one hand you don’t want to improvise on the spot and risk forgetting important facts on the other hand you don’t want to be rigidly reading off a script. You will want to be prepared to inform the judge about your issues and make convincing legal arguments. You will also want to be flexible in answering any questions the judge has and to address any unexpected issues that arise.

The best strategy is somewhere in between improvising and reading a script. Ideally, you should have a list of points that you need to cover. These points can be keywords or short phrases. You should refer to this list while you’re speaking. But, you should have practiced your speech enough to not stare at the list all the time.

2. Be Clear

Speak slowly and audibly. 

You want the judge to understand what you are saying. Don’t be afraid to pause a few seconds between ideas instead of barreling through your presentation.  

You shouldn’t be yelling at the judge. But you want to make sure that the judge and the other party can hear every word you’re saying.

3. Be Truthful and Professional

Tell the judge the whole truth. Don’t be misleading by telling half-truths or exaggerations. The danger with these half-truths and exaggerations is that you might contradict yourself. If this happens, your credibility will suffer.

Be professional when you speak. Don’t use sarcasm or derogatory language.

4. Be Confident and Direct

Try to avoid starting every sentence with “I think” or “I believe”. These words make you sound uncertain. Also, avoid verbal fillers. These are the “um” and “ah” that you tend to say during a casual conversation. But in court, these fillers are distracting.

Overall, when you sound confident, you are more credible.

5. Be Calm

Divorce or separation is highly emotional. During your trial, you might also be asked questions that make you feel uncomfortable. If you are asked an uncomfortable question, try your best to give the most professional reply you can give. Emotional outbursts don’t work in your favor. Review Managing Your Emotions from Chapter 3 to help you stay calm.  

6. Be Respectful

Even though you are trying to fight for your side of the argument, it’s important to be respectful to everyone in court, including your ex-spouse. This makes you look professional and mature.

Never make a personal attack on anyone in the courtroom.

7. Answer the Judge’s Question

If the judge asks you a question, stop immediately and listen to the question. If the judge has a question, that means he or she needs clarification. The judge needs to fully understand your story to be convinced.

Listen to the entire question before you answer. A trial is not a test to see how quickly you can answer the judge’s questions. Feel free to pause and think about the question before answering.

If you can’t hear the entire question or if you don’t understand what the judge is asking, you can do two things. You can ask the judge to repeat the question. Also, you can say the question in your own words and ask if you have understood the question correctly. It’s critical to make sure that you are answering the right question.

Even if your answer weakens your position, give your answer anyway. If you ignore or avoid a question, the judge will not be impressed. Remember, don’t argue with the judge. Always be respectful, even if the question weakens your position.

8. Posture

Having good posture makes you look confident and more credible. Try not to slouch, fidget, or lean against the table.

When you’re speaking, keep eye contact with the judge. This will help you engage the judge. But, it’s okay to look at your notes from time to time.

9. Practice

Practice really does make perfect. Try to get your practice to imitate what it’s going to be like in court; speak standing in a clear voice.

Practice in front of a friend or family member. Ask them if they understand your story or if any parts of your story don’t make sense. Their comments can help you build a better speech.

You can also videotape yourself or practice in front of a mirror. Seeing how you present may reveal some of your bad habits, such as distracting hand gestures.

 The more you practice, the less nervous you will get.

Presenting Activity: Now it’s your turn to practice presenting. Take the case you prepared in the Preparing for Trial Exercise and present it in front of a few friends or family members. Ask them to give you honest feedback.