Unlocking The Secrets To Powerful Lawyer Presentations with Val Madamba


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Are you an attorney who needs help with delivering presentations? In this podcast episode, Jim and Tyson host Val Madama, a legal presentation coach. Val shares her journey from practicing food and drug law to coaching lawyers on improving their presentation skills.

Mastering presentations is a skill that takes practice. Val goes over a few common mistakes lawyers make when giving presentations. One mistake is assuming everyone needs the same things from the presentation when really everyone needs something different and will walk away with something different. This means the way you communicate to an audience should reflect this idea. Tailoring a presentation to each audience is key to keeping them engaged. If the presentation is about writing legal briefs, tailor your content to that. Another mistake is not presenting using plain language. Legal jargon only makes sense to lawyers. If you are giving a presentation to an audience who is not, ensure your slides and your language is clear and makes sense. Think about starting presentations off with a thesis or why you are there and what you are trying to “prove”.

Val, Jim and Tyson talk about the importance of storytelling when presenting. A lot of people are more focused on making their slides look better or using eye-catching software to create their presentation. Others are more concerned with not stumbling and making sure their entire presentation is perfect. The reality is there will be stumbling or saying “um” or “like” and that is fine. As long as the presentation flows like you are telling a story, the presentation is a success.

Ensuring there is enough time to practice for a presentation is really important to delivering it well. Val talks about developing muscle memory when practicing. The more you practice, the easier it is to remember and create that flow. One trick is to treat the presentation as if it were a conversation with colleagues or a normal Monday morning meeting discussing the week ahead. This also takes the “nervousness” out of presenting because it is being treated like any other conversation. 

Start rehearsing for presentations when you are 75% done creating it. This will allow you to flesh out any issues and go back and forth in how you will say things. This will shape your speech and also develop muscle memory. Though rehearsing is important, make sure to step away from the presentation to allow for the muscle memory to develop better. This will also not create a robotic speech to your presentation.

Take a listen!

Jim’s Hack: There is no substitute for meeting people face to face ( like your team!)

Val’s Tip: For everyone's next presentation figure out what the action you want people to take, and then identify 1 to 2 benefits of that action, and let that be your whole thesis statement. 

Tyson Tip: Change the mindset with a quote by Guy Ritchie: Love the game because you're in it. Own the game, accept the rules and move into the rules. 

Episode Highlights:

  • 3:00 Common mistakes lawyers make in presentations
  • 4:28 The importance of using plain language and avoiding legal jargon
  • 10:29 Prioritizing content, storytelling, and tailoring the presentation
  • 16:56 Regular practice and muscle memory in improving presentation skills
  • 19:39 The importance of taking a break from rehearsing to allow for passion to consolidate

Connect with Val:


Transcripts: Unlocking The Secrets To Powerful Lawyer Presentations with Val Madamba

Speaker 1 (00:00:00) - Run your law firm the right way. The right way.

Speaker 2 (00:00:04) - This is the.

Speaker 1 (00:00:06) - Maximum Lawyer podcast. Podcast.

Speaker 2 (00:00:10) - Your hosts, Jim Hacking and Tyson metrics. Let's partner up and maximize your firm. Welcome to the show.

Speaker 3 (00:00:24) - Welcome back to the Maximum where podcast I'm Jim Hacking.

Speaker 4 (00:00:27) - And I'm Tyson Matrix. What's up Jimmy.

Speaker 3 (00:00:31) - Oh Tyson I'm very excited about our guest today. I think she's someone that will be in great demand and that our members and our listeners will really appreciate. It's all about lawyers making presentations and I can't wait to hear.

Speaker 4 (00:00:43) - Yeah, today we have Val Madama and if I set it wrong, I'm so, so sorry. But Val is so fantastic. Good. She is a legal presentation coach who previously practiced food and drug law, including at the US, FDA, and Am 100 law firm and in-house at several top companies. She focuses her coaching practice on keeping lawyers master the presentation skills they need to become thought leaders and grow their practices. Val, welcome to the show. We're really excited to have you.

Speaker 5 (00:01:14) - Thank you so much. Likewise. Happy to be here.

Speaker 3 (00:01:17) - So, Val, tell us what it was like in big law and in the government, and then how you transition from that into helping lawyers with their bad presentations.

Speaker 5 (00:01:26) - Yeah, I guess the common thread is that I was doing bad presentations in every setting. I was making terrible presentations for other people to give. I was never a good or natural feeling speaker at any point in my career, so I think that's what really spurred me to, you know, really work on it intentionally. And I think whether you're in-house or working in private practice or really in any setting, there's no getting around the need to eventually do a presentation. And I think, you know, we're we're presenting all the time. That's what I found. Whether it's like in a meeting that's casual and every day or at the big on a big conference stage. So I feared it all and I had to do it all. So I worked really hard on it and eventually found that it was a kind of common need among colleagues and peers.

Speaker 5 (00:02:20) - So started helping others and really went from there.

Speaker 4 (00:02:23) - Something you said reminded me of Chris Voss and never split the difference. And he talks about how like everything is a negotiation. And you're right. Like we're always we're always presenting like we're always on stage. And I do find it fascinating how many attorneys think that they're really good at acting. And so they think that they're really good at speaking. It's just got to kind of cracks me up. But will you can we start with maybe some of the basics of things that people are getting wrong, like, for example, like I was like, sometimes you see people, they'll they'll stand up and they'll say their name and you're like, no, no shit. We know who you are. Like, like, like like, are there some basic things that we're doing wrong right from the start that we can maybe start with that stuff so we can get that out of the way? Yeah.

Speaker 5 (00:03:00) - I mean, a lot of basic things. And you hit on a couple of them.

Speaker 5 (00:03:03) - I think one is just assuming that, yeah, we're like kind of good at communicating in some way, right. As lawyers or we think we are I mean, writing, speaking, we're supposed to do it well in practice, but it doesn't always translate right to a presentation because presentations are about what other people need. I mean, all communications is, all service is. But presentations are really specific and every audience needs something different. But, you know, I think we just get get busy and it's not really the first thing we prioritize, like planning a great presentation for every single specific audience's need. And we just kind of have these standard decks that we trot out, you know, for the next time we need to do that, click on that topic. And I think that's like the fatal flaw, because, you know, it's not that easy. You know, legal topics do not play out in the same way. They do not have the same relevance for different audiences. So I think that's the first thing, really tailoring and focusing on that.

Speaker 5 (00:04:07) - The practice and the putting aside the time to tailor a presentation to each audience. And I think that, yeah, I think time again is really the key challenge that I find. And yeah, just making the assumption that what we have to say is extremely interesting at all times to all people. I think that's another fatal assumption.

Speaker 3 (00:04:28) - How about using plain language? I think one thing that lawyers often do is we just drop into legal jargon and people's eyes glaze over and they're like, what the heck?

Speaker 5 (00:04:37) - Absolutely. And, you know, it goes again to to audience, you know, why would we assume that they would like to hear us speak in jargon? I mean, plain language. Plain English is a good bet in every setting. I would say, even if we're talking to fellow lawyers, I find. Right? Because how much time and attention do we really all have to spare? It's it's not a lot. And the clearer we can get, the better. I mean, clarity has got to be the number one goal, I think, of legal presentations.

Speaker 4 (00:05:08) - Let's stay on this just for a second, because, I mean, I think it's easy for us to say that. Right? But how do we in the writing process. Right. So we're going through we're in. Whether you speak off of an outline or actual script, everything out and I don't maybe you have advice on that too, but how do we take that, whatever that thing is that we're reading from and make it where it's it is it is simpler because whether it's whether you're speaking to a bunch of eighth graders or you're speaking to a jury, whatever it may be, how do you I don't I don't want to use the term water that down, but how do you water it down so it's simpler?

Speaker 5 (00:05:41) - Yeah, I think the first step is starting with, you know, what is the thesis like? What is it that you would like your audience to, to do differently? Because ultimately a presentation is about inspiring or motivating some kind of different action, right? Even if it's small and even if it's kind of just a change in state or a change in a way of seeing things like, what is that difference that you want to catalyze in your audience? And then just being really clear about it and having having a thesis.

Speaker 5 (00:06:16) - Right. Like, I think that is the number one thing to, to start with. So have a thesis and then be able to say why it matters. So an action. And a benefit. And we if we do that for each audience and we put that in just plain language and have that be the filter for everything that we say in a presentation. We should be clear, right? Like it's all about an advantage or a change to the audience, if that makes sense.

Speaker 3 (00:06:46) - Let's say that hypothetically, you were working with an estate planning attorney, and they were going to have one of these dinners where they send out postcards and they have old timers come to a steak and baked potato dinner, and they get to hear a presentation on all the reasons why it's important for them to have a solid estate plan. What would you how would you walk that attorney through preparing that presentation? Yeah.

Speaker 5 (00:07:10) - Other than that first step of identifying what is the what is the one action. And I would, I would I always try to have folks whittle it down to just one thing because as we know, everything is complicated.

Speaker 5 (00:07:24) - Everything plays out in many, many different ways. Right. And one presentation, you know, isn't the mechanism for getting everything done. It's kind of for creating awareness or making someone making folks aware of pathways and alternatives. Right. So decide what is that one thing you want to focus on. And then the next conversation that I try to have with speakers is to get into what that practice looks like and what are the stories, because I think for a talk like that, telling the right stories and illustrating the different ways that a concept or an estate plan or lack of estate plan could play out, that's going to be the key, because that is what resonates with people and is memorable. Right? So like lining up that thesis and then lining up the right stories to illustrate it.

Speaker 4 (00:08:18) - So I have a question about parents. I have I guess I'm sort of invested in this question, just because I do think that whenever you're presenting to a jury because like, that's that's one way of presenting, like you do need to look a certain way.

Speaker 4 (00:08:31) - I'm a strong believer that. But for example, I'm going to pick on Jim. It's not really picking on him, but the Jim like he's wearing a hoodie. Right. He's wearing a hoodie right now. And Jim would wear that on stage. He has he has no reservations about that. Right. And I mean I'll wear I'll wear jeans on stage or whatever. But there's this guy that Jim and I saw at Icon in Phoenix several years ago. It was an Infusionsoft conference. And he it seems like what he was selling his his cell was like, I will I will make you look good for camera, essentially what it was. I can't remember what his exact business was. How important is it? And I'm assuming that a big part of this is knowing your audience. Like, for example, he would he would Jim would wear that hoodie on audience at like Max Logan. Right. Like, and no one would bat an eye because it's Jim. Everyone knows Jimmy. But when it comes to like, you know, looking good, wearing clothing, all the kind of stuff like how important is that in a presentation? Well, I think you said it.

Speaker 5 (00:09:28) - It comes back to or down to knowing that audience and knowing how to read your room. But overall, yeah, you know, people are going to have different opinions about this, but I'm just I'm just not that fussed about polish, you know, like I think it's important and anything there is a big distinction between making the conference rounds and doing class and trial practice, which is not you know, I don't work on that in that area. I think it's completely different. But when you're doing, you know, talks to help someone get to a better state in a class or an educational presentation. I am not that worried about what you're wearing, or even if you say, um, or if your eye contact is super polished and, you know, there are all kinds of things we can do to elevate those aspects, and I think that's great, but it's just not what I focus on because things can go wrong. You can stutter, your slides won't work. Sometimes it's a guarantee eventually your slides will not work.

Speaker 5 (00:10:29) - And, you know, ideally they would. Everything would be perfect. But what's really important if have you crafted something that you're proud of giving to that audience that you know is is just for them and that will get you through and get you through any glitches or stumbles or stutters. And that's what I've noticed. And, you know, I focus on content first, story first and then polish. But I'm curious as to what do you think? What do you think is a speaker and and an audience member as well?

Speaker 4 (00:11:03) - I would say with what you just said, story storage should dominate. I think that you should tell stories in your presentations, whether you're doing whether you're a trial lawyer or not, and I do. I think you're 100% spot on where the trial work is way different than just doing the CLE circuit or the conference circuit. 100% agree. I would also say like delivery, how you deliver it is another part of it. But I think that if. You don't start with story. I think that you're.

Speaker 4 (00:11:29) - And if you don't have a good story, I think you're. I think you're in really bad shape.

Speaker 5 (00:11:32) - Yeah, absolutely. There's there's no way. Well, it's hard to recover and it's hard to paper over that if you start with. And I see this a lot like people want to uplevel their presentation skills and their question. The questions to me are about like slides and how they can make their slides look better. And I see a lot of firms doing this too. They're investing in like nice looking slides. And it's just not that's not going to do it like that's good. But save it and get the content right first. Get the tailoring right and then make it look great.

Speaker 3 (00:12:05) - We are recording this in 2023 and in my book. Most people these days are turned off by high polish. I think that if you come in too slick, especially younger people, they're so cynical and so worldly that they're like, forget this person. I don't trust this person at all. I think when you say the ums or when you're wearing a hoodie, or when you're doing things a little bit silly and not not traditional, I think that goes that goes a long, long way.

Speaker 5 (00:12:31) - Yeah, I totally agree. I'm seeing a lot of that in just the legal community, legal tech community in general.

Speaker 3 (00:12:38) - You're listening to the Maximum Lawyer podcast. Our guest today is Val Miedema. She's an expert in helping lawyers do non trial presentations. And we're really glad to have you, Val. One of the things that I've been working on and I do a lot of presentations on YouTube, so I do a lot of my talking on YouTube. And one of the things that I've gotten a lot better at is being able to talk and think about the next thing I'm going to say. At the same time, I was watching the news this morning or a roundtable on the news, and I was watching the people. It's a hard thing to do to be able to know where you're headed, but still be talking at the same time. I can I can knock out a YouTube video where I talk for 5 or 6 minutes straight without necessarily having any notes. Do you have any tips on how lawyers can develop that skill, or how I could get better at doing that? Because it's tough.

Speaker 5 (00:13:23) - Yeah. It's tough. I've always struggled with it as well, especially I mean, first, you know, I was doing the traditional kind of presentations where it was just like bullet points and data points, and there's no way to remember that. So the first thing you know, I'm a broken record, but it goes back to story because it's not just for your audience, it's for you too, as a speaker. Because if you every story has an arc, and an arc is something that you can remember. And an arc is also easy to put down on a sheet of paper. So you don't have a billion notecards flying all over the place. And you know, a mistake I've made a lot is to try to bring with me into a presentation really detailed notes. So I'm feeling good. Everything's written down. Impossible to use, though in the moment. Right. So what I always suggest is to do a really spare kind of keyword diagram. And so you see the big keywords that mark each kind of point in your story and everything just kind of comes flooding back.

Speaker 5 (00:14:31) - If you have, it's easy to rehearse with, you get the muscle memory and then that'll just trigger your memory. And that's that's the way to do it. That's the way to rehearse. And I would say, you know, memorizing, at least for me, anyone I've worked with, it just doesn't work except for maybe a TEDx style talk. But even then, I think that keywords is the way to go, and keeping it really within a narrative arc and really kind of clean.

Speaker 4 (00:14:58) - I'm right there with you when it comes to the notes, because I usually whenever I stand up to speak, I'll usually have an outline, but it's like 3 or 4 bullet points. And that's just to jog my memory, because otherwise if I write too much in there, I will just get lost and I'll just go off on my own little tangent and they'll throw the time off. And so just having those, those the, the little, you know, bare bones outline is, is pretty helpful for me.

Speaker 4 (00:15:21) - But I'm sure it just depends on the person. But are there certain elements that we should be including in every single presentation? Because I can't remember the words you use, but early on you answered in. I think you mentioned a couple of things, but I wasn't sure if that's what you meant. But are there certain elements that we should be including in every single presentation? Yeah.

Speaker 5 (00:15:38) - I mean, substantively, it's hard to say, right? But I think, again, it goes back to what are those markers along the the journey of that you want to take your audience on. So again, it starts with that thesis, but also starts with thinking about what the status quo is of that audience. Everyone's starting in a place everyone has. Every audience has some particular challenge that you want to address in your in your talk and think about where is it that you want them to be. In the end, it doesn't have to be some epic shift, and usually it's not an epic shift. But I think the essentials of any presentation on any subject matter are acknowledging that status quo, usually with a story to.

Speaker 5 (00:16:25) - To begin with, and then illustrating it along the way with different stories, a range of specific stories that get the audience to that better place. You know, do you apply, you know, a couple of different kinds of compliance options or compliance tools, a checklist or something that you can illustrate in a few ways, and then what does that mean for them in the end? So an illustration of where they are and an illustration of where you want them to be in the end after your solution is applied.

Speaker 3 (00:16:56) - You mentioned an interesting phrase and that was muscle memory. And I think there's really no substitute to like practicing and just being in the regular habit of giving presentations. I think the more you get used to talking on your feet, the more natural it gets. And can you talk a little bit about that?

Speaker 5 (00:17:15) - Yeah. I 100% agree there is no substitute. And going back to the idea or no substitute for for practicing all the time and recalling that idea of presentations being things you do every day.

Speaker 5 (00:17:30) - Right. So a presentation doesn't have to be a big stage, but, you know, conversations, meetings, a 15 minute meeting, like, how can you make this meeting as efficient and effective as possible so you can respect the time of whoever is on the other side. So really thinking about every interaction, not as some sort of performance necessarily, but you know, how can you serve best that other person. So thinking about the practice in that way, and I think when it comes to actually getting ready for presentation, you know, I always I always start way earlier or suggest starting way earlier than, than you think. So if you're preparing a presentation, don't save the rehearsal, which a lot of folks do for the day before or even even a few days before, I would say, get started with rehearsing. When you're like 60% of the way done with your content, 75%, maybe, but you're going to flesh it out through a lot of back and forth. So what sounds good? What feels like it sounds right when it comes out of you, and when you are in that rehearsal process, you're going to inform the content to so that back and forth is shaping your talk and also helping form that muscle memory.

Speaker 5 (00:18:46) - So start before you're really ready.

Speaker 4 (00:18:49) - I do 100% agree with that, but I do find that the more I practice, I do lose a little bit of the passion whenever I'm doing it. And I don't know if that makes sense to you, but like I do, sometimes feel like I lose a little bit of the passion. And so it's not as strong sometimes. But do you have any thoughts on that? Because we are getting close to time, but I do I do want to ask you about that because because of what you just said. But it's it's something that I just I noticed I lose a little bit of it. So any thoughts.

Speaker 5 (00:19:14) - Yeah. And I find that happens. That definitely happens to me. And I hear that a lot. And what I find is that it's kind of like with a little bit more, almost a little bit more rehearsal because by that time you feel like you're saturated and you cannot possibly listen to yourself say those words again. But maybe with just a little bit of space and time away from it, I find that it consolidates.

Speaker 5 (00:19:39) - And then you are able to let that let that muscle memory just trigger the words coming back. And I do think that just giving yourself a little bit of space from hearing yourself has worked wonders. You know, I was just working with this one woman who was going to give a TEDx style talk, and she was heading or she was coming across that same like, oh, I just don't sound like I care at all, because she had been rehearsing for like a month, you know, but just a little bit of distance and then some couple of rehearsals at the end, and then don't rehearse at the very last minute because I find that people get flustered with that as well. So I think that distance does does make a big difference.

Speaker 3 (00:20:23) - When it comes to storytelling. Can you tell us a story about a client success?

Speaker 5 (00:20:27) - Yeah, absolutely. It was pretty recent one. It was a pretty traditional CLI that I was helping this one woman with, and she is so, so brilliant in her niche.

Speaker 5 (00:20:39) - It's transactional. And she was just having a lot of trouble finding finding the story. And you know, it wasn't an extremely, you know, epic talk. It wasn't a big stage. But what I loved about working and love about working with clients like this is that when they find those personal stories and find a way to electrify an audience just because of connection and a sort of a ha moment when she found like my my practice area is not boring. Everyone tells me that what I do is is so dry, and I've always thought that what I do could never inspire anyone. And the way she started thinking about herself as a speaker completely changed without me. Really doing much other than pulling her own experience out of her so that she could hear it, so that she could see it on paper, and that she could get it into the story of a presentation. And that kind of excitement is what I love to see and what I love to see. My clients, I love it.

Speaker 4 (00:21:42) - All right, Val, we are going to start to wrap things up.

Speaker 4 (00:21:44) - Before we do that, though, will you tell people how they can get a hold of you if they want to work with you?

Speaker 5 (00:21:50) - Absolutely. Best way to get a hold of me is finding me on LinkedIn. I'm on there all the time talking about nothing but legal presentations, so find me there or on my website. Valerie.

Speaker 4 (00:22:02) - Become very good. All right. We are going to start to wrap things up before we do, before we get to our tips and hacks of the week, join us in the big Facebook group. Go to Facebook and search Maximum Lawyer. If you want a higher level conversation, go to Max Law Guild and if you don't mind, help helping us spread the love to other attorneys out there that need it. Please give us a five star review. We would greatly appreciate it. Jimmy, what is your hack of the week?

Speaker 3 (00:22:30) - We talked about this recently, you and I, Tyson, about having our team meet together in a physical space and with everybody working virtually these days, I just want to highlight how great it is to meet actual team members in real life.

Speaker 3 (00:22:43) - IRL, we have our marketing director from Venezuela is here with us this week and next week one of our the members of our after unit is coming to Saint Louis. So there's just no substitute. And then in November, we'll have all the lawyers and all the people from around the United States here in Saint Louis meeting with us. So just there's just something different and there's some super connection. I'm sure you remember Tyson when we first started having the conference, and we got to meet these people that we knew online forever to get to meet them face to face. There's just no substitute for it.

Speaker 4 (00:23:12) - I agree. It was it's it's a it was a really cool feeling then. And now that we've come out of our homes and we're out and about, it's, it's it's always nice to be around people. Val. We always ask our guest to give a tip or a hack of the week, which you got for us.

Speaker 5 (00:23:27) - Well, I'm going to stay on theme and actually repeat something that we talked about.

Speaker 5 (00:23:31) - But my ultimate tip for everyone's next presentation is going back to figuring out what is that one action that you want your audience to take that is different. Figure out what that action is, and then identify 1 to 2 benefits of that action, and let that be your whole thesis statement. And if you build your presentation solely around that and let that inform everything you do, every image you drop into your presentation, every bullet point, every story, you're going to be the best speaker in any venue that you show up and love it.

Speaker 4 (00:24:07) - Very good advice. So my my tip of the week is I actually was watching The Covenant last night by Guy Ritchie or Guy Ritchie's The Covenant. I was telling I actually tweeted or posted to to Jim about it, and then all of a sudden he started showing up on my YouTube. Hell of a coincidence there. But it was an interview. Guy Ritchie was on an interview with Joe Rogan, and I was listening to him. And he's he's a very eloquent guy, by the way.

Speaker 4 (00:24:32) - Like, he's very impressive. I didn't even I didn't know who he was, but he he was talking about how you hear the quote. And I pulled up because I actually tweeted about it. He says, like, because people say like, don't hate the player hit the game and he says, don't hate the game. Love the game because you're in it. He says, you're in it, mate. Own the game, accept the rules and move into the rules. And so I just love that change in the mindset. Like, you know what? This is the game we're playing in like play the game. And so that's my message passing it on for me because I just I thought it was just so cool. So and also it's a bonus watch that interview because he's just really he's an impressive person. That's all I know about him. Just that interview in that movie. But he has a pretty wide breadth of of movies that he's created. But anyways, Val, thank you so much for coming on.

Speaker 4 (00:25:19) - Really appreciate it. I think this will be really helpful for a lot of our listeners. Appreciate it.

Speaker 5 (00:25:22) - Thanks so much for having me.

Speaker 3 (00:25:24) - Thank you Val.

Speaker 2 (00:25:27) - Thankful. Listening to the Maximum Lawyer podcast. Stay in contact with your host and to access more content content go to Maximum lawyer.com. Have a great week and catch you next time.

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