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YOUR CAREER

Can your presentation skills make or break your career?

How well the administrator presents information to the partners is a strong career determiner.

What the partners want in a manager is “someone who is of value to them,” says Kevin E. O’Connor, CSP, a Long Grove, IL, presentation consultant and professional speaker.

Value to them is a matter of “how can you solve our problems? If you can’t solve them, you’re wasting our time.” And that’s true “even if they love you.”

The scenario: An issue arises. The administrator is making a presentation on how to solve it.

First, find the pain

Begin with background work. Find out what concerns the partners have about the issue.

Ask each one, for example, “I am developing a plan for changing our staff assignments to accommodate our associates. If there’s one thing that concerns you most about this, what is it?”

It’s a waste of time to propose even a good solution without addressing those concerns. Mention them at the start of the presentation. A workable opener is “I need your help here. What I’ve heard from you about changing assignments is that you are concerned about X and Y. Can you tell me more about that?”

After each partner speaks, paraphrase what was said. Doing so shows the administrator understands the concern. And only if they know that will they be open to what the administrator has to say.

The tricks of the trade

From there, O’Connor cites the elements that enhance – or undermine – the presentation.

We, ourselves, and us. Don’t speak in terms of I and you. That separates administrator from firm. Use instead the first person plural – we and us. Now the presentation says “we are all trying to achieve the same goal.”

Stick to the time allotted. Set a length of time for the presentation and don’t veer from it. Whether 15 minutes or two hours, when the closing time nears, say “I promised you I’d finish in X minutes.”

If the response is “no, it’s okay,” then continue on. But if there’s no such invitation, stop. To say more is to overstay the welcome.

Waste no words. Get to the point and get there fast, O’Connor says.

Also hit the nail on the head. Talk about what absolutely has to be talked about and nothing else.

Attorneys treasure their time because it’s billable. Too much information is a money loss for them.

Don’t be the predator on the podium. Be a participant, not the task master at the front of the room staring everybody down. That sets a “predator-to predator” tone.

To get the audience to participate, use a white board. Get them to write their comments on it or add items to it and “Bingo! They’re in.”

Now instead of judging the presentation, the partners are working with the administrator. “It’s the same reason a car dealer takes customers for a test drive,” he says. It moves them “from judgment to collaboration.”

Writing out their opinions also eliminates a lot of criticism and argument. “It’s hard for them to argue with the data if they are participating.”

Parrot the vocabulary. “Honor the partners” by using the same terms and phrases they use.

If they refer to a document as an agreement, call it an agreement, not a contract. Or if they say “continuing legal education,” don’t call it attorney training.

To get a message across, “everything has to be devoted to the receiver.” Speaking the receiver’s language shows the administrator is on the same page and indeed the same level as the partners.

Don’t get tethered to the agenda. Don’t be a stickler for covering each item fully.

It might call for X, Y, and Z. But if the partners start asking good questions right in the middle of X, stay there. Don’t thwart the enthusiasm with “okay, moving on now . . . “

If something is working, “keep doing it,” O’Connor says. If the questions are generating good discussion, encourage more of them.

The rest of the presentation might have to be jammed into the last five minutes, but if there’s been a good discussion, the message has been delivered.

He adds, however, that if the discussion veers off, the administrator does need to take control of it, and to do that, use the white board.

Just interrupt with “let me summarize what I’m hearing you say.” Write down only what’s been said about the topic and say “tell me if this makes sense.”

Roll the dice more than once. When there’s an issue to be solved, offer at least three solutions.

Give the advantages and disadvantages of each. Also tell what third parties have had to say about them so it’s not just the administrator’s opinion the partners are hearing.

By contrast, to say flatly “we should do this” or “we can do A or B” is an invitation to disaster. If the partners don’t like those options, the answer is no, the discussion is over, and nothing gets changed. “You rolled the dice and you’re out.”

Having three options, however, leads to good discussion on what they can and cannot live with.

Don’t talk like a dictator. The way the options are laid out is also important, O’Connor says. Don’t be dogmatic with “these are the only three options.”

Make it an open recommendation such as “I was thinking about this in three different ways. Would you mind if I laid them out here, and you can tell me what you think about them?”

Then present each as “well, we could do X” and “another possibility is Y” and so on

Don’t lose the decision-making moment. At the end of the meeting, ask for a decision: “What do you think our next step should be?”

And if there’s no immediate answer, push the discussion along. Mention the reactions to the suggestions, such as “it sounds like you are not happy with option 3” or “you seem to prefer option 1.”

And if there’s still no decision, ask “would you like to think about this for a week and discuss it again?”

Otherwise, the matter will get placed on the back burner and eventually be dropped and forgotten.

Follow up with an e-mail summarizing what’s been said. Also, if there’s a possible fourth option, mention it in the e-mail: “Thank you for considering issue X. I have one extra idea I’d like to discuss, and it is . . . “

If the first three options get turned down, that fourth option will keep the discussion open. Nobody can say “we had a meeting. It’s over with. Issue closed.”


Related reading:

Why your career depends upon building respect from your staff


8 proven ways to totally destroy your credibility as a manager


How to be a better proofreader


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