Answering Audience Questions

I usually like answering audience questions, partly, because I feel like when I’m answering a question, I’m directly addressing an issue at least one person in the audience feels is important. Not everybody shares my enthusiasm for answering questions, though. Here are four essays I drafted for IEC Journal about answering audience questions:

Learn From Oscar Winner Jared Leto’s Acceptance Speech

The Washington Post got Hollywood speech-writer Jeff Nussbaum to critique Oscar winner Jared Leto’s acceptance speech. The best nugget:

Nussbaum says Leto started off oh-so-right, with a lovely little anecdote about his mother. “He began by doing what I advise speakers to do all the time — start with a story to capture the audience’s attention,” Nussbaum says.

Narrative is one of the best tools in the trainer’s tool chest. Pick stories that are relevant and tell them in an engaging way. Don’t be afraid to borrow Jared Leto’s technique.

Reach Your Audience: The Role of Charisma

Tom Fox is onto something over at the FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog (via Ethisphere LinkedIn group):

One often hears or reads about complaints that compliance training is dull, nay even boring. I mean, how many times can you expect someone to be lectured to on the riveting subject of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act FCPA or even the UK Bribery Act? Coupled with the legally spellbinding subject, the sessions are often led by lawyers who are training non-lawyers.

He discusses a few approaches to the charisma gap.

There is one very partial solution to the problem, what might be called “Ersatz charisma.”  Rather than try to make your trainers have more personality, give them teaching tools, in the form of videos, high quality slide shows, etc.

The problem is, producing top quality materials takes resources and people who know what they are doing. One of the things we are trying to do with this website is “amortize” these investments by spreading high quality materials among multiple trainers, multiple trainees and multiple agencies. Help us if you can.

Lawyers Teaching Non-lawyers

Most federal ethics training is conducted by lawyers. Most of the people being trained are non-lawyers. Problem? Tom Fox thinks so:

One often hears or reads about complaints that compliance training is dull, nay even boring. I mean, how many times can you expect someone to be lectured to on the riveting subject of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act FCPA or even the UK Bribery Act? Coupled with the legally spellbinding subject, the sessions are often led by lawyers who are training non-lawyers.

While some lawyers are up to the task of making their training engaging, in my experience this is a challenge for many lawyer ethics trainers. A possible solution discussed here previously is greater sharing of ethics training materials. Rather than designing their own training materials as a sort of cottage industry, trainers, including lawyers, should adopt high quality training materials.

Better awareness is another approach. If you are a lawyer, don’t assume that if you understand an explanation, your audience will understand it. Solicit feedback from on your materials and your delivery before you go into “production mode” with your training, and afterward. Most important, learn the difference between talking down to your audience (to be avoided at all costs), and explaining complex things in a way every audience member will understand.

Training Tips Columns Archive

IEC Journal has an archive of the 24 ethics Training Tips Jerry Lawson drafted for them on roughly a monthly basis in 2011-13. These columns cover a wide variety of training techniques, from selecting fonts for use in slide shows to handling questions from hostile audience members. We will be returning and expanding on this material in future posts to this blog.

FBI Bulletin: Guidelines for Public Speaking

The most recent issue of the FBI Bulletin has some excellent Guidelines for Public Speaking. Here are the first few:

  1. When giving a presentation, speakers should not display mobile phones, pagers, or other electronic devices. These objects signal to the audience that the attention is not entirely devoted to them.
  2. Presenters need to remove lanyards, badges, and large jewelry. These are very distracting.Lecturers can enhance their appearance by wearing small pins on their lapels.
  3. This gives the impression that they are larger than just a single individual—they are part of an organization or group with a bigger cause.

The whole list is worthy of attention. Presentation Skills Resources, a project of respected law librarian Sabrina Pacifici, has long been recognized as one of the top legal research sites. Among the many treasures found there: the collection of Presentation Skills resources.

One that caught my eye would benefit many ethics trainers: Storytelling: Wake Up Sleeping Beauty. Stories are one of the most powerful training techniques.

There’s plenty more for trainers at this wonderful site.

Bring the Passion

Where’s the energy? The failure to bring enthusiasm is one of the most common presenter errors. Here’s suggestion from Government Executive:

Bring the noise – What I mean by this is show up with some energy and passion for your topic. The first speaker immediately staked out what he was going to talk about and why it mattered to the audience. Then he proceeded, through his spoken and unspoken communication, to demonstrate how passionate he was about the topic. He raised his voice, he lowered his voice. He moved, he stood still. He was serious, he was funny. In short, he mixed it up and matched his energy with his message.

Have a hard time getting up for conducting ethics training? Not that interesting? Do the best you can in the sort range. For the long range, analyze your situation. If you can’t find ways to make involvement more attractive, is it time to consider transitioning into a more rewarding job?

Using Pop Culture References to Enliven Training

A Lawyerist article reports on judges who are using Star Trek references to make their decisions more accessible:

Justice Don Willett of the Supreme Court of Texas once observed: “A lot of legal writing, including judicial writing, is clunky and soul-crushingly dull. In my view, legal humor is not an oxymoron. The law, in fact, sometimes can be fun.”

Ethics training can also be fun. Further, fun training can be better training. We’ll be elaborating on this theme in future posts.

Grab Your Audience’s Attention Using News Stories

An IEC Journal post  summarizes some serious conflict of interest problems reported in some Washington Post articles (12):

The government alleged that shortly before [Chief Financial Officer] Ostermeyer retired from USAID, he helped the agency draft a contract solicitation for a senior advisor – a position that Ostermeyer intended to apply for after he retired. In an effort to ensure he would be awarded the position, Ostermeyer allegedly tailored the solicitation to his specific skills and experiences.

Federal conflict of interest laws prohibit executive branch employees from participating personally and substantially in matters in which they have a financial interest. Since Ostermeyer had a financial interest in the contract solicitation, the government alleged that he could not participate in drafting it and, therefore, violated 18 U.S.C. § 208(a).

This type of news story can make a fantastic lead-in for training, showing the audience the relevance of the topic and inducing a “There but for the grace of God go I” feeling that makes it more likely they will give your presentation the  attention it deserves.