What I Learned About Public Speaking From Testifying in Court

Every time I interview for a new technical role I am undoubtedly asked something along the lines of “so what is this on your resume about juvenile parole in uhh does that say Nebraska?!”. What they are referring to is the 3 years I ventured away from IT and the state of Florida where I was living and moved to rural Nebraska to be a child protection investigator. After about a year and a half I became a supervisor for the juvenile parole and child protection units for a very large geographical area.

Unless you have done this type of work, the amount of pressure and stress is unfathomable. You are regularly called to testify in court to make recommendations for kids and families that you barely know. There are so many parties involved that no matter what you have done for a case someone is always unhappy with you. Lawyers that disagree with you will brutally try and question your intelligence and integrity. Sometimes you are testifying for several cases all in one day. It is not for the faint of heart! Let me share a few lessons I learned that I believe can and should be applied to all types of public speaking.

1. Know your audience.

Who is attending your public speaking event? Who will be in that big meeting where you plan to present a new idea? Before court I would always try and determine which judges, lawyers, CASA workers, and family members would be present. Sometimes I knew them, sometimes I didn’t but I would always try and find out as much as possible about them. I would focus on things that I knew were important to them and answer their questions that I thought they would ask before they asked it. It helped me remain in control and keep the audience interested.

2. Be confident, or be confident in your ability to pretend to be confident. 

While testifying in court if you show fear or weakness you are eaten alive. You get questioned harder. The parties involved don’t trust in your expertise. Confidence grows as you gain experience and when you show up prepared. When I first started I lacked confidence but I was always prepared. I read case files and worked with other investigators to try and plan for what questions I might be asked. As part of a training I did I was filmed in mock court testifying. I looked like a scared teenager getting questioned by the principal. I learned to fake confidence. This came from knowing my body and my nervous habits. I practiced good posture, stopped tapping my hands, and would look at different people in the room directly while talking. I dressed in a suit and from the minute I walked into the court house I was all business. When people saw that I was confident in myself they were much more likely to listen and take me seriously. Eventually my pretend confidence became real!

3. Stay on topic. 

When giving reccomendations or testimony in court it is important not to get thrown off course. Being concise is imperative because any unnecessary information that you introduce can be questioned and take away the focus from the point you are trying to make. Outline your main points and make sure you are purposeful in your words. Don’t go on too many tangents. If people in your audience steer you away from your topic with unrelated questions, try and answer in a way that brings you back or ask them to talk to you after the presentation. People will walk away having received your message.

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