My father is a pastor and a great public speaker. Unfortunately, public speaking skills do not seem to be genetic. (Neither do math skills.) Watching my father speak every Sunday for the majority of my life has given me a little habit while listening to other people speak -- I notice the differences, the strengths and weaknesses, the tactics of speaking which are effective and which aren't.
I've also listened to Supreme Court cases on my iPod (If you're a huge dork like me, you can find these at Oyez.org). Because you can't see the person speaking when you listen to these, the tone of the person's voice especially important. If the tone is condescending, un-authoritative, or just plain annoying, they're not likely to be persuasive.
The students who represented parties in the moot court competition yesterday were wonderful. It's a very difficult task to stand in front of a crowd -- as a student -- and argue with real judges on legal issues. They had to be prepared to answer the judges' questions quickly, accurately and succinctly. I took some notes during the competition, and here were the strategies that I thought were most effective:
- Anticipating questions and having authorities to quickly cite to back up your own argument;
- An authoritative, but respectful tone of voice. Paradoxically, when an advocate said "respectfully, your honor" too often it came off as patronizing.
- Telling the court how many points you are immediately about to make. If you're answering a question, it helps your answer to be coherent and effective if you preface it by saying "This argument does not hold for 3 reasons." It may seem robotic in writing, but it really helped when they were making arguments yesterday.