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How to Structure Your Next Speech, Opening Statement or Presentation

Ken Lopez
By: Ken Lopez

Courtroom Presentations, Litigation Consulting, Trial Consulting, Jury Consultants, Psychology, Storytelling, Opening, Closing Argument

by Ken Lopez
A2L Consulting

I frequently help lawyers craft presentations – whether it’s the opening statement of a litigator, a pitch presentation for a law firm, or a seminar presentation for a corporate lawyer. And I too am often called upon to speak at events or even off the cuff to a group.

After a good bit of trial and error, I have found two nearly foolproof ways of organizing any of these talks that I use almost invariably, whatever the context may be.

The great thing about these models is that you can use them in an off-the-cuff speech just as well as you can in a highly scripted presentation. Whether it's the courtroom or your kid's school, these models work wonders. You will come off as inspiring, not just informative. You will appear confident. You will also be seen as following modern presentation styles – the spoken equivalent of using an electronic presentation versus using transparent overhead slides.


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To understand these new approaches, which have become common in TED Talks, on the professional speaking circuit, and among A2L’s clients, you need to understand the old format and why it is a recipe for audience disconnection and boredom.  It goes something like this:

"Hi, I'm Ken Lopez. Thanks for having me here this morning.  It's a real pleasure to speak to a group like you.

I founded A2L Consulting in 1995, and today I am going to talk to you about litigation consulting. If you heed my message about conducting mock trials, using litigation graphics and relying on trial technicians in court, you are going to be at the top of your game in the modern courtroom."

Okay, it’s accurate, but it’s flat. And it gets worse. The agenda slide comes up. Ugh. The parade of bullet points starts marching across the screen. Ugh again.

Compare this with the following approach. These will be the first words you hear from me:

"Litigation consulting is a process that helps people like you, the world's best communicators, persuade even more effectively. For your must-win cases, it is a must-do and includes a three-stage system of structured practice including mock trials, the consultative creation of litigation graphics to bring your trial story alive, and flawless courtroom document and electronics handling by trial technicians who make you look like a star. Your judge and jury will reward your fine preparation.

I'm Ken Lopez, and I'm the Founder/CEO of A2L Consulting, the world's best litigation consulting firm."

Delivered the right way, with the right pauses and the right tone, version two should have left you feeling something entirely different than version one. It should have left you feeling. And that's no accident.

I'm using a format that I call BELIEF - ACTION - BENEFIT. I learned it from a professional speech coach many years ago.  Essentially, it goes like this:

I believe ____, I think you should do _____, and if you do, the benefit will be _____.  Then introduce yourself.  Then go into detail about what you believe, what actions you want your audience to take and how they will benefit by doing so. Finally, repeat your initial belief - action - benefit statement.

This process needs to be modified to suit your situation.  What a lawyer believes is not really relevant to an opening statement, so the belief - action - benefit approach needs to be couched a bit differently -- more like "Plaintiffs, self-described patent trolls, are attempting to wrongfully extort money from my client. You have a chance to make this right. If you do, you'll be standing up for small business and all that is just and right."

One well-known speaker who offers a similar format is Simon Sinek. He points to the golden circle of communication that follows a pattern of WHY - HOW - WHAT, whereas most people communicate the opposite way WHAT - HOW - WHY, which is exactly what I used in my first uninspiring example.  Look at Simon's now legendary TEDx Talk:

a2l consulting belief action benefit why how whatI think Simon's format is extraordinary and pretty similar to BELIEF - ACTION - BENEFIT.  I tend to weave both formats together when developing a story for trial, but when I am speaking off the cuff, I just find BELIEF - ACTION - BENEFIT to be a bit easier to remember. However you look at it, I bet this is not the presentation you would have given a year ago, or even a week ago.

Here's a chart that will help you visualize both approaches. Remember, most people, businesses and organizations communicate from the outside in. But to inspire rather than simply inform, communicate from the inside out.

Below are some additional articles and resources that you can find on the A2L Consulting site about storytelling, opening statements, making great presentations and giving a memorable and inspiring speech:

opening statements toolkit ebook download a2l







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