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Lawyers are naturally good communicators. True or false? From his perspective as a public speaking consultant, Brian Callaghan would say the answer is “yes.” “Young attorneys encouraged to take my course are at either end of the spectrum. They’re the ones who might become great litigators or rainmakers for their firms,” said Callaghan, proprietor of Callaghan & Company of Washington, D.C. “Then there are the others.” The others are bright and capable, he said, adding, “But their oral communication skills could really hold them back in their careers.” So it was that Callaghan arrived from Washington recently to conduct a workshop for a spectrum of associates in the mergers and acquisitions group of Shearman & Sterling: Daniel Chernin, 29, Darin H. Bassin, 33, Tatziana Paraguacuto-Maheo, 26, Daniel F. Zimmerman, 30, Vaijayanthi Raghunathan, 29, and Olivier Saba, 32. Callaghan’s basic prescription, which he readily admitted was antithetical to law school discipline, is an old saw: It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. The Shearman group saw exactly what he meant as Callaghan put them through the alarming exercise of standing in front of a video camera for 90 seconds to declare the whys and wherefores of their personal passions. “I was curious about the video exercise, it was one of the things that made me sign up for the seminar,” said Raghunathan, who earned a law degree at the University of Madras and an LL.M. at Northwestern University School of Law. In her allotted 90 seconds, Raghunathan spoke of her wish to celebrate the Indian culture in America. “I was a little apprehensive, and I was hoping it wouldn’t be a disaster. When I sat back and watched, I could appreciate his [Callaghan's] comments.” “Seeing yourself on tape is interesting,” said Chernin, a graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, who talked for 90 seconds about how much he loves to eat. Of the video playback, he said, “Seeing yourself on tape is interesting. It’s frightening!” Before subjecting his class to the cold eye of a camera lens, Callaghan acknowledged a recent revelation of his own, by way of the self-deprecating humor he heartily recommends to young lawyers as a means of maximizing persuasive powers. “I saw my golf swing on video for the first time,” he said. “I’d thought I looked like Tom Watson, but I actually looked like Elmer Fudd.” Callaghan urged respect for the behavioral science underlying his thesis — the “Mehrabian Pyramid” of public speaking, named for Albert Mehrabian, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who codified the three fundamentals of effective public speaking: word choice, voice and tone, and body language. According to Professor Mehrabian, body language is far and away the most important element, accounting for 55 percent of an audience’s impression. Voice and tone follow at 38 percent. Word choice — surely the component that lawyers would value the most — registers a measly 7 percent. News of such science prompted one astonished Shearman associate to insist that word choice must certainly rate higher in the more esoteric thickets of legal presentation. “Oh, it does,” said Callaghan. “Sometimes it goes up all the way to 8 or 9 percent.” PERSUASION, NOT ERUDITION Callaghan contended that persuasion — not erudition — is the purpose of oral communication. “You’re lawyers, you have lots of facts, so pick a few that nail down your message,” said Callaghan, a former actor, broadcast journalist and speechwriter for Katharine Graham, the late publisher of The Washington Post. Lawyers, he suggested, “have a tendency to deliver too much information, and let’s face it — lists and statistics and things like that are inherently boring.” Callaghan’s notion was seconded by the co-head of Shearman’s M&A section, Peter D. Lyons, who hired Callaghan and would like to see him train all M&A associates. “One of my clients once told me when we [lawyers] were splitting hairs over a single word, ‘Hey, guys, this isn’t the College Bowl,’” Lyons recalled. When attorneys first learn that clients find their precious words the least moving section of a presentation, said Lyons, “It’s disturbing — which makes it all the more important. “A big failing of law schools is that [while] they teach oral argument in appellate cases, they don’t do a good job of teaching students how to make decent presentations,” he said. “If you look at young MBA students, you’ll typically see them make better presentations [than lawyers] to groups such as boards of directors and client groups.” Body language and vocal skills being as crucial as they are, what does Callaghan advise for word-obsessed young lawyers? GESTURE BRINGS EYE CONTACT “To begin, gesture,” he said. “A really interesting thing happens when you start to gesture. Eye contact happens. But don’t just look furtively at your audience. They’ll think you’re in the Witness Protection Program. And resist the temptation to look toward heaven for guidance. With eye contact, you create a sea of individual conversations. Stay still below the waist. “Voice variation is the key,” he said. “Speak from your diaphragm, not from the neck up. And don’t keep the volume up. People will think you’re a used car salesman. Keep a cadence, but not a metronome. Slow it down at the interesting parts. Long sentences don’t work effectively. The audience can get seasick.” For those whose first language is not English, Callaghan suggested, “Don’t lose your accent. It’s charming. At the start of a presentation, though, over-pronounce and speak a little more slowly than usual. Allow the audience to become accustomed to your accent.” By Callaghan’s lights, selflessness overrides all when trying to convince a group of any size that yours is the cause of the angels. “Everybody listens to station WII-FM, which stands for What’s In It For Me?,” he said. “If you get on that frequency, I’m going to stay tuned to you. “If you start talking about your needs or — God forbid! — your problems, I’m going to tune you out in a heartbeat.” Related item: Tips on Making a Presentation a Performance

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