But when he saw his quotes in print, he realized his brush with fame had singed his reputation. Why? His comments had repercussions - for himself, his firm, and his clients. He had broken the cardinal rule of successful communication: Be prepared.
When I was a first year associate at a Los Angeles law firm, I saw a first year associate lose his job for talking to a reporter about one of the firm's largest clients.
Even if you don't often meet the media, you are constantly called on to communicate, whether it's pitching to a client, reporting to a corporate counsel or company executive, or updating a senior partner. Although you may be smart and savvy, here's a news flash: TV has set the new standard for presentations, and here is where the "trickle-down theory" comes into play. If you can communicate like a pro for the media, those verbal and nonverbal skills will help you in any other communication venue.
This means that whether you are speaking to an audience of one or 1,000, they expect you to rock their world. Your listeners have grown accustomed to news on demand, Hollywood's special effects, and a fast pace.
Even the courtroom landscape has changed. Judges, often backlogged and overwhelmed, want lawyers to cut through the issues like a hot knife through butter. So even though you've analyzed the case, interviewed a dozen witnesses, and slaved night and day writing a brief explaining every detail, the bottom line is: You'd better know the bottom line.
It is said that in business, if you can't define what you do and why you're the best at it in a dozen words or less, you lack the competitive edge. Especially in the current economic climate, effective communication can make the business difference. Sometimes even the simplest question can be the most vexing.
Marcy learned this the hard way. In a quintessential client pitch, she described the firm, its partners, and capabilities, but flailed when asked, "What makes you different from other firms?" The potential client took his business elsewhere.
But that's not the end of the story. After some communication coaching, which included message development, honing her three key points, and getting plenty of practice, Marcy now looks forward to the "beauty contest." Like a racehorse, she can't wait to describe to people at professional meetings and even social events what she does and why she and her firm are the best.
That's why many law firms, whether trying to raise their profile or just stay competitive, are providing their leaders and key attorneys with media and presentation training. Since communication is the most important skill in business, they view it as a solid investment in strengthening their firm's reputation and, ultimately, the bottom line.
Here's an emergency assistance kit, suitable either for meeting the media or pitching a potential client. Clearly, this is not everything you need to know, but it should provide a jump-start for meeting the range of communication challenges:
- Be Calm.
- Be Alive.
- Use Visuals if You Can.
- Be Careful About Inflaming or Creating Controversy.
- You Need to be Prepared.
- Check With the Upper Management of Your Law Firm Before Doing an Interview.
- Be Concise.
- Use Plain English to Communicate (You Want to Be Understood).
- Drop the Wind-Up: Just Pitch.
- Remember to Regain Control if the Interview Goes South.
These tips are only the shorthand version of a smart communications strategy. As any pro can tell you, you need a good coach, a game plan, and lots of practice. Remember, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. Make the most of your moment in the spotlight.
See the following articles for more information:
- 21 Major Interview Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs
- The Best Way to Prepare for a Job Search and Interviews
- How to Talk About Other Interviews in Your Interviews
- How to Answer the Tell Me About Yourself Interview Question
- How to Answer the Do You Have Any Questions for Me Interview Question