Many of us are petrified by public speaking, but it can open up doors in our careers. So what do you do if making presentations scare you? In this episode of The Paralegal Voice, host Vicki Voisin talks with Toastmasters recognized public speaking expert Vicki Kunz about how to seeking and properly preparing for public speaking opportunities. Together they discuss the importance of introductions, advanced preparation, and delivery as well as other gems of gab including numbering your note cards, using large text, and having “back pocket topics.” Make sure to stay tuned for Vicki’s career tips near the end of this episode.
Vicki Kunz is the Insurance Risk Manager of MDU Resources Group, Inc. and has attained the Competent Toastmaster designation (CTM) and the Competent Leader designation (CL) from International Toastmasters. She has over 20 years experience as a paralegal which includes managing two law firms and establishing a paralegal department.
Special thanks to our sponsors, Boston University, NALA, and ServeNow.
The Paralegal Voice
Public Speaking Tips, Tricks, and Leadership Opportunities
Intro: Welcome to The Paralegal Voice, where you hear the latest issues and trends in the world of paralegals and legal assistants by one of the best-known paralegals in the industry, Vicki Voisin. A paralegal for more than 20 years, Vicki is dedicated to helping legal professionals reach their goals. You are listening to Legal Talk Network.
Vicki Voisin: Hello everyone. Welcome to The Paralegal Voice here on Legal Talk Network. I am Vicki Voisin, the paralegal mentor and host of The Paralegal Voice. I am a NALA Advanced Certified paralegal and I publish a newsletter titled Paralegal Strategies. I am also the co-author of The Professional Paralegal: A Guide to Finding a Job and Career Success. And you will find more information at HYPERLINK “http://www.paralegalmentor.com” paralegalmentor.com.
My guest today is Vicki Kunz. Vicki is the Insurance Risk Manager of MDU Resources Group, Inc. She began her career with the company as a legal assistant in 1998, transferring to the newly formed risk management department in 2000. She served in several positions and roles within the department before becoming the insurance risk manager in 2007.
Vicki received the Certified Risk Management certification through the National Alliance in December 2007 and holds the Advanced Certified Paralegal certification as a civil litigation specialist through NALA, the National Paralegal Association. She has attained the Competent Toastmaster designation and the Competent Leader designation, both from International Toastmasters.
Prior to her employment with MDU Resources, she worked for over 20 years as a paralegal in a private law firm. Her experience included managing two law firms and establishing a paralegal department. She specialized as a plaintiff trial paralegal in areas of personal injury and wrongful death, medical malpractice, bad faith, and products liability. So welcome Vicki.
Vicki Kunz: Thank you Vicki. It’s a privilege to be here today.
Vicki Voisin: It’s going to get confusing with the two Vickis on, but I think they can tell the difference in our voices, especially since my guest is from North Dakota and has quite an accent.
I am happy to have you here Vicki and I appreciate your joining us. But before we begin, our sponsors need to be recognized and thanked. That would be NALA, a professional association for paralegals providing continuing education and professional certification programs for paralegals at HYPERLINK “http://www.nala.org” nala.org.
NALA is a force in the promotion and advancement of the paralegal profession and has been a sponsor of The Paralegal Voice since the beginning.
Next is Boston University, offering an online certificate in paralegal studies. If you are seeking a professional credential or just want to further develop your skills, Boston University provides an affordable, high quality 14-week program. Visit HYPERLINK “http://www.paralegalonline.bu.edu/”paralegalonline.bu.edu for more information. That’s HYPERLINK “http://www.paralegalonline.bu.edu/”paralegalonline.bu.edu.
And our next sponsor is ServeNow, a nationwide network of trusted prescreened process servers. Work with the most professional process servers who have experience with high volume serves, who embrace technology and understand the litigation process. Visit HYPERLINK “http://www.servenow.com/” www.serve-now.com to learn more.
The goal of The Paralegal Voice is to discuss a wide range of topics important to the paralegal industry and share with you leading trends, significant developments and resources you will find helpful in your career and everyday job. Guests are usually included to help explore timely topics, and for that reason I have invited Vicki Kunz to be with me today and to discuss public speaking.
Public speaking is a skill paralegals need, particularly paralegals in leadership positions or those who aspire to leadership positions. At my blog, which is HYPERLINK “http://www.paralegalmentor.com/blog” paralegalmentor.com/blog, I feature paralegal profiles. And when I ask those paralegals what they wish they were better at, they frequently answer public speaking.
Now, Vicki, is that your experience when you visit with other professionals?
Vicki Kunz: Absolutely. I come across very few people who say they feel very comfortable speaking in any kind of a public setting, whether it be a small gathering, whether it might be just a small association meeting or whether they are giving a large presentation. Even those that are really good at it, they still tell me they get nervous prior to speaking.
Vicki Voisin: Well, the fear of public speaking can have a negative impact both professionally and personally, so how can you get past that fear?
Vicki Kunz: Well, I have a few pointers I would like to kind of share today with you, but the main one that I want people to think about today is to seek and grab opportunities to speak. That is the opportunity for you to find a situation that would be small, something that’s much more guided, because you might have information before you that you can use.
The best one that I like to encourage people to volunteer for when they are seeking some opportunities to speak is introducing speakers, maybe at an association meeting or at an office meeting. You generally get the person who is going to be speaking their bio, so you can write it up, you get the materials already prepared for you, and all you have to do is present it, and generally it’s over in 30-60 seconds.
Vicki Voisin: Vicki, I have to tell you that that was exactly my first opportunity to do some public speaking, when I was just beginning my membership in NALA and I have to tell you I was scared to death. I would get up there and my voice would do its thing — not do its thing actually and I was totally afraid of that. And it was such a small thing, but it really did help and it has taken me on my path to public speaking, so that it really doesn’t scare me anymore, thank goodness.
But enough of my experience here, I know that you advocate practice, practice, practice when you are preparing or anybody is preparing to speak, so why is winging it not an option?
Vicki Kunz: Winging it should never be an option, even for someone who speaks a lot or even if they give the same material over and over, for a speaker who might be on the road and does the same presentation. People that wing it will be memorable and it’s memorable that we don’t want to be recognized for, but they are the ones that generally are unprepared, maybe fumble. All of us that are sitting in the audience are kind of looking at us like, okay, what else, why aren’t you prepared for us because we have taken the time to be here.
Or there’s a few of them that will wing it and they are very polished when they are up there, they sound great, but when they get done, they just have kind of rambled and taken us all in a circle and they really haven’t said anything. So there’s two kinds of people that wing it and neither one of them should be options.
Vicki Voisin: Okay. Well, we have talked about winging it, but what about using notes. When I do a presentation I have it memorized pretty much before I go up, but I still need my notes, and often I need the full speech, I need that crutch, is that a problem?
Vicki Kunz: Absolutely not. Notes should be with the speaker at all times and/or maybe even a prompter. Today’s technology has made prompters so much more available in different kind of speaking venues. But I like to encourage people to have that crutch there, because a lot of things can disrupt your speech, and it’s like you get off track and if you have just got the notes that you can glance back down to get you back on track. It could be something that interrupted you when you are making your presentation. It could have been a question that came up that maybe took you into a little bit of a different direction, but you have got something to reflect back to take it back on track. That is not only doing you a favor, but it’s also doing your audience a favor, because the speech that they came to hear is going to stay on track.
The second part about using notes that I like to present is make sure you number the pages. I have seen people either drop their note cards or get their sheets mixed up and then get confused, and it’s like, oh my gosh, where am I, that will only fluster the speaker even more. So if you have got them numbered on the bottom and you can get them — take a break, get them back in order. Again, your audience is going to be thankful for you.
My last point about notes is to use big notes. How many times have you shown up to give a speech and they dim the lights for the audience and then it’s really hard to see what your notes say. So use big print, use bigger cards if you want or large pieces of paper. And make sure you number them.
Vicki Voisin: Well, those are all great tips. So what are the most important parts of the speech?
Vicki Kunz: Well, if anyone has taken a speech class, speech teachers will tell you it’s going to be the delivery, but what I think is the most important part of the speech really is the beginning, and that’s to grab the audience’s attention right away, and then the end, because that’s what they are going to remember you by.
Now, part of that is still in delivery, but if you are putting together a speech, you want to keep those two tips in mind, because again, it’s going to all come together for that audience.
Vicki Voisin: Okay. Again, great tips. But do you have any other basic tips for public speaking?
Vicki Kunz: Well, I have a few that I could probably share. A couple of them that I really like people to work at is their voice fluctuation. How many times have you sat and listened to a speaker and it’s that monotone voice, and pretty soon you are either dozing or you are doodling on the piece of paper in front of you, not paying any attention to the speaker. But if they have some voice fluctuation or even using some gestures, keeping your interest up to the podium, I think that’s important.
I also like to remind people that while they are practicing, practice in front of a mirror so you can see your actions, see how your voice is your emotions, and then today with cellphones, why not record it on a video and actually watch how your delivery is, and it will help you improve yourself. It’s where I find that I blink a lot when I speak with emphasis and I have had to learn to take that into account and make sure my eyes aren’t blinking faster than how I am speaking.
Vicki Voisin: Recording with the cellphone is an excellent idea. That helps you pick up those little things that you are not even realizing that you are doing, that of course your audience is going to notice, so that’s a great tip.
I would like to know, what do you think are some of the characteristics of a really good speaker?
Vicki Kunz: Couple of things with your voice. The first one is making sure that your voice is forceful and it doesn’t trail. How many times have you sat in the audience and the speaker is up there and they are starting out their sentence, they are delivering it and then at the very end they might be leaving it with maybe a question at the end, almost like they are not sure how to end it. So voice forcefulness and making sure that you end it with the same emphasis that you are starting it with.
And then of course since I talked a little bit about voice fluctuation, you need to give that lilt so the audience wants to pay attention to you. But with that, and it’s somewhat of an art, is to also get your hand gestures to go with your movement.
Now, some people, if they can’t get their hand gestures to flow with their speech, they can put them down at their side, or if there’s a podium, hang on to it, but there’s some people with their hand gestures maybe aren’t moving with the speech, such as a gentlemen who might put their hand in the pocket, jingling keys or coins, or the women who might be grabbing their necklace and sliding it back and forth. When you start paying attention to speakers you will see some of those little things that are important that people should pay attention and try to practice on.
And then the other one that’s a characteristic of a good speaker is they get comfortable with the audience, and that takes some homework, and we will talk a little bit about that with back pocket topics, but that’s another good characteristic that people want to think about.
Vicki Voisin: Okay. Well, then of course there are the speakers that you would like to forget. What are the characteristics of the speaker who is someone you just don’t even care to see again?
Vicki Kunz: Now, if we were in some associations where you are voting for officers, this is a good one, where you do recognize some people’s lack of speaker qualities, and they are the ones that are monotone and very boring and no one wants to listen to them. Or there is those that kind of say something they think before they — they forgot to think before they speak and they say something that they shouldn’t have.
The ones that are kind of going out with a whimper; that kind of started out their speech kind of really interesting and then they just kind of forgot that whole delivery, and we don’t want to be those people either, because you are not leaving in any kind of a good impression on the audience. We have seen a few, probably the foot in the mouth.
And then the other one that I really want to emphasize that you don’t want to be that unforgettable speaker. When there’s that aggressive communication going on between the audience and the speaker, and sometimes the speaker may not know how to defuse that and will get somewhat aggressive, and then that reflects back on the speaker. So depending on what the topic is speakers need to think about how they are going to handle maybe some potential aggressive conversations with the audience.
Vicki Voisin: Okay Vicki, there’s one more thing that I would like to ask you, and these are speakers who have the characteristics you would like to forget, but these people don’t have to speak that way forever, they can become good speakers, is that right?
Vicki Kunz: Absolutely. They need to be open to some, either criticism or comments, or ask for feedback, and that takes a lot for someone to be honest to themselves that they want to ask someone within the audience, give me some feedback on how I did and then work on that.
Vicki Voisin: Great tips so far Vic. I just really appreciate all that you have brought to us today. But it’s time to take a short break for a word from our sponsors, NALA, the Association of Legal Assistants and Paralegals, Boston University and ServeNow, a national network of trusted prescreened process servers. And when we come back we will continue our discussion of public speaking with my guest Vicki Kunz.
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Vicki Voisin: Welcome back to The Paralegal Voice. I am Vicki Voisin. And my guest today is Vicki Kunz, Insurance Risk Manager of MDU Resources Group, Inc. in Bismarck, North Dakota.
Now Vicki, before the commercial break we discussed the basics of public speaking. I would like for you to tell our listeners about your journey from paralegal to Insurance Risk Manager. How did your career evolve and how have your paralegal skills supported that journey?
Vicki Kunz: When I look back over the years and I wonder how I got from point A to point B, I sometimes still wonder how it happened, but a good part of it I have to give, one, to the benefit again of the paralegal skills that you said, but also volunteering or stepping up to take on something new, or somebody needed someone to help out, I said I will do that. While I was stepping out of my comfort zone, it gave me those opportunities that I talked about earlier to practice and maybe become a little bit better speaker, but more really to develop my own leadership skills.
I have had opportunities here at work going from a paralegal in the legal department, to a newly formed department when they started their Risk Management Department a few years ago. And what was good about that was I had the opportunity to step in and kind of help develop a new job that wasn’t there before.
So I kind of was able to make it be what I wanted it to be, but again, my paralegal skills, by being organized, by understanding the laws, which helps you understand insurance programs, by understanding claims, because I was so involved in litigation, all those skills helped me develop moving into the risk management position.
With those, I have the opportunity now to make presentations to our Board of Directors. We are a publicly traded company, we have a large board, and I have to present our corporate insurance program to them. I have to present our corporate annual renewals to our Management Policy Committee and to some of our operating company presidents. So I have a lot of opportunities to speak to leaders within our company. They are much more of a higher level than I am, so it gives me some ink sometimes, but the continual practice that I push upon myself I think has helped me with that.
Serving on all the other boards that you mentioned, all of those I have the opportunity to be in leadership roles, I would not have been able to do that without being a paralegal. Having that opportunity first through my local organization, having the opportunity to be President for NALA for two years, that in itself was a lifetime worth of experiences that I am able to now pass on through my own career.
Vicki Voisin: Well, did you ever fear public speaking?
Vicki Kunz: Oh my gosh, I fear it every time I have to speak, even today. I don’t know very many good speakers that tell me that when they are done that they don’t have a little bit of dry mouth or maybe just little sweaty palms. I think everyone has that little bit of nervousness that they try to find their own way to deal with. I think it’s okay. I think it makes us be a little bit more on our toes.
Vicki Voisin: Well, is there a difference when you speak to large groups and then you speak to either one-on-one with the person or a colleague or you are speaking to a small group, tell us the differences that happen with those experiences?
Vicki Kunz: Well, first, when most people think about speaking in public, they think that they are speaking to a large group, so maybe they are afraid of being a presenter, but again, when I talk about seek and grab opportunities to speak, getting upfront and introducing a speaker and giving their bio; that could be still in a very large setting, but in a small way. There’s other opportunities that we all need to think about working on our speaking skills, such as, when you are going to a conference or a seminar and just being able to get up from the table at the break, getting coffee, and reaching out to someone and holding a conversation. We all should take advantage of those chances that come to us of learning from someone else. And while people are afraid to get up and speak in front of a big group, most people are also afraid to talk to somebody they don’t know. So I really encourage people to find ways that they are comfortable of doing that.
Small groups as well, when you go to a dinner party, how many times have we gone to a dinner party maybe with our spouses and it’s their employer and we have to try to find some conversation to have with someone else, those are other small little groups that people can prepare for. And my topic that I would like to share on how I found an easy way to deal with that is what I call back pocket topics.
Vicki Voisin: Well, tell us more about back pocket topics, because I have never heard about that.
Vicki Kunz: Well, I kind of like to take it off of a little bit of something I learned years ago in Toastmasters, and they would do table topics where you had to get up and speak for less than two minutes about one topic. It forced you into having a conversation with a group about that one topic, maybe no matter how silly it was while you were practicing.
Well, in that process when I started getting ready to go to some meetings or conferences and I was afraid of meeting people, I would sit down and it’s like, I am going to go to Las Vegas for this conference, I would pull out a 3×5 card and I would think of some topics that I could bring up at that conference. Maybe the conference is going to be about pollution insurance, so I would maybe put down a couple of hot topics that are going on in the environmental law area.
I might also put down what’s the weather like in Vegas compared to North Dakota right now. So there’s probably right now about a 100 degree temperature change. The weather is always a safe conversation.
If I am going to a meeting where I know that there might be a lot of men that are really much more into sports than I am, and I am going to go to Dallas, Texas, I will do a little bit of homework before I get there on how the Dallas Cowboys are doing, so I can have maybe just a little bit of a topic I can bring up in a session back in the back when we are all getting coffee. I can say, hey, how about those Dallas Cowboys in that game on Friday night? That might be all I need to say and I will get everyone else around me starting to talk about it. And what you do is you end up being part of the conversation without having to do a lot of the speaking. Back pocket topics have been something I have used for years.
Vicki Voisin: That’s great, because when you walk into a meeting you frequently don’t — you need to introduce yourself to other people that you don’t know, it’s really important in networking, but to have those back pocket topics ready is a great idea. So thank you for that.
But I want to talk again about that most important P word, and it’s practice. And my mother always said practice makes perfect, and then Coach Vince Lombardi said, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” So what do you think about that?
Vicki Kunz: Well, we both know we don’t disagree with your mother, ever, and I can’t disagree with Vince Lombardi either. Really, it makes sense. We both can agree that you should not go without practicing, and we have all just seen too many speakers that have tried it, so we just don’t recommend it.
Vicki Voisin: Well, tell me something, what about the preparation of the speech itself, how you get started and how early do you begin preparation?
Vicki Kunz: Well, I am one of those P words too, procrastinator, but I have learned to manage my time maybe a little bit better as I have gotten even busier. But what I like to do is I like to start them as early as I know that I have a speaking engagement coming up, so as soon as I am asked. But then I start a list for that speech, and then I am just — I just start writing down topics, ideas, and I try to get as much as I can down whenever I think about it.
Then when I sit down it just helps me bring it altogether. I might have to move things around, but it at least gives me that thought or idea that I had, so I don’t miss it, and I can bring it back into the speech. And then I save those lists for future speeches, because I might be able to go back to that one and say, oh, I had that idea for this particular topic, I didn’t use it, but I want to use it now. That’s kind of my easy way to do it.
Vicki Voisin: Right. And repurposing whatever you can is always smart. There’s something else that I want to throw in here, and that is the speaker that reads their PowerPoint, every single point of their speech is on their PowerPoint. And as far as I am concerned, that’s a boring speaker too, would you agree with that?
Vicki Kunz: Absolutely. I have taken a few other courses and they really emphasize that PowerPoints should never give away all of your material or your speech. Use bullet points and generally no more than six words a bullet point and no more than four bullet points per slide. But I agree with you Vicki on that.
Vicki Voisin: Okay. Well, I just used a Vince Lombardi quote, there’s lots of them, and a lot of people pepper their speeches with quotes and jokes. Now, do you recommend that?
Vicki Kunz: I am not a fan of peppering, and I really like that word when you use it, because I have seen it used a lot. One or two can have impact and it kind of grabs your audience’s attention with one, but when speakers start using quotes or material or I have seen the names of songs used throughout their whole speech, pretty soon it becomes distracting, or what it really tells the audience is you are using someone else’s material as a crutch. I just don’t think it’s a really good idea unless it fits your topic. If your topic is going to be maybe about a particular Vince Lombardi and you want to use several of his quotes, maybe different, but I would avoid peppering your speech per se, like you indicated.
Vicki Voisin: Right. I have seen it done in a lot of candidate speeches and I think it’s distracting when you throw in a whole lot. Well, now we are getting toward the end so I would like for you to summarize your prescription for successful public speaking.
Vicki Kunz: Okay. Number one, seek and grab opportunities to speak. Make yourself go out there and try to find an opportunity for you to be able to deliver some kind of material in front of a group. The more you do it, the easier it will get, which comes to practice. Even if you get that material for a speaker right before the speaking engagement, take that five minutes, go back over, read the material, so you are familiar with it, and then make it your own.
Three, pull out some 3×5 cards and start preparing some back pocket topics for the next meeting that you go to. You are going to really find that it’s a godsend for helping you be prepared walking into a group that you don’t know about. One of the easiest ones to do right now is you have got some future Christmas parties coming up, it’s a good one to even like pull those back pocket topics out for that as well.
And then number four again is practice. I am going to use that one as our ending suggestion as well Vicki.
Vicki Voisin: All of those are just terrific points and things that everyone should take to heart. The opportunity tip is I think very important in that if your schedule permits, always grab those opportunities.
Now Vicki, if any of our listeners want to get in touch with you or learn more about public speaking, how would they do that, and do you have any other resources for our listeners?
Vicki Kunz: I always encourage people to find a Toastmasters Club in your neighborhood that you can attend. If you have several in your community, like we have here in Bismarck, I would encourage you to visit them all as a guest; they welcome guests, sit down, listen to the group and make sure that it’s one that you think that you would fit in. It is the best place for you to practice a speech in front of an audience that is there to help coach you instead of criticize you. That’s number one.
Number two is again look for opportunities, and if anyone wanted to reach out to me for some suggestions or to look at some material they might be looking out for a speech and have some kind of ideas or guidance, they can reach me at HYPERLINK “mailto:[email protected]” [email protected].
Vicki Voisin: Okay. Before we close, I want to tell our listeners that you and I have worked together many times on presentations, usually about moving your career forward and a lot of career planning and so forth, and that’s always been interesting. And I will tell our listeners that you are the one that gets me going on those, because I tend to procrastinate too, wait till the last minute, and it’s better to do it way ahead. So I am learning that from you.
So Vicki, I really appreciate your joining me today. The listeners of The Paralegal Voice are going to get a lot out of your topic. So thank you.
Vicki Kunz: Thank you. It’s been great being here with you Vicki.
Vicki Voisin: Let’s take another short break, don’t go away, because when I come back I will have news and career tips for you.
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Vicki Voisin: Welcome back. Now it’s time for my Practice Tip for today. We have discussed public speaking, a lot of Vicki’s basic tips were just wonderful, and I have one more for you. When you are invited to speak and you have confirmed the date and the topic, please verify how long you will be speaking. This is the first step in your planning, because then you will know how long your speech should be.
Now, people typically speak at a natural rate of a 150 words a minute. If you are asked to speak for 90 minutes, your speech should be around 13,500 words, minus whatever time will be allotted for the intro and for questions and answers. I usually plan about 10 minutes for the intro and the questions and answers and so forth. So then I would be speaking for generally 80 minutes. So you multiply 80 minutes times 150 and you will get the number of words that should be in your speech. Never go over that, always plan your words that you need and then complete your speech that way.
Now, that’s all the time we have today for The Paralegal Voice. If you have questions about today’s show, please email them to me at HYPERLINK “mailto:[email protected]”[email protected]. Also, don’t forget to check out my blog, which is HYPERLINK “http://www.paralegalmentorblog.com” paralegalmentor/blog, and the resources available at HYPERLINK “http://www.paralegalmentor.com” paralegalmentor.com. All of this is designed to help you move your career in the right direction, and that’s always forward.
This is Vicki Voisin, thanking you for listening to The Paralegal Voice, and reminding you to make your paralegal voice heard.
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Thanks for listening to The Paralegal Voice, produced by the broadcast professionals at Legal Talk Network. Join Vicki Voisin for her next podcast on issues and trends affecting paralegals and legal assistants. Subscribe to the RSS feed on HYPERLINK “http://www.legaltalknetwork.com/”legaltalknetwork.com or in iTunes.