Is shyness holding you back in your legal career?

Whether it’s a networking event, a meeting, a public speaking opportunity or even a pitch to a new client – all of these can be painful experiences if you are very shy. And if you are avoiding them due to shyness then your career could be suffering. Lawyers need to win new business just as much as they need to win their cases. So every lawyer needs to be able to speak up in public – with confidence.

I used to be painfully shy - wouldn’t ‘say boo to a goose’. I actively avoided talking to people I didn’t already know. Then three years ago I lost my job – and with it my confidence. My self-esteem hit rock bottom and although I dreamt of starting my own business, I simply did not have the confidence - my shyness stopped me taking the necessary steps and speaking to the people who could help me.

Eventually I faced up to the fact that me and my dreams would never get anywhere unless I tackled my shyness. So I decided to get some help. There are lots of ways to do this from 1-2-1 sessions with a specialist, to joining a public speaking group. Personally I chose to join Toastmasters International, one of many public speaking clubs. I was persuaded to give a talk to the club and to try to tackle my shyness by building my confidence.

I performed in front of the club and they laughed at my jokes. They enjoyed my speeches. It gave me a huge amount of confidence. My fellow members were incredibly supportive and kind. They helped me to change my style and built my confidence.

With regular feedback and encouragement from fellow members my confidence grew and in turn my shyness disappeared. It took time, but at each meeting I could sense I was leaving my shy self behind. I now help others to overcome their shyness. So if you are preparing a pitch to a new client, and nerves and shyness are overwhelming you, here are my eight tips:

1. Remember nerves are normal and everyone - yes everyone - gets them. There is nothing unusual about you – in fact it would be odd if you weren’t a little nervous.

2. Stop thinking about what will happen if you forget your words or fall over. Instead focus on ‘how much value can I give during this presentation?’, ‘how can I make it fun for my audience?’ or ask ‘how could this be fun for me?’.

3. Remind yourself you are there to give your audience the gift of your experience, knowledge and expertise. It’s this expertise that will ‘sell’ your practice to the client, so let it shine through.

4. If you get the opportunity beforehand - chat to the people who will be in the meeting, they will feel more like a group of friends.

5. Face the fear. The more you give presentations the more comfortable you will become with it. So practise, practise, practise! Volunteer for as many opportunities as you can!

6. Remember your audience wants you to succeed. They want you to be good and they want to enjoy it. They are not thinking ‘I hope this guy is rubbish, I hope I don’t enjoy it’.

7. Deliver the talk in front of a friendly audience first. Test it with your boss, colleagues or even a family member. Then you will feel more comfortable when it comes to the ‘real thing’.

8. Before you start to present take a moment to breathe deeply and slowly. Try breathing in for three, holding for nine, and then out for six. Repeat four or five times.

By using these tips to help you overcome nerves and shyness, presenting to a new client will become easier and more enjoyable. But it does take practice – so feel your fear and get out there. Your legal career can only benefit!

Alan Donegan is a member of Toastmaster International and an award-winning speaker, a broadcaster and trainer. He is founder of Enjoy Presenting