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Speeches for Audiences

When I was in High School, I was in the band. It was a pretty prestigious thing (at least, I thought it was) because it was one of two activities that you could do that fulfilled two extracurricular activity credits in one go. (The other was being a prefect, which I also did– but prefecting didn’t actually require any skill).

As a result of being in a band, and eventually going on to play in a division of the concert band for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, I’ve been at several functions– things like commemorative dinners and graduations and that sort of thing– that have people at podiums giving speeches.


Consider the differences between:
-Giving a lecture
-Facilitating a group
-Delivering a press conference
-Giving an address/speech
-Doing a product demonstration
-Giving a toast

What are the things that you think about when you consider these situations? Yes, the can overlap. But what do you think of when you think of a good speech?


Public speaking is a great fear for many people, sure, but some people don’t mind it and are called upon to give speeches.

I was just at [CM]’s graduation ceremony, and Someone lmportant gave a speech about Something. I don’t remember what it was, and to be honest, I didn’t give a shit even 10 seconds after every sentence that person mentioned. People just get so caught up with the pomp and circumstance that they understand, by looking around at the person sitting next to them, that this is the point when we should all be quiet and listen.

You wouldn’t put up with a boring movie. You wouldn’t normally listen to someone who does nothing but talk about themselves. So what is this social phenomenon that results in the captive audience?


Have a think about certain things about speeches that might help you the next time you have to give one. Mostly, have a think about the types of speeches you hate, and the kinds of reasons why you want to hear what someone has to say. Think of the context, and the purpose of why you were asked to speak.

For example:
A graduation speech is supposed to make you feel special, and to let everyone know how much you’ve acheived.

As someone from the profession looking on at a hall full of graduates, you are doing the wrong thing, if:
-all you talk about is what you accomplished when you were at school (nobody gives a shit)
-you speak about lessons that you learned, in a way that makes you sound like a wise guy (this new generation is about them, not you, and while there may be wisdom to be gained from you, it is with you as a case study in a larger system, and not with your individual epiphanies which you assume to be applicable to the larger lot)
-you tell people that it was all worth it (this is the same sugarcoating fallacy as “America is the Greatest Nation in the World) and that you all have bright futures.
-all you do is give a history lesson, because your age makes you the resident expert
-all you do is reminisce about what you did in their place (again, irrelevant)

You are doing the right thing if you spend more time telling them that it is imperative that they learn more about themselves, and get prepared for the institutional spoonfeeding to stop.

You are doing the right thing if you tell them, in no unspecific terms, the wild things they can do with their degrees.


Yes, I am jaded. I am displeased at how the majority of speakers at inaugural events are so irrelevant, and that a culture of irrelevance has perpetuated to the point that some people in the captive audience actually feel really good about these tablescrap speeches and dull embers in their hearts warming.

Graudation– it’s freedom! This is release from institutionalism that means that you finally have the collection of silly papers that says you will be recognised for potential that you always had. Yes, so you picked up skills along the way– but when you get to the real working world, you’ll realise that you’ll learn it mostly on the job anyway. You’ll wonder why systems of apprenticeship ever got replaced by so much abstract theory (read: moneygrab!).

It is your chance to become real women and men because now, you are in a social position where you will make choices, and you will not only live be consequences, but you will create consequences that others will have to live with as well.

A graduation speech that does nothing but celebrate the past and look at the future with rosy glasses on?

No. Give me the graduation speech that says we are going to war with humanity– that you have been given some of the tools, and the credentials, now go and take back those dreams of a kinder world when you were 10 years old.

Give me the graduation speech that says that we are bad people and that we’re going to have to do more bad to get to the good.

Give me the graduation speech that takes a stance and says that, within 20 years, despite all this promise and pomp, a select few of you will be the elite, and the rest of you will be the rest of the poor majority. And that for all the bright futures, the select few of you will become oppressors.


If you have an audience… how often do we just tell people what they want to hear? How often do we assume that our life is the norm, or that we know what “common sense” is, or that we in any way set a “reasonable standard”? Read the rest of this entry »

Full time Lawyering

About a month ago, I made the transition to full time work as a solicitor. It was a mostly smooth affair. In the past, I had already worked at [The Firm] full time as a paralegal, and at the [Big Firm] in Hong Kong.

The main difference was the intensity of the work. There’s a huge difference between the work you have to do as an intern or paralegal and what you do as a solicitor in a small firm– mostly that suddenly, your responsibilities jump tremendously.

Economically speaking, the main reason for this is that as a solicitor, you can now earn substantially more in billable hours for the firm than you can as a solicitor or paralegal. So while in the past, I did a lot of administrative work and legal research that goes behind the maintenance of the business and keeping up to date on things, being in the solicitor’s earning bracket for the firm suddenly means that you can do work so that the principal doesn’t have to do as much. It also means you’re way more responsible for things, because things go through far fewer checks between your keyboard and the client.

It used to be that while I was a paralegal or intern, I would do perhaps a couple of billable hours per day, and sometimes, only a handful in an entire week. Suddenly? Suddenly, almost 90% of my day is composed of billable hours.

Which means that accuracy of the work is essential.

WHen I was working at the Big Firm, I was told that I was overal an excellent performer– my only issue was “attention to detail.” It was best explained to me that this was professional work, not school, and that getting a “Distinction” or “High Distinction” was no longer enough– things just had to be perfect for the client.

This difference has been significant, because I’m someone who views efficiency as a paramount concern– and efficiency in most situations means that sometimes, big picture gains are more important than sweating the details.

This approach doesn’t work as a solicitor. Perhaps it might as an intern or a paralegal, or with the work I was doing in executive roles at [The Institute], but it doesn’t cut it when it comes to work that is going on directly for a client. I wouldn’t pay a doctor to get my operation “mostly right”, and conversely, nobody would pay my fees for something that’s mostly right either. Every part needs to be right– and yes, this means you lose effiency, but the language of the work is so important that errors can potentially lead to huge liabilities.

The shift from a mindset of “efficiency” to “perfectionism” is an interesting one– and kind of painful, to be honest. But I’m getting better at it, even though I’m making mistakes along the way.

I made a significant mistake about a week ago which would have had a not-insignificant effect on a matter. I was really embarrassed afterwards– but I was actually surprised that, not only didn’t my boss through me under the bus, but she actually stood up for me to the client. Confidentiality obligations means that I don’t actually get to say much more about the facts, but knowing that my boss is actually taking up a mentoring role and wants to grow me into the business is a good feeling. I don’t feel as scared to learn, and the learning feels like it’s for the sake of my craft as opposed to strictly for the avoidance of liability. It’s a healthy kind of balance.

I’m not saying that “efficiency” and “perfectionism” are necessarily incompatible. You can be efficient and get a perfect result. But oftentimes, nitpicking about the details takes too long, and time is money. What I need to do is have more respect for these details, built up my craft from the foundations, and the efficiency will come naturally.