Have you seen the movie ‘The King’s Speech’ with Colin Firth? No? Then I totally recommended it for everyone who tries to improve his or hers pubic speaking skills. The struggle of George VI, the king of the United Kingdom at the time of the II World War, to overcome his stammer and empower his subjects with powerful speeches is very inspiring. No worries – you are going to address a panel consisting of several judges, not a nation at war. Still, the way you speak, the way you use your voice can give your arguments incredible power and irresistible charm or deprive them entirely of both. To make sure your position is not rejected because you voice it poorly, remember about these five pieces of advice:
- Use the right pace
The most common and probably the most serious mistake moot court pleaders make is talking too fast. You are poised to commit this crime against your pleading: you want to present all arguments in the little time you have, get a lot of questions… No wonder in these circumstances most people rush. Unfortunately, wrong pace can be detrimental. No matter how smart your argument is, it is useless if the arbitrators misunderstand it or find it weak just because they failed to follow your reasoning. Talking fast deprives the arbitrators of an opportunity to analyze and comprehend your position and takes away the weight your words should carry. If you listen to, for instance, how Gary Born, one of the most renowned counsels in the world pleads (for example here) you might be surprised at his slow pace. He speaks slow because it does work. In the moot court context, when you face severe time constraints, less is more: it is far better to focus on one strong, key argument and make sure the tribunal understands it instead of covering three at the speed of light and leave the judges confused. In most cases if you believe you are talking too fast, it means you need to slow down, and if you believe you are talking too slow – then you are wrong.
- Choose good modulation
Being slow does not mean being monotonous, though. Calm and even pace is recommended not only because it makes it easy to follow our arguments – it also provides excellent background for you to stress certain words and create dramatic pauses after sentences when you wish to emphasises particularly important parts of your arguments. This effect is far more difficult to achieve if your speech is exaggerated all the time. If you do it you ‘jam’ your key messages. Diversifying the tone of your voice will also keep a silent tribunal awake and engaged. Arbitrators asking few questions provide few opportunities for advocates to put some action into the pleading, so you have to take care of it.
- Think of adequate projection
Your voice has to be neither too loud, nor too quiet. Being too loud distracts and annoys the tribunal, while being too quite makes it harder for many arbitrators, especially the elderly, to understand and follow your argument. You will have to adapt the natural power of your voice to external circumstances like: distance from the tribunal’s table, acoustics of the courtroom, presence or lack of microphones and audience. If it is possible, try to visit the courtroom earlier. After you check it you will be able to adapt immediately.
- Eliminate interruptions and time-eaters
A good pleading is fluent and undisturbed by all the ’emms’, ‘yyys’ and other time-eating sounds that add nothing but chaos to our message. Of course, interruptions like these occur often. Our daily or spontaneous speech is plagued with them. Usually hardly anyone cares, but when three or more people focus on your words in a silent courtroom during your pleading they really come into spotlight. Remember that the less interruptions your pleading contains, the better. They distract and can be perceived as lack of confidence. If you need to buy yourself a few precious seconds to think about an answer to a question or wording of the next sentence, it is far better to take a sip of water, pretend you need to check something in the bundle or even stay silent, but focused on the tribunal.
- Be relaxed about accent
Chances are high you participate in a moot court held in English (or another language used for international communication, like Spanish or French) and you are not a native speaker. It is not a reason to worry – the good news is that most of your opponents and most of the judges or arbitrators will also be non-native. You will just have to get ready to hear a vast variety of different accents, often quite different from your own. You do not have to get intimidated by native teams participating in moot courts – you are not scored basing on how close you come to the native accent. Nevertheless, if you feel or know from your experience that your heavy accent sometimes impedes communication, try to improve your pronunciation. For instance, when you speak English, you really do not have to sound like a member of the British royal family, but you have to learn in detail how to correctly pronounce words in order to be fully understood – and not to make funny errors, since very similar words can have very different meaning…