Continuing Legal Education / CLE, In-House Counsel

On CLE And Embarrassing Yourself Publicly

I typically limit myself to one rant per column; today, I’m letting fly with two.

My first (narrow) rant is aimed at the Supreme Court of the State of Ohio: Hey, guys, have you heard? It’s the 21st century!

I have the misfortune to live overseas (in London) while maintaining licenses to practice law in three states — California, Illinois, and Ohio. California and Illinois give continuing legal education credit for courses taken by webinar, which seems entirely reasonable in today’s world. Ohio alone opts against reason; for standard CLE credits (as opposed to self-study or publication credits), you must attend a CLE class in person. Riddle me this: Where do you find a live, in-person CLE class in London, England, that’s approved for Ohio CLE credit?

When I was recently back in the states, I was forced to endure 2 1/2 consecutive days of live CLE courses, which will keep me in the Ohio bar’s good graces for the next couple of years. But now I’m throwing down the gauntlet, Ohio: I’m not doing this again in 2015! Give CLE credit for webinars, or I’ll go inactive in Ohio, survive on my California and Illinois licenses, and you’ll be out the $350 registration fee! Not only that — I’ll lobby every other similarly situated person to do the same! It’ll cost you millions! (Shhhh! Please don’t tell the folks at the Ohio bar that I’m probably rallying a group of one: All lawyers licensed in both Ohio and another state — so they can go inactive in Ohio and keep on practicing — while living overseas. If I don’t tell the Ohio bar folks and you don’t tell ‘em, they’ll probably never figure it out. After all, these are the clowns who didn’t think to give CLE credit for webinars.)

But that’s all process; now I’m moving on to substance. The CLE presentations themselves provoke today’s second rant. What mistake, I ask you, do you see made by just about everyone who teaches CLE courses (or, indeed, gives any presentations to live audiences)? More to the point, how can you avoid embarrassing yourself publicly when you speak?

You didn’t even have to click through the jump to learn the answer to my first question; it’s almost rhetorical. In fact, you probably already saw three people make this mistake before you visited Above the Law this morning: Speakers prepare too many PowerPoint slides (because “I’d rather run too long than be allotted an hour and run out of things to say after twelve minutes”). The speakers then don’t bother to time their presentations in advance (because “I’m not getting paid to give this talk; how long should I spend preparing for it?”). The speakers then predictably hit the “three minutes remaining” sign near the end of the talk and still have 57 PowerPoint slides remaining in the deck.

(On reflection, I lied to you: I said that I would identify one mistake speakers routinely make when giving oral presentations. I’ve already plowed through two, and I’m just getting warmed up. Ah, well.)

The pressure of the “three minutes remaining” sign apparently causes the speaker to lose his senses. He thinks to himself: “I’ve run out of time! I can’t possibly cover all of my remaining slides in three minutes! I therefore have two choices: On the one hand, I could end this speech with dignity. I could make one last point and tell the audience to read the remaining slides later, or I could summarize generally what’s in the remaining slides without trying to cover all the detail contained in them.

“On the other hand, I could spend the next few minutes making a complete fool of myself. Even though it’s self-evident that I can’t possibly cover the remaining 57 slides in three minutes, I could try to do it anyway. I could simply stop communicating with my audience, leave out words that are essential for comprehension, and furiously and breathlessly work my way through all the remaining material in three minutes.

“Which should I do?”

Incredibly, these are the speaker’s next words:

“Employee rights! . . . ERISA! . . . Section 409A! . . . Top hat plans! . . . Check this website! . . . Not much time! . . . Flip through these next few . . . DOL! . . . EBSA! . . . Section 504! . . . IRS! . . . I guess I’m out of time. If you have any questions, I’ll be here during the break.”

Well, well, well. You’ve made quite an impression on your audience. I’d certainly like to retain you.

Let’s calm down for a moment: What is the purpose of speaking? Is it, perhaps, to communicate? If so, then you should speak only so long as there’s a chance that you’re in fact communicating. When the communicating has ended, it’s time to sit down.

I don’t think I’d have dipped my quill into ink to write this column if I had observed this insanity only once or twice over the course of a couple dozen CLE speakers. But I swear that more than half of the presenters ended their talks with what is apparently the mandatory idiocy.

Please, please: Stop and think! You’re not (typically) speaking for your own benefit. You’re speaking for the benefit of the audience. Once it’s impossible for the audience to understand you, you’re just killing time (and injuring eternity).

Spare your breath. Spare your audience. And spare yourself the indignity of making a fool of yourself in public. Either time your speech in advance, so that it ends along with your allotted slot, or gracefully tell your audience that you can’t cover all of your remaining PowerPoint slides in the remaining time.

Once you’ve noted your lack of time, say something intelligent, cute, or funny — but something that still communicates with your audience — to end your talk, and get out of there with your dignity intact. You’re speaking for a purpose; let the purpose guide your speech.


Mark Herrmann is the Chief Counsel – Litigation and Global Chief Compliance Officer at Aon, the world’s leading provider of risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human capital and management consulting. He is the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law and Inside Straight: Advice About Lawyering, In-House And Out, That Only The Internet Could Provide (affiliate links). You can reach him by email at inhouse@abovethelaw.com.

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