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July 2024
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Legally Speaking

The verdict is in: Lawyers win big by sharpening communication skills.

By Kate McClare, DTM


Wooden courtroom gavel hitting block

Shenali Dias had always been quiet, and reluctant to speak up—even if she knew the answer to a question or had a salient point to make.

Today, as an attorney-at-law, she presents confidently and communicates effectively with her colleagues and clients.

Rukhsana Khan also used to shy away from speaking, fearful even to raise her hand to ask a question. Facing a conference room with “lots of men in suits” was especially challenging.

Now, she represents her firm at networking events and can be found on prestigious lists of top attorneys.

What happened?

“I owe it all to Toastmasters,” says Dias, a Sri Lankan member.

Khan, a member in Qatar, is equally grateful to the organization. “I found my voice and freed my voice,” she says. “It made such a difference.”

Toastmasters helps people develop valuable communication and leadership skills that can propel you in your career, whether you’re a lawyer, an executive, or any other professional. The four attorneys highlighted in this article say Toastmasters also helped them sharpen the presentation, negotiation, and networking skills unique to their field.



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Veronica Armstrong, DTM

Clubs: Spotlight Speakers (Richmond, British Columbia, Canada) and Hiroshima Phoenix Toastmasters (online)

Area of specialization: securities law

Veronica Armstrong, DTM, was invited twice to attend a Toastmasters club meeting and declined both times. It wasn’t because she thought she didn’t need help in communication or leadership.

“I had heard of this thing called Table Topics, which frightened me to death,” she explains. “I had never had a fear of public speaking, but that was if I was well versed in the subject. And it doesn’t mean I always remember my skills.”

She finally joined a club. And another. Since first pushing past her fear, she’s been in as many as six clubs at a time.

“It has definitely made me a better lawyer in that I am more able to appreciate different points of view,” she says of Toastmasters. “I’ve met people from every walk of life, from every political and ideological persuasion.”

Armstrong sometimes uses club meetings to ­practice presentations, and Toastmasters’ emphasis on clear ­communication has aided her work as a communication consultant. She leads workshops helping professionals use plain language to reach all audiences, a critical need in the law.

Faced with reading and signing a contract, for instance, “most people don’t understand it because it’s written in legalese, and that makes it inaccessible,” says Armstrong.

At the same time, her legal expertise has helped her in Toastmasters. She used her negotiation skills when serving as her District’s corporate club liaison, which called on her to help other District members understand the unique character of corporate clubs so that all sides could work effectively together.

Her commitment led to her being named her Area’s 2012–2013 Toastmaster of the Year.

“What I love about Toastmasters is you have permission to tell people who you are,” she says. “It has given me a better appreciation for people when I meet them professionally.”



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Shenali Dias

Club: Bar Association of Sri Lanka Toastmasters (Colombo, Sri Lanka)

Areas of specialization: commercial, intellectual property, and corporate law

“How to communicate a complex case in a simple way is what I learned in Toastmasters,” says Dias, who got hooked on Toastmasters when she attended a Speechcraft program in 2020. She served as charter Secretary of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka Toastmasters Club and later as its Club President, and also became an Area Director.

“I felt I wasn’t really growing anymore,” she says of why she initially sought out Toastmasters. “One of the key issues I saw with my development was the lack of finer public speaking skills.”

Toastmasters helped Dias with the interpersonal and negotiation skills she uses to work with clients. Her presentation abilities sharpened; she learned how to use storytelling and other audience-engagement strategies, and to organize her material for better flow and stronger impact.

The payoff in her speaking skills came when she presented a copyright class for law students. “I had to tailor my knowledge to communicate it in a way that undergrad students truly understood, and there were some laypeople in the audience too.”

A surprising benefit came during the pandemic. While Sri Lanka’s courts were shut down, her Bar Association club continued to convene online. By the time the courts reopened using Zoom, Dias had had plenty of practice with virtual meetings and could present smoothly in court. The practice also helped her pass her online interview for her Ph.D. program.

But the greatest benefit has been in her confidence level. Table Topics® has helped her get comfortable dealing with impromptu questions, both inside and outside of the legal arena.

“Previously, that really left me tongue-tied,” she says. “Now I can always smoothly communicate my ideas.”



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Rukhsana Khan, DTM

Clubs: Qatar Toastmasters and West Bay Toastmasters (both in Doha, Qatar)

Area of specialization: corporate law

Like Dias, Rukhsana Khan, DTM, learned to communicate in a more accessible manner. “Toastmasters helped me explain complex legal concepts and ideas to my non-lawyer clients in a way they told me they had not experienced before,” she says.

She had always loved working with words but found that dealing with people could be difficult. Khan attended a Speechcraft program, but she hesitated to join a club because of Table Topics. “I was petrified. I didn’t want to make that call [to join].” When she finally did, she not only overcame her fear but later became her District’s champion in the Table Topics Speech Contest. She started the first Arabic club at a public institution in Qatar (Qatar University Toastmasters).

 

“Toastmasters helped me explain complex legal concepts and ideas to my non-lawyer clients in a way they told me they had not experienced before.”

—Rukhsana Khan, DTM

 

And she went on to great accomplishments in her profession. Starting in 2011, she was named a leading lawyer in Qatar by the prestigious Chambers and Partners annual global legal rankings. In 2018—the same year she became a Distinguished Toastmaster—she was inducted into the Legal 500 Hall of Fame, the only woman in Qatar to make the list. In 2019, she launched her own international legal consultancy, Westway Law, and in 2022, she won the Entrepreneur of the Year award at LexisNexis Middle East’s Women in Law event in Dubai.

“I believe my communication ability (learned in Toastmasters) is one of the keys to the positive reviews I received from Chambers and The Legal 500,” Khan says, adding that Toastmasters also gave her the confidence to become an entrepreneur.



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Steve Replin

Club: Professional Presenters Toastmasters (Denver, Colorado)

Areas of specialization: business, entertainment, and intellectual property law

Toastmasters has helped Steve Replin improve his skills in presenting to groups and in one-to-one interactions, not just as an attorney but also in working with entrepreneurs and in leadership roles for nonprofits like the American Heart Association.

He says Toastmasters training has helped him reduce, if not eliminate, his nervousness when speaking in front of people. Replin joined the Professional Presenters club in 2018, after a friend had invited him to visit a Toastmasters club. He later served as Vice President Education, Vice President Public Relations, and Vice President Membership.

Replin has presented some legal topics at his club, but it’s the act of presenting, not the topic, that has made the difference for him.

“Toastmasters has given me the ability to communicate with my clients better [because of] knowing a bit about what it takes to have people relate to you faster, better, more personally,” he says. “Instead of just launching into a talk about Einstein’s theory, you tell them a joke first or find out something about them or throw in something like a story that’s relevant—or even a story that’s not relevant.

“I do a whole bunch of other things that are not related to my law practice,” he adds. “I just need to be competent in so many areas of my life, [whether] in front of one person or 500 people.”

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