Taylor Maxston (2L)
We are a little over a month into the Winter semester and buzz about the LRW moot is pervasive throughout the Faculty of Law. With preparations underway for each 1L’s opportunity to don the gown and present oral arguments, the focus is beginning to move away from formulating what to argue and instead toward how the argument will be presented in the courtroom. Orating is a skill that is honed through practice and experience, but students who make these small changes can give themselves an edge while leaving a strong impression with the judges. As the first part of my moot preparation article focussed on research and formulating arguments, this iteration will provide useful tips on how to succeed in oral argument.
Outline – Don’t Script – Your Argument
You might have prepared an extremely persuasive and thought-provoking argument that will surely knock the judge’s socks off, but all will be for not if it is delivered in a robotic fashion. Articulating your position in the moot courtroom is less about lecturing and more about engaging in a dialogue with the bench. Further, mooters are regularly forced to ad lib and make departures from their original plans.
Drafting and editing a “script” covering the key points of your position can help in articulating what you want to say, but said script should develop into more of a skeleton of how you want to frame your arguments as the day of the moot approaches. An increasing familiarity with how your arguments are logically connected brings with it an enhanced comfort level in communicating them to the judges.
Don’t Let the Day of Your Moot be the First Time You Speak in Front of Others
Speaking of becoming increasingly familiar with your arguments, there are a multitude of ways to improve your speaking ability as you count down the days to your first appearance at the Supreme Moot Court of the University of Alberta. In particular, your moot mentors are a highly valuable resource for providing both reassurance about what to expect when you are in the moot courtroom, and valuable feedback to refine the details of your argument.
It can’t be understated how important it is to not have your first time presenting be in front of the judges. Rehearsing with your peers and/or a mentor is especially useful for a number of reasons. Of course, you will learn what points you can address in your allotted time and refine your argument accordingly. The goal is to get the pacing to the point where you aren’t rushing your points across, nor are you giving an incomplete picture of your position. Practicing in a group format with questions being thrown your way can also help in anticipating the weaknesses in your argument and responding to them on the fly. Much like riding a bicycle, developing a comfort level with responding to questions is all about repetition.
Listen Carefully to and Answer Questions from the Bench
Don’t take it personally when a judge stops you mid-sentence to inquire about one of your points. Questions don’t automatically require a mooter to mount a defensive stance. Rather, they are an opportunity for the judge to clarify something, provide an opinion, tweak the facts to see how your position would change, or critique a weakness.
The blunders come by rushing to give some form of explanation before the question has really had a chance to sink in. Listen carefully, take a moment to think about the answer, and deliver a coherent response that actually answers the question. Asking for clarification or for a judge to reformulate their question is a useful way of ensuring you actually understand what is being asked of you before diving straight into the answer.
Proper Posture and Eye Contact Provide an Air of Confidence
The devil is truly in the details with this tip. We have all heard the expression “fake it ‘til you make”, but it might ring the most true when nerves start to set in before speaking in front of a crowd. Keeping your chest out, shoulders back and making occasional eye contact as you speak (to emphasize that you are engaging the bench) will give yourself a more confident presence. Even though your knees might be shaking behind the podium as the words come out of your mouth, the judges will have a positive impression of your demeanor from their point of view.