There’s a scene in the current movie On the Bases of Sex relevant to anyone making a presentation. It’s the story of struggling young attorney Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s game-changing court case before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, a court one-step below the US Supreme Court.
When she took the case, Ms. Ginsburg was a Rutgers Law School professor who’d never been in court before. Her husband, a successful corporate trial attorney, suggested they work on it together due to her deep understanding of laws associated with it. As a woman in 1970, no law firm would hire her. This is even though she was well respected for her legal mind.
Considering her lack of trial experience, for a practice run, a team of legal experts came to critique her approach. They were concerned and chided her trial persona. They said her grim, academic technique would lose the case. She was too rigid, too stiff. Since no judge could “like” her, the judges likely would dismiss what she had to say. It was a low point for her.
As a presentations and meeting strategist, I’ve seen similar situations many times in all kinds of businesses. Speaker faces often are rigid and expressionless. They think the serious nature of a situation calls for severity.
The greater truth is that serious content does not mean a person needs to be grim.
Ms. Ginsburg went to work on herself to figure out how to emanate a less brittle and more appealing courtroom countenance. In the film, there are charming scenes of the normally somber young woman standing before a mirror, trying like the dickens to smile as she speaks.
In Speaking for Influence from Center Stage, our two-day intensive program, the value of smiling is one of many skills participants learn – when, where, and how.
Ultimately, Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s winning smile and brilliant arguments won over the conservative judges. And the rest is history, as millions of RBG fans can attest.