Last week I did three gigs in three days. On Tuesday, at the request of cousin Joshua Stein, I did a one-hour presentation in New York as part of a seminar on real-estate financing. On Wednesday and Thursday, I did two day-long in-house “Drafting Clearer Contracts” seminars in the Bay Area. And at each of the three, I had … fun.
I appreciate that my having fun isn’t necessarily the same as participants finding worthwhile what I have to say. Nevertheless, I got to wondering how it is that I enjoy doing seminars. It’s hardly something to be expected. I’m sure that you, like I, have sat through presentations that were at best functional: people imparting information and not much more. What makes my seminars different, at least for me?
The topic helps. In my “Drafting Clearer Contracts” seminars, we explore several topics, each of which involves considering lots of issues, examples, and problems. We never get bogged down. By contrast, my seminars on my book The Structure of M&A Contracts are heavy going: it’s a complex topic, with each issue building on what came before, so you have to keep your wits about you. That’s why I don’t do those seminars often!
It also helps that some aspects of traditional contract drafting are so ludicrous as to be funny—there’s plenty of potential for comedy. Laughter is a regular part of my seminars.
It’s relevant that what we discuss is deeply personal to me, as pathetic as that sounds. This is my topic: no one has explored it in anything like the same detail. In considering a given drafting usage, I might mention how I studied it and wrote about it, how others have tackled it, the fights it has caused, how my clients react to it, and so on. It probably helps make more compelling what could be dreadfully dry.
And having done a couple of hundred seminars, I have the material down cold. That allows me to focus on those in attendance. Participants are the wild card; they’re what make one seminar different from another. Am I in Chicago or Shanghai or Helsinki? Is it a public seminar or in-house? If it’s in-house, am I at a law firm or a company? In what industry? And beyond that, a group is made up of individuals, some reticent, some combative, some witty, some thoughtful. I engage with them.
Through interplay of all these factors, my seminars are in effect a performance. It ain’t Broadway, to be sure, but it isn’t your average continuing-legal-education snoozefest either.