Agreat presenter combines the best qualities of an entertainer and a professor. “They never lose sight of the fact that they are trying to make an impression on their audience,” said Jeff
Hausfeld, MD, MBA, an otolaryngologist and co-founder of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, based in Potomac, Md. “Their speech has a certain cadence, and they have an uncanny ability to engage and connect with their audience. Their slides remind them of the overarching important highlights they need to cover but, for the most part, they speak from experience, extemporaneously lending their unique perspectives on sometimes very complex and technical topics.”
Sounds easy enough, right?
Presenting at a meeting requires careful planning. Begin by ascertaining who will be in your audience and tailor your talk specifically to them. “If your task is to deliver a highly technical talk and your audience is diverse, make sure you speak to the least sophisticated person who will attend,” advised Dr. Hausfeld, who no longer practices clinical medicine, instead focusing on the business of medicine. “But do it in a way that does not lose your more technically savvy attendees.”
Lisa Ishii, MD, MHS, associate professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery and chief quality officer at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, suggests starting your talk by presenting a vision that captures the audience’s attention and makes them want to continue to listen to understand how they will get there. “This sets the stage for a story that the speaker will then unfold over the course of the presentation,” she said.
Ken Lizotte, CMC, chief imaginative officer of Emerson Consulting Group in Concord, Mass., recommends starting with something startling. “Find a statistic or outrageous example of a main point pertaining to your topic or a scenario of something that could happen but that could have also been prevented,” he said. “This technique will immediately get your audience’s attention.”
The key is to include the audience in your talk, said Joseph Simon, PT, DPT, CIDN, a private practice consultant based in New York City. “Ask enrolling questions. For example, ‘How many of you are in private practice, and how many work for a hospital?’ Whatever their opinion, you’ll get the whole room engaged. Have them say ‘yes’ by raising their hands or nodding ‘yes.’”
Rules to Speak By
Once you’ve captured your audience’s attention, don’t lose it. Content is king, said Jim Stone, president and co-founder of The Medicus Firm, a physician search firm in Dallas. “Researching relevant, impactful, and compelling content that is well organized and pertinent to the topic and audience is paramount,” he added.
If you are presenting for the first time or if you have only presented a few times, Stone suggests rehearsing your presentation with a friend or colleague recording it. “They can provide constructive feedback along with the video recording,” said Stone, adding that recording also helps you gauge for time constraints.
Simon is also a proponent of practicing. “One time I completed my presentation in less than 10 minutes because I spoke too fast. But, after practicing, I was able to spend more time elaborating on what I wanted to say. Another time, my PowerPoint presentation froze, but because I rehearsed my slides I was able to speak from memory,” he said.
The best presenters are those who present frequently and keep tweaking their presentations based on audience reactions. “This is the same methodology followed by successful stand-up comedians, i.e., find out what works and what doesn’t work and adjust accordingly,” said Lizotte.
When delivering a speech, be sure to speak at a pace that is comfortable and engaging. “Vary your voice inflection, and use pauses and variations in pace to avoid sounding monotone,” Stone said. “Project your voice and carefully enunciate your words.”
Allot time for questions, if applicable. “I prefer to go over rather than under in terms of content, in case the presentation goes too fast or if there are few questions,” Stone added. “I can always omit a few parts if I run out of time. But don’t add fluff or filler content simply to fill time.”
If it looks like your talk might run overtime, interject something like, “I have one more point to make” or “I will hurry through my last five slides,” Lizotte advised. In other words, convey to your audience that you know you may exceed the time but will not do so by much. Your audience will forgive you and won’t mind giving you a few more minutes.
Find a statistic or outrageous example of a main point pertaining to your topic or a scenario of something that could happen but that could have also been prevented. This technique will immediately get your audience’s attention. —Ken Lizotte
Humor can serve as a great icebreaker and will keep the presentation interesting and engaging. “I always try to inject humor at the beginning, and then use it a few times during the presentation,” Stone said.
Dr. Hausfeld also loves injecting humor. “I’m always on the lookout for a good opening joke and a good ending one that will leave the audience smiling, and hopefully more knowledgeable in the topic I discussed,” he added. “But be careful not to use politically charged stories or ones that could be offensive.”
When it comes to humor, Lizotte errs on the side of caution. “Be jocular, but not a stand-up comedian. And don’t try to tell jokes unless you’ve practiced them before a live audience and know that people will laugh. Otherwise, opt to just chuckle at your own use of language or communicate friendly jests toward the moderator or your answers to a question. Make fun of yourself if you spot a typo on a slide, such as, ‘Oh, I really messed that one up, didn’t I? Sorry, folks!’”
“Mainly, don’t try to overdo humor; just be self deprecating and act as if you are having a good time. In fact, don’t act … actually have a good time!” Lizotte said.
The value of preparation cannot be overstated in overcoming anxiety and delivering the best possible presentation. “It’s natural to feel nervous when speaking in public, and even after giving many presentations you will likely have some nerves,” Stone said. “However, if you’ve practiced your presentation and prepared your content thoroughly, everything will fall into place. A strong opening will ease your tension for the rest of the presentation, because the beginning is usually the toughest, until you settle into a comfortable rhythm with your audience.”
If you connect with your audience visually and emotionally and allow them to feel that you’re there to teach them something of special importance that will assist them in their professional lives, that may be the best way to overcome any fear, Dr. Hausfeld said.
Lizotte advises thinking of your audience as a lunch partner or a small group of friends. “You don’t get nervous in those situations, right?” he said. “This isn’t any different, except that your audience has a greater number of lunch partners. By viewing your audience in this way, you’ll see them as plain old regular folks coming to hear what you have to say and then conversing with you about what you’ve said during the question-and-answer period.”
Physical activities that use excess adrenaline, such as jumping jacks or pushups, or listening to inspiring songs or passages just before going onstage, may help to calm some presenters, Dr. Ishii added. Some speakers also find it helpful to keep a bottle of water at the podium, where quick sips can combat dry mouth.
A great speaker sets his goals before a talk. Said Dr. Hausfeld, “If you keep in mind that your main purpose is to educate your audience in a way that will improve their daily lives and do so in a way that is entertaining, engaging, and thought provoking, then you will surely leave a lasting and positive impression.”
Karen Appold is a freelance medical writer based in Pennsylvania.