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Public Speaking 101


Stop and think back to a presentation you still, to this day, remember vividly. What was it about that lecture that imprinted itself on your memory? Was it the speaker’s energy, oration, or style? Was it the slides that were simple and elegant yet powerful in their message? Or was it, perhaps, the way in which the speaker was able to dynamically involve you in the presentation as a member of the audience?

Chances are, it’s not one but a blend of several of these factors that captivated your attention. Learning the skills to deliver effective presentations takes patience and practice.

Meet the Authors

Hungry for more information? Come watch Dr. Chopra, Dr. LaBrin, and other members of SHM’s Young Physicians Committee on Friday, April 9, at HM10 in Washington, D.C., during their workshop: “Making Your Mark: How to Create Effective PowerPoint Presentations.”

Fortunately, the recipe for successful presentations is not a secret limited to an elite group. On the contrary, all you have to do is remember to execute a few guidelines that will help sharpen your presentation abilities.

Although most physicians—both in training and practice—deliver lectures on a variety of topics, few receive guidance on presentation skills, style, and content. The following are the “Ten Commandments” of presentation planning and execution. We suggest hospitalists learn, practice, and implement these rules in order to deliver better presentations.

Commandment No. 1:

It’s All About Preparation

Never wait until the last minute to prepare. Take the time to completely research your topic and define your objectives. When you give your talk, you should feel like a content expert. Budget additional time to rehearse: in front of a mirror, with your partner, even for a small group of colleagues. This routine will give you the opportunity to time yourself, obtain feedback, and become comfortable with your material.

Anxiety causes a presenter to speak faster than they normally do. Pace your speech and focus on pronouncing the last letter of every word. This helps you to enunciate the crucial points of your talk and avoid mumbling.

Commandment No. 2:

Be Early

On presentation day, be among the first to arrive. It allows you to appreciate the venue, test the audio/visual equipment, and make any last-minute adjustments to your presentation. Build in time to troubleshoot (e.g., Is the microphone too loud? Is your animation syncing properly?). You might even be able to practice one last time.

Commandment No. 3:

Don’t Curb Your Enthusiasm

One of your top priorities as a speaker should be connecting with your audience. Bashfulness is not an option. People attending your talk are interested in you and your subject matter. Use humorous anecdotes or real-world examples to inject passion into your presentation; they breathe life into what might be a well-organized but boring hour.

Share your enthusiasm about your topic by discussing relevant personal experience, or draw upon on previous feedback (“The last time I gave this talk, I had a nice lady ask me …”).

Commandment No. 4:

Speak Crisply and Clearly

Anxiety causes a presenter to speak faster than they normally do. Pace your speech and focus on pronouncing the last letter of every word. This helps you to enunciate the crucial points of your talk and avoid mumbling.

Learn to avoid fillers (“um, uh, hmm, err”) by practicing what you want to say, exactly how you would say it.

Crisp, clear speech is impressive and can help win over your audience. Need an example? Just watch President Obama.

Commandment No. 5:

Be The Role

Public speaking involves a bit of acting, so be ready to play the role. Even though you might not be 100% confident in your abilities, you should still “present” yourself confidently.

Surveys reveal that the first visual impression of a speaker, coupled with the first five minutes of a presentation, affects audience opinion the most.

Remember to make eye contact with your listeners, and dress appropriately and comfortably. Look, feel, and act the role of speaker.

Commandment No. 6:

Unlearn PowerPoint

Realize that you have been using PowerPoint wrong all along. You’ve been obsessed with slide content, appearance, theme, and animation, and you’ve forgotten the most important ingredient: your message.

Use slides as a means to enhance your theme, create dialogue, and engage your spectators. Your slides should be visual enhancements, not notes.

If you read directly from the content in the slides, it’s a surefire way to disengage the audience (and you don’t want them to skip out of the presentation or fall asleep). You might as well go home and e-mail the presentation to the group.

Commandment No. 7:

Keep Slides Simple

Visual simplicity is the key to all successful presentations. Aim for no more than four lines of text per slide, with no text smaller than 32-point font. Incorporate more images, graphics, and animation to accentuate your ideas and illustrate content. Apple CEO Steve Jobs is a master of this. He rarely has more than one line of text in any slide. If you need text, create a handout to distribute once your talk is over.

Commandment No. 8:

Simplify the Story

If everything in your talk is important, then nothing becomes important. Cognitive studies tell us that attention spans in monotonous learning environments are limited. Your goal is to tell your tale dynamically and make your points succinctly. Be ruthless in your efforts to simplify. Learn to prioritize and deliver content in a simple, engaging manner. This takes practice but is key to a winning presentation.

Commandment No. 9:

Involve The Audience

Among the most challenging skills is learning how to actively involve your listeners. All effective presenters do this in different ways. Asking questions or asking for a show of hands provides a simple opportunity for engagement.

Try to stimulate curiosity by violating expectations. Make that unusual statement, choose on a person in the crowd to engage, or make a funny gesture. Challenge the audience’s knowledge, too, as it is an effective way to grab their attention.

Commandment No. 10:

Budget Time For Questions

If your audience can’t query you, they will never walk away satisfied. This is where your preparation pays off, as adequate dress rehearsal usually uncovers questions or controversial areas that you will be ready to answer. Always allow at least 10 minutes for the question-and-answer segment. If there aren’t any questions, ask the audience some of your own.

Effective presentations are more than pretty slides. Public speaking is an art that weaves the speaker, the audience, and audio/visuals in a beautiful tapestry. It takes time and patience to learn the skills. Master these commandments, and you will be well on your way to creating mesmerizing presentations. TH

Dr. Chopra is an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Dr. LaBrin is an assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

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