Being a skilled medical professional doesn't necessarily mean that you're comfortable speaking in public, especially when it comes to talking to a group of peers. If the mere thought of addressing even a small audience causes your knees to knock, you're not alone. This universal anxiety is provoked by a number of factors, including lack of experience, poor preparation, and discomfort being the center of attention.
Effective verbal communication is essential for personal and professional success, yet getting your messages across clearly can be a challenge, particularly if you're feeling insecure about how to articulate what's on your mind.
Here are six steps that will help you prepare and deliver a public presentation with confidence:
1. They don't know what they don't know. So don't tell them! Avoid making statements like, "I'm really nervous" or "This is the first time I've ever done this." Most people in the audience won't even notice that you're feeling uneasy. The best way to begin your presentation is to simply dive in and tackle the topic that you're there to share.
2. Break it down. It's much easier to remember what to say when it's broken down in to three main points. Here's how to do this for a one-hour presentation: Open with a five-minute introduction and overview. Speak for 15 minutes on the first point, 15 minutes on the second point, and 15 minutes on the third point you want to make. End with a five-minute conclusion. This strategy allows you an extra five minutes, and you'll win everyone over if you are finished a few minutes early.
3. Use acronyms as prompts. To help you remember your three main points, create a simple, topic-related acronym to mentally refer to as you speak. For example, if you are preparing a presentation about hospital wait times, you could focus on the acronym "BED." Your first point could be about "backups," the second point about "efficiency," and the third point about "discharge planning." The audience doesn't need to be in on your acronym— it's your little secret.
4. Practice, but don't memorize your presentation. Instead, know each of the points like the back of your hand. When you do you'll be able to ad lib a bit, and your presentation style will become much more conversational, fluid, and natural. Never attempt to "wing it." A good presentation is organized and well thought out. Rather than practicing in front of a mirror, use your tablet or mobile device to record yourself; you're much more likely to see yourself as others see you.
5. Step away from the podium. A lectern creates a physical barrier between you and the audience. Whenever possible, opt to have a small table on the side of the platform to hold your notes (if you need them). You can also place a glass of water on the table; many podiums are too slanted to do this. Ask if a head-worn or lapel microphone (also called a lavaliere) is available. These devices allow you to have your hands free, enabling you to use body language to interact with the audience more effectively.
6. Use creative graphics and props. Every audience consists of left-centric and right-centric learners, so mix up statistics with images. If you use slides, make them minimal in quantity, maximum in font size and memorable in nature. Sometimes a simple photograph or prop is all you need to make a point. When discussing comprehensive data, consider having handouts distributed for attendees to refer to; no one can see the small details on the charts and graphs you so painstakingly turned into images anyways. If you are creating a visual presentation, invest in a handheld remote or download an app that allows you to advance the slides without having to stand beside your computer.
Public speaking doesn't have to be overwhelming. With preparation, organization, and practice, you can "POP" every presentation you make!
Sue Jacques is The Civility CEO™, a veteran forensic medical investigator turned corporate civility consultant and confidence coach who helps individuals and businesses gain confidence, earn respect and create courteous corporate cultures. www.TheCivilityCEO.com