Speaking in front of an audience doesn't come naturally to very many people, which is why so many talks and presentations are boring and routine. This is particularly true in the healthcare world, where practitioners are usually noted for their technical skills, not their orating talents.
Still, it's expected that physicians who take the stage are confident in their ability to share their research findings, practical experiences, and medical know-how. Whether you're preparing to present a paper at a large conference or gearing up to address a small group of colleagues, here are seven ways to turn your next speech into a memorable audience experience.
1. Leave nothing to chance.
No matter how well you know your content, you must still prepare. Off-the-cuff speeches rarely work to your advantage because they're usually scattered and underdeveloped. You needn't memorize your talk either; doing so can leave you sounding robotic. At a minimum your preparation should include finding out who will be in the audience, rehearsing your talk several times for accuracy, transitions, and timing, and checking the room layout and equipment before you take the stage.
2. Remember that less is more.
Audience members and meeting planners alike appreciate knowing their time is respected, and you can display that respect by beginning your speech on time and ending a couple of minutes early. In order to accomplish this, cut out all extraneous details to abridge your timeline. And don't try to squeeze everything you know into one speech. Instead, have an overarching theme and support it with three to five sub-points.
3. Have clear visuals.
Audience members can't make out fine details in graphs, tables, and paragraphs on the screen. Plus, people absorb facts in different ways. You will serve your audience best by including a variety of slides to address a range of learning styles. One could have a colorful graphic, the next a couple of bullet points (in a large font), and another could include a quote or photograph that leads to a story related to your topic. Just make sure you use a consistent color palette and slide theme.
4. Don't share your secrets.
Are you feeling nervous? Unprepared? Flustered? Keep it to yourself. People usually can't tell when a speaker is experiencing stage fright or talk terror, so avoid expressing your unease. The opposite is also true; attendees don't need to hear about the dozens of other times you've presented this talk or the hundreds of stages you've graced. Make them feel special by letting them how grateful you are they've joined you this time.
5. Prepare for the worst.
So many things can go wrong leading up to a speech, including unexpected delays that can result in a late start. Keep this eventuality in mind as you write your talk so you'll know which points can be smoothly deleted to allow you to end on time, no matter what. It's also wise to ask a few days before the event what kind of equipment will be used so you're not scrambling to find compatible connectors, batteries, or other accessories at the last minute.
6. Modify your body language.
There are three places to avoid putting your hands: on your hips, in your pockets, and crossed in front of your crotch (commonly called the "Fig Leaf" position). Even if it feels unnatural, hold your hands by your sides and occasionally use them to make a point or display a relevant prop. Instead of standing in one spot or continually pacing back and forth across the platform, imagine an invisible circle on the stage and naturally move within it. And always remember to connect with your audience by making sincere eye contact with a variety of individuals.
7. Remove any barriers.
A podium creates a wall between you and the people who have come to hear you speak, so ask for it to be removed or tucked out of the way. If you need a surface to place items on, request that a small table be set up to the side of where you're speaking. When given the choice, opt to use a lapel microphone rather than a handheld, which can be a cumbersome and noisy obstacle that can affect the success of your speech.
When it comes to public speaking, preparation is the key. Knowing the room layout, audience makeup, technical details, and each of your points like the back of your hand enables you to ad lib a bit, creating a more conversational, fluid, and natural presentation. Always know at the beginning of your talk precisely what you're going to say at the end, because that's what people will remember.
Sue Jacques is The Civility CEO®, a veteran forensic medical investigator turned corporate civility expert, keynote speaker, and author. Jacques helps individuals, businesses, and medical practices gain confidence, earn respect, and prosper through professionalism. She can be reached at www.TheCivilityCEO.com.