Building Better Rapport, Credibility with Prospective Patients: 8 Tips

September 13, 2013
Jason J. Davidson

Here are do's and don'ts for delivering an effective presentation to community members who don't visit your practice now, but might after hearing you speak.

Whenever you deliver an educational talk to your non-medical community, you likely have two primary objectives. One is to provide valuable information that will help audience members better understand a component of healthcare. Another is to promote yourself and your medical group through the education you provide in hopes of turning prospective patients into current patients and referral sources.

What's important to note is you are not likely to achieve these objectives by just presenting facts and figures during the lecture - even if those facts and figures are terrific. If you lack the presentation and communication skills to build an authentic connection with attendees, you are less likely to accomplish either objective and, in the worst cases, you may even damage the credibility and rapport you are attempting to develop with prospective patients in the community.

Here are eight do's and don'ts to follow when delivering a presentation to community members.

1. Don't just deliver content. When it comes to delivering what should be considered a successful talk to your community, content is not king. What we know to be true is that a layperson will likely only come away with one-third of the information from a presentation or one-on-one interaction in a community outreach setting. Providing good information is certainly an important part of a talk, but it should be only a part of the talk - and often a small part.

2. Do speak to the reasons people are attending the presentation. Consider the reasons why community members might attend a talk about receiving a colonoscopy. While one reason might be to gain a better understanding of the facts, such as how the procedure is performed and insurance coverage, this is information they can likely obtain from a variety of sources, including online research or a front-office staff member. What they aren't likely to receive through these avenues, however, is the human connection to meet their emotional needs.

Perhaps attendees are experiencing significant anxiety if they're planning to undergo the procedure for the first time. The talk can present an opportunity to reassure and comfort attendees that the procedure will not be as bad of an experience as they may expect.

Perhaps attendees are unsure about how important the procedure really is to their wellbeing. Attendees can be informed that the procedure is a preventative measure, and they can be warned and cautioned that their situation could become much worse without the care.

You should work to make sure the talk goes beyond facts and figures. It should establish an authentic connection, a "passionate purpose," during that interaction. A passionate purpose is the idea that authentic, sustainable connections with audiences are based not on delivering content but through seeking an emotional appeal or bringing about a call to action during that interaction.

3. Don't rely on a technology or scripts. A PowerPoint presentation or use of note cards should be considered a supplement and an enhancer to a talk. If all you do during your talk is walk attendees through slides or read note cards, they're likely to only process a fraction of the information. Think of visual aids as just that - aids. They should not be a crutch to take attendees through reams of facts and data.

4. Do always start your talk with a story. Starting a presentation with a story is the quickest, most effective way of gaining your audience's attention and building an authentic connection. Keep the story interesting, personal, and humanizing - and not built on facts and data.

5. Do take a high-level approach to the content. Keeping in mind that the audience is only going to walk away with about one-third of the information you provide, work to take a very high-level approach to the facts and data you deliver. Whenever possible, share an anecdote around the most significant points to improve delivery and audience reception.

6. Don't just represent yourself as a clinician. The moment you step in front of an audience made up of laypeople, the credentials after your name establishes your professional credibility. It also likely makes it harder for audience members to relate to you personally, which is why you must also present yourself as a concerned community member, parent, community leader, or any other role you fill besides clinician. When people can relate personally to each other, it is easier for them to build a connection.

7. Do acknowledge nervousness. If you're feeling nervous about addressing the audience, acknowledge your anxiety. It will help humanize you with your audience.

8. Do leverage humor. Humor is an effective means of humanizing a physician speaker to the audience. Testing out and using your own personal brand of humor can be incredibly beneficial. While humor doesn't work for everyone, it's worth trying to integrate some form of humor into a talk, even in very small doses to start.

Multiple Applications

While these do's and don'ts should help you connect with prospective patients, they will also help improve other interactions, including connecting with current patients and peers. For many physicians, the speaking experience early in a career is often limited to very technical, peer-based work performed during rounding, clinical rotation, residency, etc. - work that is much more about content than presentation. The speaking skills obtained during these experiences are valuable, but it is important to supplement them with strong public speaking strategies to help ensure successful delivery of information accomplished through a passionate purpose connecting you to any and all audiences.

Jason J. Davidsonis founding principal of PicketFenceConsulting, a provider of public speaking, presentation coaching, and leveraging effective communication to enhance patient experience for healthcare executives, physicians, and other providers nationwide. E-mail him here.