How to Deliver Effective and Persuasive Presentations

December 27, 2017
Catherine Hambley, PhD
Catherine Hambley, PhD

Catherine Hambley, PhD, is CEO of Brain-Based Strategies Consulting, where she specializes in executive coaching, leadership and team development and organizational transformation. Catherine has an extensive background in healthcare, where she works with physicians, nurses and hospital executives to create cultures of learning, collaboration and engagement.

If you're nervous about giving a presentation to staff, colleagues, patients, or to the public, here are a few things to know.

Do you know what many people dread more than death?  It's public speaking.  Are you one of those that loathe giving presentations because you fear speaking in front of others and/or worry that you will not be well-received by your audience?  Or are you looking for ways to become more effective and persuasive when you do give a presentation, be it a formal one or an informal one?  If you have answered "yes" to any of these questions, read on.

As a physician running a practice, you inevitably find yourself in situations where you are giving some form of presentation - be it to staff, colleagues, patients, or to the public.  There are some simple strategies you can learn and practice that will build your confidence and knock your presentations out of the park!

Know your audience - most importantly, determine what they care about so you can tailor what you present.  All too frequently, speakers (especially experts, like physicians) focus their content on sharing what they know. But if you don't consider why the audience should care, you lose them, even if you are highly knowledgeable and experienced. Keep asking yourself "why should they care?" or "what's in it for them?"  Use language that they can relate to. Keep it succinct.

Engage with your audience. Start with a "hook" - grab your audience's attention so that they want to hear more. The first few moments of any presentation often determines whether the audience is engaged or whether they tune you out.  There are many ways to appeal to your audience at the outset of your presentation - provocative questions, startling statistics, an interesting story, and significant facts- are all examples. Make your presentation more conversational, which encourages you to be more authentic and genuine.  This goes a long way towards engaging with your audience.

If you are using slides, use them wisely. A fatal mistake that many presenters make is to one, use their slides AS their presentation - they cram too much information into the slides, read from their slides, and/or they don't give the audience time to fully read what is on the slide (so it is better to have little to read).

A far more powerful strategy with slides is to use them to augment what you have to say.  Keep the content to a minimum - a few bullets or just a simple graphic is sufficient. Your slides should help tell more of the story. The second fatal error is turning your back to the audience. NEVER read from your slides or turn your back to the audience to look at your slides. This is a surefire way to lose the connection with those in attendance.

Be prepared - practice your presentation so you are comfortable with your delivery. If possible, have someone listen while you practice so you can get valuable feedback about your body language, energy level, eye contact, and ability to "speak" to the audience.  If you tend to be nervous making presentations (as many people are), repeatedly rehearsing what you will say in the first few moments is critical. This is when your anxiety will often be highest, making it difficult to remember what you want to say. If you know your opening down cold, then you don't have to worry about forgetting what you want to say. And it will help you feel more confident

To minimize any public speaking anxiety, "rehearse coping." Listen to your self-talk - if it is like many people, it is often anxiety-provoking versus anxiety-reducing. For example, if you worry that people will not want to listen, turn that statement around to, "I have something interesting to share." A little anxiety actually helps people perform better, so avoid telling yourself that getting anxious is a bad thing. The more you practice positive coping statements, the more relaxed and self-assured you will feel. Remind yourself that you have something to share that others want to hear. People are very forgiving of errors and will not notice your anxiety as much as you do. 

Practicing these strategies will help you deliver truly effective and persuasive presentations.

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