Improving Your Presentations: Tips for Physicians

August 10, 2012

Here are three ways physicians can avoid giving a boring, ineffective presentation for your next meeting or community event.

A new patient came into the office recently and told me she picked me over my partners because of the sheer amount of material displayed under my generic bio information on our practice website.

Among those things were several educational presentations I uploaded through a website called slideshare.net, that lets you create online versions of PowerPoint presentations you can embed on any website.

Most of those are old presentations with good information but won’t win any prizes for outstanding design or creative composition.

Since making presentations is a part of any physician’s career, whether academic or private practice, it’s helpful to revisit the mechanics and facets of presentation-giving.

The chief problem with most medical presentations

Most physicians turn a presentation into a chance to exercise their well-worn note-taking and outlining talents, held over from sleepless days and nights in med school. We rarely move past the process of transferring an outline to PowerPoint and using the default slide designs and a bare minimum of design creativity.

So, uncreative display of material is one problem - that’s bad enough.

Even worse is a repetitive failure to recognize who the audience is and tailor the presentation to that audience. This leads to a litany of cascading mistakes, but the design and layout of the slides can sour an otherwise solid presentation.

Here are three ways you can avoid boring your next audience and (more importantly) avoid giving a forgettable talk.

1. Design your own slide templates

If the average physician presenter uses the standard PowerPoint slide layouts, then by definition you’ll be setting yourself up for mediocrity if you do the same.

Just spend some time online doing some searches for the following:
• PowerPoint templates
• Keynote templates
• PowerPoint slide backgrounds

Try searching in both Google’s main search area and on Google Images.

You’ll find free and premium downloadable templates, slide backgrounds, and get tons of ideas on how to make your slides unique without frying audience retinas.

Most mediocre slide backgrounds can be made better by blurring the images (this emphasizes text) or by making the image brighter or darker. These manipulations can be done online, for free, with a kind of online version of Photoshop called pixlr.

2. Get creative with slide layout and style

Keep in mind that the audience may only remember two or three main ideas from your talk. You can pick these things ahead of time and drive the concepts home using things like animation, layout, and unusual typography.

For examples of powerful slide layout and typography, visit www.slidesthatrock.com. You’ll see immediately that it’s not a site designed by physicians or tenured medical school professors.

The idea here is not to let the "art" of typography and design mutate and overwhelm your presentation, but to make your top three or so key ideas "pop" and stick in the minds of the audience.

For example, you can break away from your standard slide layout four or five times during the presentation and show a big, bold slide with a beautiful image and a few key words for emphasis or summary. It’s OK to make it a bit incongruent with the rest of the slides, as long as it’s legible and memorable.

One guideline on font size in general is to make your slides using font sizes no smaller than 30 points.

Even if you have to present charts, graphs, or data, emphasize that data creatively with bold, animated circles, highlighting, or even a second bold slide with key numbers from the previous, more crowded slide.

A great source for free fonts for your presentation is www.fontsquirrel.com.

3. Think beyond the talk

What can you do before and after the talk to deliver value to your audience?
Beforehand, find out as much as possible about what the audience has heard before, either immediately prior to your talk or the previous week. This helps set the context of your subject matter.

If you have a connection with the audience already, send them an e-mail questionnaire, asking them what they need prior to the talk. This will be immensely helpful in creating a memorable experience.

After the presentation, make handouts available to your audience. Don’t just run off copies of the slides; hand out a one-page summary of major take-home points or point them to a download link where they can get it online.

Finally, depending on your subject matter, it may be appropriate to preserve your slides as a video or uploading them online to a site like slideshare.net. You can then add an embedded version of the talk on your website so others can click through the slides and keep learning, long after you’ve delivered it.

What are some other ways you’ve seen presenters create memorable talks? Using props, video, audience interaction?

Tell us about them in the comments below.

Find out more about C. Noel Henley and our other Practice Notes bloggers.