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Stand and Deliver


Francine Gaillour, MD, on polishing your public speaking skills.

Simple strategies can help spice up your speeches

In a previous column, I discussed easy, yet effective, ways to promote your practice, including giving talks in the community. If you're not sure of your speaking skills, you might have passed over that idea.

But think for a moment. Even if you don't routinely speak at your hospital grand rounds or local Rotary club, there are other situations in which your ability to communicate is just as important: educating colleagues about new therapeutics, promoting a service idea to your practice group or board, or leading a quality project.

Regardless of the venue, your goal as a speaker is to influence the audience in a way that leads them to take a specific action. Honing your speaking skills can assist you in a variety of settings.

When I work with clients on public speaking, we focus on these three key components: setting the stage for a connection, developing a key message, and emphasizing authenticity through personal stories.

To connect with the audience before you even meet them, do your homework: know who you are speaking to and understand their business problems or "hot buttons." Interview several audience members ahead of the event; listen for the words they use to describe the organization, the culture, and the issues. During your presentation, use these same words to make your points.

Arrive early to the event or meeting venue to make sure the podium, audio visuals, and room arrangement are going to enhance, not detract, from your presentation.

Greet several audience members individually as they arrive and introduce yourself. Learn a little bit about them and what they hope to gain from the meeting or presentation. They will warm up to you before you've even started your presentation. Personalize your presentation by referring to some of the conversations you had.

These strategies will help you with what I call stage management. The goals of stage management are to increase the audience's comfort with you and enhance your command of the issues.

Stage management includes knowing where to sit or stand relative to a prospective listener or audience member, how to structure the agenda, how to introduce yourself or a colleague, and when to stand and sit during the meeting.

Give your audience an overarching "theme" or key message to take home. State the message in terms that relate to the audience, express it in the first two minutes of your talk, and repeat it often. Incorporate the message, or talking points, into any responses you give if there is a question-and-answer period.

An audience, board, or jury that you want to influence is ultimately buying into you, the person. Credibility and personal charisma are best earned by being authentic - coming across as real, being true to yourself.

One way to achieve this is to weave personal stories that reflect who you are, what you care about, into your message or presentation, and describe how your experiences relate to the audience's problem or challenge.

Be careful about relying too much on impressive credentials: this can backfire if you come across as being too "full of yourself." Audiences are more impressed with a high-credentialed professional who is "genuine" and "down to earth." When you demonstrate confidence and ease about who you are, your audience is likely to forgive any platform missteps.

Tell the stories in the way you would tell family and friends. Always reinforce the point you are making either immediately before or after your story.

You may choose to retell a story that you read in a newspaper, recount a scene from a movie, or create a story based on factual information - so long as the story supports a key point and that you personally find the story moving or relevant. However, do not imply that the situation actually happened to you.

You may not aspire to be a professional speaker, but when you get up in front of a group, you want to be perceived as polished and charismatic. You can make that happen by understanding your audience and carefully crafting and delivering your message. Make your next presentation your best ever.

Francine R. Gaillour, MD, MBA, FACPE, is a professional facilitator and executive coaching resource for physicians who want to develop their potential as leaders, entrepreneurs, and business professionals. Her transition into business management came after 10 years of practicing in internal medicine. She can be reached at francine@physicianleadership.com, 888 562 7289, www.physicianleadership.com, or at editor@physicianspractice.com.

This article originally appeared in the October 2005 issue of Physicians Practice.

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