Public speaking tips for physicians

Medical Economics Journal, Medical Economics May 2021, Volume 98, Issue 5

Give your audience something to remember

Great speakers make an impact. But an audience may daydream or surf the Internet on their phones when a so-so speaker is talking. As a physician, it is likely that you will give lectures and presentations at many stages in your career. Your own special brand can shine through, and your approach should differ for each type of presentation.

Pay attention to audience needs and wants

Many speakers, especially those seeking a professional goal (for example, tenure or a job offer), view a presentation as an interview and an opportunity to showcase their qualifications. Although a brief speaker introduction is part of most presentations, it is important to remember that the best way to make a good impression is to structure the talk to serve the audience.

Attendees will value your presentation if they leave with something they didn’t have before. It might be information, facts, instructions, confidence in themselves or inspiration — the key is for the audience to leave thinking about what they gained from your speech rather than thinking about praising or criticizing you.

Clarify confusing concepts

When you are speaking about a complicated subject, think about what you knew before you were the expert. Consider the knowledge level of your audience and how to clarify counterintuitive points, exceptions to the rule and common mistakes. Examining the confusing material in detail can illuminate overwhelming aspects of the subject.

This empowers your audience by letting them know that it is possible to untangle the knotty aspects of the topic. When you show your audience that you understand how nuances of your topic of expertise can get a bit tricky, you provide both information and confidence to your listeners.

Use slides

It’s popular for speaking coaches to say that slides should have as few words as possible for maximum impact. Although visuals often send a more powerful message than words, this strategy is not helpful when your listeners are going to study the material for an examination.

In those situations, it can be valuable to include key words and phrases so attendees can focus on comprehending and taking minimal notes rather than rushing to write down every detail.

Be kind

We live in a highly sophisticated time with knowledge, especially medical knowledge, advancing at a rapid pace and medical misinformation flourishing.

As a speaker, you may need to address medical misinformation, but it is important to stay away from judging any group of people. Medical science is difficult to comprehend and widely accepted understanding of risk factors and best practices can become outdated. Don’t ridicule individuals who don’t understand the subject just to get a chuckle from the audience.

Be grateful for the audience

If you are speaking at a conference, you may wish for a full house. However, there can be a variety of reasons that attendance at your talk may be smaller than you wished. Perhaps another presentation scheduled in the same time slot includes vital continuing education content or presents the only update on a crucial subject.

Even if your audience is small, you should appreciate each person who thought your talk might be valuable. Don’t look at your talk as a springboard to something better — be present in the moment during your presentation. When you speak to an audience, keep in mind that each person who is listening to you deserves your best and that what you have to say can help them with what they are seeking—whether it’s passing an exam, improving patient care, deciding about their career goals or managing their own physical or mental health.

Heidi Moawad, M.D., is a contributing author.