May 04, 2017
By Uqba Khan, MD
St. John Hospital
Docendo discimus is a Latin proverb which essentially means, “The best way to learn is to teach.” This saying is indeed true for most of us who have grown through different levels of medical training and learned by teaching our colleagues, medical students, residents, and co-fellows. These interactions are an integral and vital part of our professional growth, as they make us better informed, more knowledgeable, and more confident. Part of learning-by-teaching involves giving effective presentations. Presentations provide opportunities, especially for physicians-in-training, to polish your communication skills—which can translate into effective patient interactions, acing your job interviews, and achieving your academic goals.
Effective public speaking is an acquired skill that needs a lot of practice, hard work, and preparation. There are several aspects and ways of delivering successful and effective scientific or educational presentations. Following are some suggestions and guiding principles that can help presenters to showcase their work.
1. Know your audience.
It is imperative to know your target audience to effectively deliver your message. Your presentation needs to be appropriate to their needs, goals, expectations, and education backgrounds. It is prudent to talk to the moderator or coordinator of the meeting about the goals and objectives of the talk and the type of audience expected to attend. Sharing the presentation slides with the moderator
a few days before the talk can also yield helpful feedback on whether your presentation will meet the needs of the audience.
2. Tell a story.
Although it can be difficult to make a scientific talk interesting and stimulating, there are numerous ways to make data appealing and engaging to the audience. There should be a logical flow to the content of your presentation, with a beginning, middle, and
end. Each presentation slide should build on the previous one and unfold your message like a story. This ap proach will keep your audience involved and engaged.1
3. Less is more.
It is tempting to put everything that you know in your talk and then rush through your presentation. This approach will lose the attention of the listeners and fail to convey the message of the presentation. Instead, express your knowledge through a clear and succinct presentation that leads to a dialog during the question-and-answer session, when the audience members become active participants.2 A crude method of assessing the quality and effectiveness of your talk is the number and kind of questions you are asked—a good presentation will generate interesting follow-up questions and discussion.
4. Create visually striking slides.
Using technology and multimedia has become mandatory for most educational and scientific talks. There are some universal rules to follow when preparing your slides. First, keep them simple, with plain backgrounds that aren’t distracting. Then, keep words to a minimum—your slides should not be a transcript of your oral presentation. Where you use words, make sure the font is large enough to be easily visible (at least 20 points). Use graphics to illustrate and support your point. Use stimulating and thought-provoking images, because a great visual can have a lasting impression on the minds of your audience. Label your figures appropriately and do not forget to cite the scientific evidence. You should not entirely rely upon slides and multimedia to present your work, as they constitute a small portion of a successful package of presentation tools.
5. Connect to your audience.
No matter how much have you achieved in your field and succeeded in your professional life, if you cannot connect with your audience, you cannot successfully deliver your message. It is crucial to do simple things like maintain eye contact with your listeners and not look at the slides all the time. Do not read word for word from the slides or you will lose the audience’s attention. Smile and show appropriate emotions while delivering the talk. This way you will keep your listeners engaged and develop good rapport while interacting with them. Always thank the moderator and the audience, both at the beginning and the end of your talk.
6. Use positive body language.
Non-verbal communication is an essential component of a successfully delivered presentation.3 Do not use excessive movements, but do not become a statue either. Use positive body language to show your presence and get your message across. Avoid crossing your arms, flailing your arms, putting your hands in your pockets or holding them behind your back. Keeping your arms relaxed and making appropriate gestures will help you feel confident and ease your nerves.
7. A touch of humor is a must.
We all are guilty of delivering presentations in a monotonous boring tone. Try to speak naturally. Making pauses and raising and lowering the tone of voice your during the talk definitely helps listeners digest the information you are delivering. A little humor is an effective way of keeping the audience tuned into your presentation and keeping them entertained. You don’t have to be a stand-up comedian but sharing a couple of light moments can create a strong bond with the listeners.
8. Be prepared for questions.
The Q&A session is an important—sometimes the most important—part of your presentation. Make sure you leave enough time at the end to answer all the audience questions. This is the best time to connect to your listeners, clarify any confusion, and generate discussion. Always appreciate the person who asks the question by saying something like, “That’s a great question,” even if it’s a straightforward question—it’s how you thank people for engaging with your presentation. With your response, do not address the questioner alone but continue to involve the entire audience. In cases when you are not sure about the answer to an unexpected question, don’t panic! Simply say, “That is a very interesting question, but it is outside my area of expertise. I can further look into it to find the answer.”
9. Practice, practice, practice.
Preparation, practice, and rehearsal will surely make your presentation a successful one. If you are planning to give a presentation to a bigger audience or at a high-level conference, it is wise to rehearse in front of your peers and colleagues so that they can point out any flaws and give feedback to refine the presentation and take it to next level. Be sure to time your presentation as you practice, in case you need to add or cut slides.
In the end, these are suggestions only. The more presentations you give, the more you will find your own style and build on it. Be natural, authentic, and innovative to deliver a great talk.
- Gude K. Available at huffingtonpost.com/karl-gude/how-to-give-the-best-pres_b_3932280.html. Accessed March 16, 2017.
- Bourne PE. PLoS Comput Biol. 2007;3: e77.
- Skills You Need. Available at skillsyouneed.com/present/presentation-tips.html. Accessed March 4, 2017.