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Do You Demonstrate Leadership Skills When You Speak?: A primer for making your next presentation great! (Leadership).


Nervous about your next big presentation? Don't be. There are proven ways to polish your presentation, spice up your speech and capture your audience's attention. Find out how experienced physician executives deliver dynamic presentations and learn tips For avoiding common mistakes.

TURN ON CSPAN ANY time, day or night, and you'll see vivid examples of how not to make a presentation.

On one particular evening, a physician for a federal agency was presenting the agency's view of an issue during a large conference. The physician took the stage and made a futile attempt at humor that received a polite response.

Then, he buried his eyes in his text as he read his speech.

You've seen similar speakers at conventions, conferences and even staff meetings. Intelligent -- often brilliant -- individuals who are able to communicate effectively one-on-one, but fall flat when speaking to groups. Their heads are riveted to their notes, reading from a prepared script.

Only on occasion do they look up in a vain effort at establishing eye contact. The audience barely hears the speech. There is little chance they will act on the message.

What is it that prevents these well-meaning leaders from making effective presentations? More importantly, are these leaders reaching their fullest potential when they fail to take advantage of these opportunities to demonstrate their leadership?

And you may want to ask yourself -- even if you consider yourself a good presenter -- whether your presentation style could improve so that your leadership potential is more fully realized.

Speakers are leaders

As a leader in the medical community, the moment you rise to speak you assume a position of leadership.

It doesn't matter if you are standing before two, 2,000, or 20,000 people. The very essence of leadership is to move others to action, to persuade, to inspire change.

It's been said that you can do more presenting in one hour before the right audience than a year sitting behind your desk.

"The ability to clearly and succinctly communicate your vision and chart a course is a critical characteristic of leadership," says Air Force Major General Leonard Randolph, MC, MS, FACS, CPE, FACPE. "If you can't get your point across, it won't happen. Or worse, it will happen wrong."

Martin Hickey, MD, president and chief executive officer of Lovelace Health Systems in Albuquerque, N.M., agrees. "You can put out a vision and mission statement. But the only way to get your people to connect is to communicate that vision and mission effectively. Leadership is all about connecting with the people you lead. You can only do that if you communicate with integrity."

Leaders who fail to speak effectively miss out on potential career advancement.

Elizabeth Gallup, MD, MBA, JD, says her reputation was advanced by her national presentations. The speeches helped her gain access to jobs in all parts of the country in an industry that sees rapid turnover. She serves as executive director and associate medical director of New Century Health in Lake Quivira, Kan.

Hickey also sees the results of his communication efforts. He is viewed as an expert on health care matters within his community, which allows him to espouse his health care agenda to an attentive group of decision makers.

So if communicating effectively to groups is a critical component of leadership, why do so few executives take the time to truly learn the skills?

Presenting is a an learned skill

Perhaps the biggest reason why many executives do not place presentation skills at the top of their learning agenda is that speaking before groups is viewed as a skill that should come easily and doesn't take any special training.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

Effective speakers learn how to present in the same way they learn the tools needed to operate their business or organization. Speaking is like any learned skill. It takes time and practice.

Taking time to develop and practice your presentation is basic to success. But if you want to move to the head of the class in an instant, there is only one way to navigate your learning curve: videotape your presentation.

In executive coaching sessions, I've watched executives transform in an instant after viewing themselves on video. The axiom -- you are your own worst critic -- is dramatically illustrated.

"I didn't know I swayed" or "I had no idea I talked so fast" or "I don't even complete my sentences" are common responses. There is no better training for rapid advancement than seeing yourself as others see you.

At a minimum, you can purchase a small audio recorder and place it in your pocket every time you speak. You can even use this technique during a staff meeting to see how you relate to small groups. As a result, you will change your behavior immediately.

Do you read your presentation?

You should never stand before a group and read a speech. It's been said that the last time someone deliberately read to you, it was your mother, and she was trying to put you to sleep.

Speakers who read a presentation will never connect with the audience. Even worse, their speech will probably be forgotten as quickly as the session is over.

Randolph learned an important lesson while watching his schoolteachers. "Speaking at people is easy. Just read your speech," Randolph says. "Speaking to connect with people is a process. Some teachers made a class come alive with their enthusiasm. Others just lectured."

What glues so many speakers to the written text?


Even in your executive position, you probably experienced anxious moments before a speech when the adrenaline is pumping. To take control of the situation, some executives write out every word and tenaciously cling to their text. They are nervous about losing their train of thought or freezing on the platform.

How do you neutralize these fears and give a memorable presentation without reading or memorizing? Great speakers are usually great "keyword" speakers. They arrive at their destination by carefully following this three-step method of preparation

1. Write your speech completely, word for word.

2. Make outline from the finished product.

3. Create a keyword outline - choose words that will remind you of the content in each main point.

See your notes as a vital part of your presentation, not an escape hatch in case your mind suddenly goes blank. When you know your material, the keyword outline is all you need. It only takes a split second to glance down, look at the word and deliver the material from your heart.

John Ludden, MD, CPE, FACPE, sees added benefits from a brief outline. "When you pay attention to the audience, they light up," says the director of family medicine and community health at Tufts University Medical School in Boston.

"You are free to use your hands and eyes to really get the information across. You can actually move people to action. Why waste their time if you are going to simply read a speech?"

With practice, your keyword outline will act as a guide as you maintain eye contact with your listeners. You can only connect with your audience members if your voice and eyes are centered on them.

What is the purpose of your presentation?

Understanding the purpose of your presentation is essential.

If you don't know what you want your audience to do as a result of your presentation, you can't expect your words to move others to action. You should be able to write out a single sentence that states the purpose of your presentation.

"Knowing your purpose keeps your presentation focused," Gallup says.

Randolph writes out one sentence that tells him why he is there and who he is addressing. He always returns to his purpose statement as he decides what material to add, delete and alter. His introduction tells the audience the purpose of the presentation. And the conclusion refers to the purpose that he wrote initially.

Often, you believe that you have so much information to relate to an audience that your purpose is forgotten. When you follow Randolph's formula, you will delete extraneous information and bring focus to your presentation.

Knowing your purpose ensures that you can move directly to the conclusion in case time runs out, Ludden says. "I am always confident that I can move directly and nail the conclusion if time is limited."

RELATED ARTICLES: 14 Ways to 'Wow' Your Audience Building a strong presentation from start to finish

(1.) Start strong

It's tempting to open your presentation with words the audience expects: "Thank you. It's a pleasure being here today," and ease slowly into your material.

The danger is you may lose your audience before you ever begin. Consider starting with:

* A provocative statement

* A rhetorical question

* A surprising fact

* A story related to your topic

* A news headline

* An interesting quotation

* The results of a survey

* A fascinating statistic

Begin with something powerful! Make your presentations memorable.

From a simple staff meeting to an auditorium filled with thousands of people, your listeners are more likely to act on your message if your words stay with them when they leave the room. Great speakers make a conscious effort to add staying power to every presentation.

(2.) Stories

The January-February 2001 edition of The Physician Executive (Vol. 27, Issue # 1) beautifully illustrates the power of a well-told story as a vital part of any presentation.

As author Christine Leigh-Taylor states, "Charismatic executives have always recognized the power of stories to build employee moral and to help chart the future."

Bland facts come to life, data takes on powerful significance and ideas are forever remembered when they are captured through stories. Martin Hickey. MD, uses stories for the more technical points of his presentations.

Some executives scour books, searching for stories that will illustrate presentation points. But powerful stories are not found in these publications. They are found in your own personal experience.

Stories that demonstrate a life lesson that you learned through your own experience have more impact than any story from a book. While you can use quotes and illustrations from other sources, relate your most profound thoughts through your own personal experience.

In your executive position, you probably have many experiences to illustrate various points within a presentation. When coaching executives, I often have to dig stories out of reluctant participants. They frequently do not understand the relevance of a past experience and need assistance connecting their experiences with presentation points.

For that reason, I suggest you keep a story journal that briefly recaptures a situation. You can even assemble a small group of friends or work associates who can help you connect an interesting story with a theme from your presentation. You may be too close to the story to see its relevance.

Don't overlook simple personal stories that occur every day. Your children, spouse, siblings and parents are excellent sources of stories that relate to your audience.

Look for humorous situations that bring a smile to your face when they occur. A personal story that combines a universal experience and humor with the purpose of your presentation is an unbeatable combination.

(3.) Simple illustrations and analogies

Your simple illustrations will bring a more visual perspective to your presentations.

When Hickey speaks about health care change to physicians, he refers to the consumer sitting at a computer, making decisions about co-pays of different health plans. "That consumer," Hickey emphasizes, "will make health care decisions based upon his or her values -- not yours."

Analogies are useful in bringing themes to life. Hickey refers to the Swiss watchmakers who refused to recognize the impact of the digital watch.

"Are we like the Swiss watch-maker?" he asks physicians. "Are we refusing to recognize market dynamics?"

(4.) Repetitive phrases

If you can find a phrase that resonates with an audience, it can reinforce a theme.

These phrases are often unique to a group and have little meaning to those on the outside. John Ludden, MD, CPE, FACPE, looks for repetitive phrases and alliterations. If the phrase has an impact the first time he uses it, he will add it throughout. Flexibility serves as his guide.

(5.) Take risks, have fun!

Executives who feel comfortable and confident are willing to take risks when they speak before groups. The results are usually successful, but not always.

Years ago when he was a new colonel in the Air Force, Leonard Randolph, MC, MS, FACS, CPE, FACPE, was named chief of staff for a medical center and found himself in charge of a group of high-powered military physicians.

Not only was he faced with a group who may be skeptical of his authority, he had to deliver difficult news that could result in a very hostile reaction. Facing this one-two punch, Randolph decided to take a risk.

With the physician colonels assembled in the conference room, he entered the meeting wearing a chest protector, facemask and catcher's mitt. After the initial shock subsided, the room suddenly filled with laughter.

Instantly, the tension was diffused and a difficult topic was addressed constructively. The group came to consensus. A potential hostile environment evaporated because Randolph was willing to take a risk.

Of course, taking risks can backfire on a speaker.

Randolph's attempt at humor worked because of his rank and credentials. It would not have worked if someone without credentials had tried to take the same route.

"Our audience will accept a certain amount of irreverence from other physicians. Non-physicians have to be more respectful," Hickey says.

(6.) Vary your tone, pace and volume

One of the best ways to deliver an effective presentation is to vary the tone, pace and volume of your voice. This suggestion may seem simple, but few speakers can master this feat.

Gallup recognizes that an audience cannot absorb a fast-paced, 30minute speech. "It's a hard lesson to learn," she says. "I've received accolades for speaking quickly and driving home points. Others say I speak too fast. So I am trying to speak more slowly at times."

Changing your pitch, power and pace will keep the focus where it belongs: on you and your subject. The enemy of the speaker is boredom. And nothing bores an audience more than a speaker who presents in a monotone or at the same pace continuously.

Another excellent tool to incorporate into your speeches is silence. Allow your thoughts to sink in. Your audience will appreciate the calm.

Silence is a speaker's best friend. Don't be afraid to stop talking and allow quiet to engulf the room. People cannot process words as quickly as they are spoken. Give your listeners that time to absorb your thoughts.

7. Energize your listeners, make them do something

Involving your audience -- even one filled with professionals -- is a requirement for all presentations.

Granted, some presenters go too far and attempt to engage audiences in trivial games that are inappropriate for professional groups. Yet, there are proven methods of creating relevant involvement for executive audiences Here are several simple tools that you can incorporate into your presentations:

* Ask for a show of hands. A simple question requires a response.

* Break into groups. Hickey engages his audience by breaking them into groups and asking them to work on a problem.

* Refer to members of your audience. Mentioning a listener by name creates a powerful connection with the group.

* Give them a multiple-choice test. Many effective presentations begin with the speaker asking test questions of the audience. It forces people to start thinking about your message.

* Give away prizes. Even executives like to win a prize for answering a question or responding first.

8. Close strong

For your ending, don't stop and ask for questions.

Instead, tell the audience that you will take questions and then say, "We will move to our closing point."

After the Q&A, tell them a story that ties in to your main theme. Or summarize the points made during the presentation. Conclude with a quote or call to action. Whatever you end with, make it memorable.

Here are nine effective closes to consider:

1. Tie the ribbon -- A finish that loops back to your opening presents a completed package.

2. Summarize -- With fresh words, give a condensed review of your major points.

3. Use humor -- Tell an entertaining story that drives home your theme.

4. Use emotion -- Relate a powerful anecdote that illustrates your major point.

5. Present a quote -- Use a relevant statement that people will long remember.

6. Ask questions -- Pose a series of questions designed to make listeners think seriously about the topic.

7. Ask for help -- Request that people join you in a cause.

8. Give your opinion -- Speak candidly about your topic, making predictions of what the future will hold.

9. Issue a challenge -- Take the opportunity to inspire others to action.

And most importantly end on time -- no matter what.

9. What to do when things go wrong

Every speaker has a horror story to tell when things went horribly wrong. From technical disasters to speaking flubs, the list of potential calamities is endless.

Ludden learned the hard way that you need to know who is speaking before and after your presentations. He never asked this question and found himself sandwiched between two outstanding presenters who took a light touch to a serious topic. His presentation was too serious and had little impact.

10. Flexibility

Ludden learned to accept presentation problems as they occur.

He believes the key is flexibility. "You're about to give a talk and someone asks you to cover a topic that you did not think about. So you discuss the problem on the fly. I've learned to enjoy these diversions."

Some people avoid speaking opportunities after facing the inevitable presentation catastrophe. "It never occurred to me to quit," Ludden says. "There was a mission to accomplish and a problem to solve. I began to enjoy the little difficulties."

(11.) Explaining concepts

Another mistake made by presenters is trying to explain conceptual information without using stories or visuals. A simple slide or analogy can bring life to difficult concepts. Hickey makes sure his presentations are replete with analogies and stories to illustrate important concepts.

(12.) Humor

Humor is another area that many presenters attempt to incorporate into presentations without success. Unless a joke is relevant to your theme, don't tell it. "Humor doesn't work when it is forced. Humor is most effective when it is personal to the group and flows naturally," Randolph says.

(13.) Hostile questions

Facing a hostile audience?

It is a mistake if you become defensive and confrontational. "Smile and give them credit for their position," says Hickey. "Don't take them on. If you try to dominate them, your presentation will move off target."

Hostile questions are easily handled under most circumstances.

Reframe the question by restating the person's remark with a statement that begins with the phrase, "What I hear you saying is ..."

Then, summarize the statement as you understood it without the hostile overtones. Now, answer the question and move your eyes away from the individual so that you do not get caught up in a one-on-one debate. Your audience will appreciate the fact that you dealt with the hostile question professionally and moved on.

(14.) The big picture

Opportunity. Career advancement. Leadership.

These are words used to describe the ways you can benefit from presenting effectively. It is also a way for you to fulfill your responsibility to society by using your speaking talents to share your expertise on critical health care issues.

"Physician leaders gain credibility in health care by communicating effectively around the right issues that will help society," Hickey says. "We must take a leadership role and have credibility among our peers, organizations and society."

"This duty demands passion around issues, sincerity and integrity," Randolph adds.

Speaking effectively as a physician executive is not simply about mastering a few presentation techniques. It's about leading the health care debate within our society.
COPYRIGHT 2001 American College of Physician Executives
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Sherman, Rob
Publication:Physician Executive
Date:Nov 1, 2001
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