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Improve your presentation style.

Improve Your Presentation Style

Some people love the attention of everyone looking at them. That is motivation enough for them to become good speakers. Others do it because they need to. Many physician executives find good presentation skills essential for their management positions. If you decide presentation skills would enhance your job, here are some guidelines for writing and delivering the speech.

The first step in speech preparation is to think about the people who will be listening to you. When you make a talk, you are selling yourself to your audience. In order to sell anything, you have to find out what people want. To do that, you must analyze your audience:

* Are they male or female, young or old, a mixture? You need to appeal to each type or have a little something for everyone. A group of women would probably be interested in new services many hospitals are providing just for them. A group of men might want to hear about a wellness program especially designed for middle-aged men to try to prevent heart attacks.

* What are their cultural backgrounds? A student in a large California university gave a talk on the benefits of psychiatric counseling. He had several Japanese students in the audience who looked very troubled as he talked. Afterwards he found out that most Japanese would consider telling their problems to a stranger a loss of face. They would turn to their family members. [1]

* Will they understand your technical terms? If not, they immediately angry with you. They will not tell you they do not understand, because that is to admit that you know more than they do. Most people's pride will not allow them to do that. As the speaker, you should put them at ease; it's not their job to struggle for meaning.

Once you have in mind whom you are speaking to, it's time to start writing. If you have a hard time getting started, here's a process to help you stop procrastinating. Sit with paper and pen or at a word processor and begin to write what you know about the topic and what you don't know. Write quickly everything that pops into your head, without worrying about grammar, punctuation, or spelling. Then write a section on what you want to know more about. Next, read on the subject in the library or interview people to add to your knowledge.

Jot down stories about anything interesting that happened as you were hunting for information. These can make good anecdotes to include in the speech. I was scheduled to give a talk on the advantages of positive thinking. The night before when a tornado touched down in my town, I began a rapid series of negative thoughts on how my children might be harmed when I was out of town. I began to feel awful until I took control of my mind and said "NO!" I will not think about that any more. They are mature, responsible teenagers, and they will be fine.) I included that story in my talk.

Soon you will have all the information you need; you just have to put it in a logical order. A good order is an attention-getting beginning, an example-filled middle, and a memorable closing.

You need to get the audience's attention quickly. You can tell a little about why are qualified to talk to them, give an overview of the topics you will discuss, or begin with an inspirational thought. I started a seminar on "How to Effectively Chair a Meeting" with the following thought - Carl Jung, a late 19th century psychologist and philosopher, said that for the well-balanced life we need to tend to both the inner and the outer life, neither to the exclusion of the other. We can examine for inner selves when we are working or thinking alone, but we need a group or a community as a context for tending to the outer life. A meeting is one place this can happen.

Don't start with a joke unless you are very good at it. A bad joke is the worst of all beginnings. You and the listeners are embarrassed. Never apologize for anything at the beginning of a speech. People slump into a feeling of dread. Just get on with the speech.

The middle of the speech is filled with general statements supported by plenty of examples that illustrate your point. Pay attention to the language you use. Avoid unnecessary words and do not use overly long sentences. Generally one idea per sentence is good. Figures of speech add color and excitement. (Working in an emergency department is like walking through a mine field - one trauma exploding through the door after another. Or, my life is like a roller coaster - up one minute and down the next.)

You can close the speech with a short summary or by calling for action. An inspirational story can also be an effective closing. At the end of a fundraising campaign, someone told this story that helped people think positively and be willing to risk their incomes for the benefit of a good cause. A community in Canada was offering $500 for every wolfpelt that was turned in. Two poor men, Dave and John, immediately became bounty hunters. They went out in the cold and snow looking for wolves day after day with no luck. Finally, one night they just dropped in exhaustion and fell into a deep sleep around their campfire. About 2:30 a.m., Dave opened his eyes and saw a circle of wolves around them. As the wolves paced around the two men, the growls were getting louder and the wolves' tongues were hanging out. Dave, the optimist, called to John, "Wake up. Wake up. We're rich!"

Unless you are very comfortable making speeches, write out exactly what you are going to say. Write it in a conversational style - not like an academic paper. Do not read the speech. Learn it well enough so you can glance at what you have written and tell it in a good speaking voice. You don't want to deliver it the way you would a memorized poem in elementary school, but you need to know it well enough that you do say "um" while you're thinking of the next thing to say. Writing out the full speech reduces the "ums" of thinking time. When you know the speech well, your mind is freed of anxiety, and you will be able to add interesting examples to prove your point as you watch the reactions of the audience.

One great fear people have is that they will forget everything, stare at the audience with a blank mind, and die of embarrassment. The written speech takes away that fear. Reading it would be bad, but it would be better than standing up there saying nothing.

When you deliver the speech, stand erect with feet firmly on the floor. Don't lean on the flip chart stand or sit on a table. Look like you have the strength to be up there and entertain them. Use some gestures but not too many. Nothing is more distracting than watching someone who has just taken a course in public speaking and has added enough gestures to their talk to look like a banner waver in a parade. Make direct eye contact with someone in each third of the room, slowly rotating your attention but in a random fashion. If you have the courage to look directly at a few people, the audience thinks you are confident.

While you are in front of the group, don't scratch anything repeatedly. Scratch your head once if it itches, but not continuously. Baseball players can get by with it on national TV. Speakers cannot.

Learn the beginning of the speech particularly well. That is when you are the most nervous and don't think as well. Look happy and confident, as if you can help them solve a problem. If you don't feel that way, pretend you do. The old saying, "Fake it till you make it," really works. Shakespeare said "Assume a virtue if you have it not." If you pretend you are cheerful and self-assured, you will soon begin to feel it. The reverse is not true. Sitting around waiting to feel great before a speech doesn't usually happen. Everyone is nervous. They just go ahead anyway. They learn to channel the nervousness into an energetic delivery.

Say your words more distinctly and clearly than usual. Your children and co-workers would accuse you of putting on airs, but generally they are not in your audience. The sound has to travel over a long distance, and it needs the help of strong beginning and endings of words to get there. Don't talk in a monotone. Have some high notes and some low notes. But don't always go up in pitch at the end of a sentence. Many women and teenagers tend to do this. It makes everything you say sound like a question or implies that you are insecure. Don't be afraid to have some silent pauses for effect, but don't keep the audience waiting too long. They will think you are not prepared.

Wear professional clothes. If you are slightly more dressed up than your audience, that indicates that you respect them. They have to spend their time looking at you, so make it as pleasant for them as possible. A dark blue or gray suit with a light shirt and a stripped, paisley, or club tie is good for men. Women should wear a suit or tailored dress without low cut necklines.

Do breath regularly and occasionally deeply. It will lower your anxiety. It is normal to be nervous, but if you remember to breather deeply, you can channel that energy for a good performance. For three weeks before the performance, sit quietly for five or ten minutes a day. Breathe in to the count of 10 and out to the count of 8. After you've settled into the breathing rhythm, picture yourself giving the talk successfully. See yourself looking happy, speaking with a good strong voice, and entertaining the audience. The day of the talk you can take one or two deep breaths and your body will instantly remember the calm that you felt during your relaxation exercise.

Don't talk longer than you are scheduled to. The shortest inaugural speech ever made was George Washington's - 135 words. The longest was William Henry Harrison's in 1841. He delivered a 2-hour, 9,000-word speech into the teeth of a freezing northeast wind. He came down with a cold the following day, and a month later died of pneumonia. Moral - avoid long windedness. [2] The audience will resent you if you tell them you are going to talk a short time and then keep them there an hour and a half.

After you've written the speech and considered these do's and don'ts - practice. The more you sweat ahead of time, the less you sweat on stage. Practice in front of a mirror; in front of a friend who will give you honest feedback; or, best of all, in front of a video camera. Record yourself, watch it, and record again until you are pleased with your performance.


[ 1.] Lucas, S. The Art of Public Speaking. New York, N.Y.: Random

House, 1986. [ 2.] Oliva, J. Executive Writing, Speaking, and Listening Skills, New

York City, N.Y.: American Management Association.


Barbara J. Linney, MA, is Director of Career Development, American College of Physician Executives.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American College of Physician Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:becoming a good public speaker
Author:Linney, Barbara J.
Publication:Physician Executive
Date:Jan 1, 1991
Previous Article:Helping physicians manage challenging patient encounters.
Next Article:An emergency department perspective: process review.

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