PowerPoint for Physicians: Avoid the biggest PowerPoint Mistake!

PowerPoint for Physicians: Avoid the biggest PowerPoint Mistake!

Introduction: There are lots of great doctors out there. But, some are more respected, well known, or successful than others. Chances are, that successful physician has excellent professional and medical business skills like negotiation, networking, or public speaking that they leveraged to accelerate their careers. This post is one of a continuing series from Physician Advocates LLC discussing often overlooked skillsets that Healthcare professionals can utilize to grow their careers. 

Ever notice how some PowerPoint presentations just sizzle while others flop? Whether you love it or hate it, PowerPoint is one of the most important physicians tools. As a matter of fact, there are few career investments that have more potential than mastering PowerPoint. Whether you are presenting at a national conference of your peers, to a local community group, or to your hospital board of directors, a high-quality PowerPoint presentation will grant you instant expert status and make you stand out from the crowd.  Unfortunately, a poor quality presentation may cause you to appear mediocre, a dull, or worse.

(Author’s note: I will use the term “PowerPoint’ to refer to all similar software packages. The ideas I present here are apply to all the various presentation software packages.)

So if PowerPoint presentations are so important, why are they frequently terrible? There are three important elements to your typical PowerPoint presentation:

  1. Public Speaking skills: Public speaking is a vital physician professional skill. Although, some people are born naturally able to communicate easily with a crowd, the rest of us need to be taught. The great news is like other skills you can learn public speaking through training and practice.
  2. The content design of the PowerPoint slide set: Your presentation should tell a story. The message should be clear, obvious, and limited to one or two big ideas. There should be a beginning introduction and chapters or segments that presents information in a way drives the “plot arc” or message. The presentation should have a “V” shape design that starts with the general concepts and funnels down to the specifics providing a lucid and step-wise line of reasoning. There should be no side branches or tangents. Every slide should have an obvious purpose in driving the message. (Note: content design of PowerPoint slide sets will be discussed in future posts. Please sign up for our newsletter to keep up-to-date)
  3. The presenter and audience interaction with the screen or monitor during the presentation: Watch any good TED talk. They almost all use some PowerPoint type software. But unlike most presentations you’ve attended, the speaker doesn’t even look at the slides. They don’t use a laser.   And, most importantly, the information presented supports the talk, but isn’t the centerpiece of the presentation

Using your PowerPoint presentation as the centerpiece of the presentation is the biggest mistake you can make in effectively communicating your message. The slide set should support your presentation and provide an overview, but should never act as the primary source of information. The information the PowerPoint slide presents should be no more than 15-20% of the discussion. It should provide bullet points and important visual information like graphics, but it should never be treated like a written article or book chapter that is meant to be read.

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PowerPoint slides are the stage props of the story you are sharing with the audience. A PowerPoint lecture is ultimately a verbal conversation with the audience. You must form a personal relationship with members of the audience and communicate with them through the telling of a story. Like the stage telling of a story there are props- these are the PowerPoint slides. This is very different than a book or printed article where the written word is the centerpiece.

Here are some hints to help get you into you story telling mode

  • Use short statements and bullet points in your slides. Use the oral elements of your presentation to expand and explain.
  • Never read off a slide (Exception: when you are reading a brief quotation or statement). Reading from a slide pushes the presentation out of conversation mode and drops the interest level dramatically
  • Do not use a laser pointer or similar device. You can and should make large hand motions as part of your public speaking technique, but if your presentations needs a pointer then the slide must be redesigned or should include animations. Note: a future post will discuss the use of PowerPoint animations
  • Use graphics rather than text whenever possible. Remember, the slides are your props. Visual elements will support your presentation while text elements slow it down and take away focus.

Being able to communicate effectively can be a valuable skill that will help to advance your career. Learning presentations skills like PowerPoint, public speaking, and media interviewing can work wonders in achieving expert status, gaining recognition from peers, and growing your practice. Combine this with other professional and medical business skills to kick start your career and succeed… really succeed.

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What do you think? Do you have a love-hate relationship with PowerPoint? Have you figured out a better communication technique? Do you wish you have better PowerPoint skills? Share your ideas in the comment section below.

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