Public Speaking for Doctors: Connecting with Your Audience (Part One)

Public Speaking for Doctors: Connecting with Your Audience (Part One)

Great public speakers use story telling techniques to connect with their audience.

Author: Robert A Felberg MD

Topic: Public Speaking. Professional skills for Doctors:

Keywords: Public speaking tips, public speaking in the medical field, communications skills in healthcare.

Some public speakers seem to have a knack when it comes to keeping their audience engaged. Others, well they are dull as watching paint dry.   A doctor with excellent public speaking skills will always be in demand.  Their ability to educate and inform a group leads to several benefits, including engaging a large audience of potential patients and referring doctors, instant expert status, and the opportunity to network with thought leaders. The good news is that like most other professional and medical business skills, public speaking can be mastered through proper training, practice, and hard work.

[Editor’s Note: 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. Please sign up for our newsletter to keep informed]

The ability to keep your audience interested is determined by several factors. The first is the technical aspects of your voice, stance, posture, and eye contact.  These skills are generally taught in public speaking classes and will be covered in future posts. Also of great importance is the design of the presentation, and how you and the audience interact with the screen or monitor. For this post, I’m going to delve into the narrative elements of your presentation- often described as “story-telling”, but also looking into some of the emotional goals of your presentation as well.

What is your message? What are you hoping to accomplish with this presentation? What change do you hope will take place in the audience after they join you in the telling of this story? There’s a reason you are doing this public speaking event. It may be as exciting as asking donors to fund a new children’s wing of the hospital or as mundane as explaining the Krebs cycle to medical students. The key here is to understand that presentations are meant to be transformative- at the beginning of the presentation the audience is uncommitted to donation. By the end, they are inspired to fund the project and are ready to call all their friends to action. They have been changed through the message of the story.

Storytelling, and your presentation is a type of storytelling, is a transformative journey you undergo with your audience. The first step is to understand where you want your audience to be when the journey is complete. This is your message. When you first start designing your presentations this can be confusing and difficult- My message is “learn the Krebs cycle” or fail the final exam.

Here’s an exercise to help define your message. Imagine you are on the final slide before you open the floor to questions. You say the following, “So now I bring you the summation of my talk. If I’ve done my job right, you now…” Answer this with three goals- “understand the intricate underpinning of the biochemical mechanism of the energy metabolism of cells”, “appreciate the role of ADP to ATP regeneration in healthy cell function”, and “can explain in biochemical terms where toxins act in the Krebs cycle and how this relates to clinical presentations of sodium fluoroacetate exposure”. This may not make memorizing the Krebs cycle more enjoyable, but it will hopefully transform your students into understanding more about the role of biochemistry in clinical medical practice.

Another way to improve your engagement with the audience is to appreciate their emotional response.  There have been many famous orators whose emotional message was so well delivered that it still reverberates decades or centuries after their passing. Obviously, we’re not going to match the emotional underpinning of “Gettysburg Address” with your presentation, but we can try to understand the role that emotion will play in our message.

What emotion do you want your audience to feel during and at the end of your presentation? Do you want them to experience “hope”, “confidence”, “joy”, or “wonder”? In general, I would recommend you aim for a positive feeling, especially “inspiration”. Avoid aiming for “guilt”. Guilt or pity is often used in emotional appeals of backing or support, often for charities. But, it only works a few times and then backfires. Inspire your audience into joining the fight rather than doing something out of sadness.

One surefire way to address the emotional feelings of the audience is to tell a story related to the topic (here’s an amazing example). Going back to the Krebs cycle you could tell a story like this:

A 23-year-old college student is studying for finals. Lacking sleep and drinking too much caffeine, he suddenly feels light headed and short of breath. His roommate checks his pulse- over 220 beats per minute! The ambulance arrives and the student feels his life ebbing away. No matter how hard he tries, he just can’t breathe fast enough. His vision gets gray and his limbs feel cold- he’s going into shock. He’d call his parents on his cell to say goodbye, but he can’t gather the strength to even talk.  He arrives at the ED and they determine his heart rate is so rapid that he can’t refill the blood in his heart between each beat. The electrical rhythm of his heart has short circuited, sending irregular or aberrant signal. The doctor draws up 6mg of Adenosine and injects it rapidly over 3 seconds. The Adenosine is converted to adenosine monophosphate and disrupts the metabolism and rhythm of the heart. The patient feels a sudden hollowness in his chest. On the monitor, his heart has stopped, actually flat-lines… Just as panic sets in, the rhythm restarts. This time the pulse is normal. He breathes a sigh of relief and wonders if he can get a note from the ED doctor to get out of the final exam. This remarkable cure was possible by the action of adenosine- an important participant in the Krebs cycle…”

Now, if I’ve done my job right, your interest was peaked by this amazing and inspirational story. Hopefully, I’ve linked the talk with clinical practice and maybe inspired the audience about what is a usually mundane topic. You may even be emotionally primed and amenable to my presentation.

In Part two, I’ll go more into narrative storytelling elements that you can use to improve audience engagement. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to be kept up to date. In the meanwhile, look into improving your physician professional skill set ,as well as, practice telling stories as part of your presentation.   Public speaking, like other professional skills, can be used to advance your career and meet your true potential. With the proper training, practice, and hard work you can reach your dreams and succeed… really succeed.

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What do you think? Do you have any tricks you use to make your presentations better? Have you ever met a fantastic speaker with an interesting style? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

1 Comment

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