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Public Speaking Tips for Physicians

By Anna Mueller, MS06 Jan 2020

public speaking imageSpeaking in front of a group of peers can be intimidating, and presenting new ideas can make you feel vulnerable. As a physician, it’s critical you get your messages across clearly, but unrefined public speaking skills or discomfort with speaking in front of others can make it challenging to convey information properly.

Glossophobia (the fear and anxiety related to public speaking) can be debilitating and prevent you from growing professionally and personally — regardless of your knowledge or experience. However, presenting to others is a significant part of your career, and the sooner you become comfortable with this duty, the more effectively you’ll communicate.

To help, consider these communication skills and public speaking tips for physicians.

Know Your Audience

No matter who you are or how much you know, it’s almost impossible to engage your audience unless you can relate to them. Before you present, take time to identify who will be in your audience, where they are in their career, their knowledge of the subject matter, and some of the challenges and pain points they currently face.

“It's not all about you or how much you know on the topic, or how much material you can cover in the allotted time to be complete,” says Dr. Scott Litin, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic. “It's thinking about what the group wants to know or needs to know.”

Consider what your audience needs to know and make a plan to deliver that information in a way that captivates their attention. Be sure to share real-life scenarios and examples to support your points.

Practice, Practice, and Practice Some More

It’s difficult to hone your public speaking skills unless you’re exercising them frequently. That’s why it’s essential you accept every opportunity to present in front of a group. The more you practice, the more proficient you’ll become, the less jittery you’ll feel, and the more comfortable you’ll appear to your audience.

When preparing for a public speaking event, take time to practice your presentation multiple times. If possible, rehearse in front of a colleague and ask for their feedback. If you can’t present to anyone else, consider recording yourself so you can identify opportunities to tweak and tighten up your phrasing.

Remember Your Body Language

Your body language can have a significant impact on the success of your presentation. Here are a few body language tips to keep in mind for your next public speaking opportunity:

  • Maintain eye contact.
    Eye contact is essential in any conversation, but it can be difficult when speaking to several people at once. In this case, face your audience directly. Instead of looking over their heads, move your eye contact from face to face as you speak.
  • Beware of over-using hand motions
    Use your hands conversationally to make your point, but only if it comes naturally. Also, be sure not to make such broad, sweeping gestures that it distracts from your message.
  • Stand with confidence.
    Be sure to stand tall and straight with your head held high and your shoulders back. Avoid folding your arms or fidgeting with your hands. Moving can help you speak naturally, but be sure not to pace.

Hook Your Audience From the Beginning

If you want your audience to pay attention, it’s crucial you captivate them from the beginning. If possible, use a story arc with a clear beginning, challenge or conflict, and resolution. But even if you can’t present all the information in the form of a story, it’s helpful to start your speech with an anecdote or real-life story.

Also, keep in mind that your presentation can quickly become derailed by room conditions, technical difficulties, and other unexpected interruptions. Be patient, and remember where you left off so you can jump back in and reclaim the room’s attention as soon as you’re able.

Encourage Questions

It’s important for the audience to engage in order to learn, and the more they participate, the more opportunities you have to clarify crucial points.

If possible, leave time in your presentation to allow for a question-and-answer period. This not only ensures everyone has a chance to fully understand what you’re sharing but underscores your credibility as a subject matter expert. If you don’t have time to address all questions, remind your audience you’re happy to discuss later or via email.

For busy physicians, the best way to polish your public speaking skills is by presenting often and seeking opportunities to present on topics in which you have tremendous expertise. By becoming comfortable speaking in front of people, you can ensure you’re passing along your knowledge and establishing a connection with each audience you face.

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