NOT JUST SHOWING SLIDES
GUSTAVO STRINGEL, MD
Everyone is eventually asked to make a presentation. Some people are natural presenters, and the task is easy for them. Others, however, have great difficulty speaking in public. A presentation is not a speech; it is not just showing slides, figures, or facts to an audience. A presentation is more complex and involves a series of dynamic aspects. A presentation often has the impact of an audience’s impression of the character and personality of the presenter and many times will influence the present position and future standing of the person. We often judge a person based on his or her presentations. Ron Hoff defines a presentation as “a commitment by the presenter to help the audience do something—and a constant, simultaneous evaluation of the worth of that commitment by the audience.”
As physicians, we are often asked to make presentations related to our specialty. We are experts in this field and generally have no problem delivering a reasonable presentation. I once heard a definition of an expert as “a guy from out of town with a bunch of slides.” It is amazing how difficult it is to present topics that are not directly related to our area of expertise in the medical profession. Even talking about ourselves can be taxing. I recently attended a course given by the American College of Physician Executives where I was asked to make a 5-minute presentation by myself, with no audiovisual assistance. I was given 5 minutes in which to present my most important accomplishments and the skills that were necessary to achieve them. It was one of the most difficult presentations I have ever made. The 5 minutes passed very quickly, and I was forced to economize time, measure my words, and know exactly what I was going to say before I said it. I selected the subject, wrote the outline, memorized the introduction and the conclusion, and practiced my presentation many times, until I could deliver it in 4 minutes and 45 seconds. It was a humbling and excellent learning experience.
I have been making presentations all my life, in a few different languages. Now, I will present some of the experiences and hints that have helped me feel more in control and in contact with the audience.
Subject. Always know exactly what the subject is and why you are presenting it. If you are invited to speak, ask for details. What are the expectations? If you are asked to select the topic, choose something that you are totally familiar with, an area where you are considered an expert. The name of the game is preparation. To present with authority, you must prepare the subject.
Audience. Analyze your audience. You must know your audience’s characteristics, age demographic, gender, degree of education, and more. Are you presenting to colleagues? Does the audience understand medical terminology?
Time Yourself. Do not go over your allotted time. Nothing is worse than a speaker who continues to go on and on past his or her time allotment. If you are asked to give a 30-minute presentation, plan to talk for 25 minutes. It is always better to stay under your time. An educated audience will always appreciate the extra time. It is impolite and inconsiderate to other speakers to be late in your presentation. The only way to stay on time is to practice.
Practice Makes Perfect. Before you talk to the audience, talk to yourself. You can practice in front of a mirror or use a video camera. You can also give your presentation to a small group of friends or relatives or a spouse or significant other. Ask for advice and criticism. A spouse, relative, or a good friend will tell you what you need to improve.
Practice your posture, stand erect, do not move excessively, and select your space. Using hand motions and other gestures is good but should not be overdone. Do not let your eyes wander during the presentation. Select a point in the audience or 2 or 3 different people, and talk to them.
Select appropriate clothing. Avoid scratching yourself, playing with a pen or other object, jingling keys, and other obnoxious mannerisms.
Speech. Your voice should be loud and clear. If you have a microphone, you need to speak softly and close to the microphone. If no microphone is available, then you must speak loudly enough to be heard. A remote microphone attached to your lapel will give you the great advantage of movement, enabling you to gesture with your hands and body, and make better contact with your audience. A stationary microphone, especially if you are speaking on a podium, will limit your motion. Be aware of this situation and avoid standing still like a tree or statue. Try to occasionally move away from the podium to keep contact with your audience. Above all, be a dynamic speaker.
Interactive. It is fine to be an interactive presenter, but you must analyze your audience first. Is it the type of audience that is capable of interacting with you, and likely to do so? Interaction will keep the audience interested, but it can derail your timing. If you like interaction, you must practice first. I recently attended a presentation where the speaker claimed from the beginning that he was going to be making an interactive presentation. We in the audience prepared ourselves accordingly. He opened the presentation by showing a short video clip of a popular movie and asking the audience to identify it. He rewarded the winner with a piece of candy. From that point on, however, he continued with a 60-minute scientific presentation and never again interacted with the audience. At the end, he showed another video clip and rewarded the participant with another piece of candy. Was this truly an interactive presentation?
Audiovisual Aids. A variety of audiovisual aids, such as overheads and transparencies, slides, flip charts, and computer-generated audiovisuals, are available that can be useful in a presentation. You must always ask about the availability of different aids ahead of time. Computer-generated audiovisuals, especially Power Point, are now almost universally available. I was recently invited to South America to give a series of presentations. I had Power Point presentations, but I made the mistake of assuming that my hosts would not have the computer equipment necessary to display them, so I converted all my power point presentations to slides. To my surprise and embarrassment, I was the only speaker with slides. I learned a lesson from the experience: always ask what kind of equipment is available. When in doubt bring both slides and your Power Point presentation. Always bring your laptop and a CD with your presentations and video clips. Make sure your computer is compatible with the available equipment. If you have a Mac, bring your adapter or connecting cable. As a general rule, Power Point presentations run better directly from the hard drive, but it is always wise to have a back up.
Keep visual aids simple. Generally, a blue background is best. Avoid complicated backgrounds, as they can be distracting from the main subject of your presentation. The lettering should be big enough for the audience to read. As a general rule, letters in a 24-point font size are recommended. You can save time by attaching pictures, figures, or video clips to your slides, but if the picture is important, show it alone. Computer-generated presentations have become very sophisticated. You must stay within your limits of sophistication and technical expertise. Do not overdo it. A simple laser pointer is absolutely necessary. I often carry my own laser pointer to my presentations.
Do not apologize for spelling or similar errors. For one thing, you should always do a spell check before your presentation. If you must clarify something, do it without apologizing. Most of the time, the audience will not notice the error until you point it out. You, not your slides, should be the center of the presentation. It is acceptable to have notes to guide you. Avoid the tediousness of reading the presentation verbatim. Use the notes to guide you; do not let the notes distract the audience. I recently attended a presentation by Barbara Linney, Vice President of Career Development for the American College of Physician Executives. She is a master presenter. She had notes in her hands throughout the presentation, but we did not notice them until she pointed out to us how she was holding them. She did it inconspicuously and skillfully and did not let her notes take away from her presentation.
Taking Off and Landing. The most important times of your presentation are comparable to the take-off and landing of an airplane. You can make it or break it right from the beginning or at the end. Always practice and memorize the first 60 to 90 seconds of your presentation, and always allow time for a strong closure with conclusions. Beware of lengthy, unnecessary, or overstated introductions. Do tell the audience the plan or contents of your presentation. Always introduce yourself and your position in a simple, matter-of-fact way. Acknowledge people who have collaborated with you, as well as personalities, guests, chairpersons, or presidents of the association who invited you to make your presentation. Do not forget to smile and look relaxed. Some speakers regularly practice relaxation breathing and exercises before the presentation. Breathing is extremely important in pacing your presentation. If your presentation is long, request a glass of water to moisturize your throat and take a brief pause during your speech.
When you are running out of time, be prepared to close; do not wait until the moderator asks you.
Humor. A sense of humor is always good. Do not start or end your presentation with a joke unless you are a natural comedian and good at telling jokes. Although making humorous remarks keeps the audience happy and interested, do not over do it. The same goes for cartoons. Tasteless or difficult-to-understand cartoons will only detract from your presentation. Pictures of family or beautiful scenery are generally well accepted, especially if they are related to the presentation.
Evaluation. It is extremely important to look at the evaluation from the audience. You should request it from the organization that invited you to make the presentation. If you have a bad evaluation, then you should find out the reasons why and correct them. If your presentation made an impression, then you will get a good evaluation. An important presentation always merits an evaluation. You can always ask for an honest opinion from members of the audience or organization for your educational feedback.
I hope that the experience with presentations that I have acquired over many years can be of help, especially to new speakers aiming to improve the quality of their presentations. Remember that aids for presentations constantly change and improve. We must continue to educate ourselves and always aspire to improve our presentations. If you make an excellent presentation, then accept the praise and be proud.
Address reprint requests to: Gustavo Stringel, MD, 21 Addison St, Larchmont, NY 10538-2744, USA. Tel: 914 493 7620, Fax: 914 594 4933, E-mail: email@example.com
Dr Gustavo Stringel earned his medical degree at the National University of Mexico in Mexico City. He interned in Toronto, Canada, at St. Michael’s Hospital and did his surgical training at the Gallie Program at the University of Toronto. Dr Stringel also completed a fellowship at the Hospital of Sick Children in Toronto. He is currently Professor of Surgery and Pediatrics at New York Medical College and Attending Surgeon at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, New York.
Dr Stringel has presented and published on many topics in the areas of Laparoscopy and Thoracoscopy in children. He has been a member of the Society of Laparoendoscopic Surgeons for six years and currently serves on the Editorial Board of JSLS.
Hoff R. I Can See You Naked. A Fearless Guide to Making Great Presentations. Kansas City, MO: Andrews and McMeel; 1991.
Hoff R. Say It in Six. How to Say Exactly What You Mean in Six Minutes or Less. Kansas City, MO: Andrews and McMeel; 1996.
Linney BJ. Improve your presentation style. Physician Executive. Am Coll Physician Executives—J Med Manage. 1991;17(1):23-25.
Walters L. Secrets of Successful Speakers. New York: McGraw-Hill; 1993.
Walters L. Secrets of Superstar Speakers. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2000.
www.Laparoscopy.org The Laparoscopic Surgery Information Source