by Nic Colombo
Let's be honest, whether in Uni or at work, the number of presentations for which we give our full, unconditional attention is pretty low. If we were to do a study on it, I'm pretty sure that in a 20-minute presentation, we spend at least 10 to 20% of the time either drawing psychedelic patterns in the corner of our diary, thinking about our next week-end away, or wishing we had necked a mug of coffee beforehand. The rest depends whether or not we went for seconds at lunch and we've entered food coma yet.
I do think most of us are great at what we do and I truly believe we all have something to learn from everyone, and every situation. But being able to do so via a presentation (or a talk of some sort) is a different story. The delivery has to be spot on. A presentation has to look and feel good to deserve our full attention. (Especially after lunch.) Its key message has to be clear – and understood with minimal effort – for people to remember it correctly. Otherwise it will be very likely heading, in a few days or weeks, to the Big Powerpoint Blur that we keep in the back of our mind.
Turns out we, as healthcare professionals, are pretty crap at presentations and public speaking in general. Maybe because those skills are not really taught to us at Uni. Or maybe because in our list of priorities, delivering a good presentation at the weekly journal club or the department's audit day, is something buried quite far down – along with sorting out our CPD folder or replying to that email we've flagged on Outlook four weeks ago already.
As clinicians, we care more about what happens with patients; and so should we. But I think not including strong presentation and public speaking skills in our skill set is a big mistake. In this tough economic climate, we should be able to share our knowledge in a way people, from students to managers, remember it and can use it straight away. To raise awareness of our professions, we need to present our findings effectively and leave a strong, lasting impression on people like executives, stakeholders and members of the public.
There are easy rules we can follow to achieve this. Of course, the first one is to have great content, interesting stuff to talk about. But let's assume this. I’m going to try and list below a few other tips that I've learnt from my own experience / the hard way, but also from advice from public speaking figures, like communication expert Garr Reynolds, CEO & Founder of SlideGenius: Rick Enciro, or even everyone's fave entrepreneur: Richard Branson.
1. Get the audience on your side
Make people laugh / react / wonder
You can start with a light joke, a cool title slide or a picture which makes your audience laugh, gasp or intrigued. All you need to do, is get some sort of emotional reaction from them. Don't try too hard – you're not trying to be the new Kevin Hart – you just need something to spark their interest. This will get people on your side from the beginning. If you miss the opportunity to engage your audience straight away, it'll be very hard to do it later on.
Start strong, get straight to it
The first minute is crucial: first impressions are powerful. In those first 60 seconds, people decide whether they will continue to listen to you or not. Most people don’t get their audience on board because they keep going on about background info, facts and stuff that the audience can check on their own or already knows. By the time they really start their presentation, people are already day-dreaming. Introduce yourself of course, give a bit of a background and maybe (in case of a clinical scenario) some key elements to the patient's history, but keep it (very, very) short and to the point.
Make sure you're confident talking about your topic
Audience demands credibility. If you look like you don't know what you're talking about, fiddling through your notes, reciting your slides, etc people will start cringing and stop listening. Sometimes it's a matter of narrowing down your topic: it's better to talk about one thing properly than trying to cover too many things badly. Use your strengths to overcome your weaknesses. Got a good sense of humour? Good at making informative diagrams? Experience in a special field? All these can add to your credibility and confidence.
Spend time on your visuals
I find spending time on the way my slides look is one of the best ways to get people interested. Most presentations look the same: same background, same fonts, same pictures (likely this one, this one, and probably this one too). If your presentation looks different to the 5 others they've already seen this month, people will naturally want to look at it, and listen to what you say. They'll also be more likely to remember it.
In our field, where most of our presentations are educational (there's a fine line between educational and boring), we need to find a way to keep our audience entertained. Again, we're not talking stand-up-comedy entertainment, but clever additions to keep them on their toes. Use thought-provocative pictures, fonts that are not necessarily part of the Boring Font
Triad – Calibri / Arial / Times New Roman (but do maintain clarity - you can check out Dafont for cool fonts). Reduce the amount of text on your slides: if you say something, it doesn't need to be on the screen. Use the slides to support what you say, not repeat what you say.
Just as a quick example, here's a slide I did a couple of years ago when I was working in stroke rehab. I was looking at falls and ways to manage them on the ward. I wanted to show staff where to find information about patients' mobility status and level of assistance required to mobilise on the ward. Rather than just listing the different locations up on a slide, I made a quick representation of the ward using RoomSketcher. People found it pretty cool to look at, and staff were still telling me about it at the end of my rotation. Took me 15 minutes to make, and not only it added clarity but also it helped me to get my message across – and remembered – quickly and easily. Quite fun to do too.
2. Focus on your audience needs
Give them a reason to listen
What does the audience needs, what do they want to know, what do they want to take home? Keep that in mind when you design your presentation. If there's nothing to learn from your presentation, there's no point being there. Are you presenting the results of an audit? Are you discussing what you found in a lit review? Or a learning experience from seeing a particular patient? Then focus on that, and nothing else. Keep stuff which they'll find useful, get rid off anything that doesn't answer your initial question.
Sometimes as a student or a new grad, you'll find hard to teach your audience something, especially if they're all experienced clinicians. Don't let this stop you; a fresh look on the service, some feedback from a patient, thoughts on a more efficient way to do something, etc are really useful stuff that staff will benefit from hearing. And will thank you for it.
Keep it accessible
Often your audience will be consisted of different professions and bands. You’ve got to keep your content accessible for everyone. Don’t lose them with jargon, abstract concepts etc. If you do have to use technical terms, explain them when required. Use your slides to support your points, with clear diagrams and illustrations. Take time to explain difficult concepts if you have to, but keep it dead simple! A good rule is that a kid sitting in your presentation should be able to understand most of what you're talking about.
Prepare a handout
Don’t give slides as your handouts. Slides are visuals, and should stay visuals. Handouts are a different thing. It's a good idea to summarise your points in neat sections, with your key diagrams. Handouts should be no longer than a page, something people can refer back to easily, pin up on their wall, photocopy and share quickly.
People learn from different methods
Don’t keep to plain, boring slides, add stuff and content, use groups activities if appropriate, use video and demonstrations... Possibilities are endless. Make sure you do so in the right context though. Don’t start getting people in groups if you have 15 minutes or if it is too awkward given the number of people, etc.
Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn. Benjamin Franklin
3. Don’t lose sight of your message
Find your punchline
Get a "punchline" in to get your key message across as soon as possible: a statement, a message that the audience is convinced of and will take home.
"We can easily reduce the number of falls on our ward."
"The Lower Back Group is doing well and saving the department money – we should run a second one during the week."
"Giving this evidence, manual therapy is not effective for this type of patient."
You can deliver different sides of your story / message to add clarity and credibility, but always come back to your punchline. Create a theme, and lead your audience to a satisfying conclusion that ties everything together.
Use the 15-word summary rule
Can you summarise your idea in 15 words? You’ll need to be able to do so, so your message can be repeated and taken away. If you can't summarise your idea in 15 words, you probably can't teach it.
Provide a strong, accurate title
With the punchline and the 15-word summary, this will be easy. A strong title will get people on board and know what to expect straight away. It will also help them remember the presentation when they see the title written somewhere, such as in an email, at the top of a poster or in the shared Teaching folder.
Keep it concise
Worst presentations are long presentations. Winston Churchill once said: “A good speech should be like a woman's skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.” Beautifully put.
Humans are like gold fish: we've got a pretty short attention span. Especially when comfortably sitting and passively listening / being taught / spoken at. You'll be able to really get people's attention at the beginning and when you use phrases like "in conclusion", "to summarise", "if you only remember one thing from this" etc. Use these to structure your talk.
Add pauses for emphasis. Avoid um's and err's. Careful with you know's and so's: people notice if you have a tendency to repeat certain words and focus on this instead. They'll make their mission to count the number of you know's in your presentation, and won't remember anything else.
End on a hopeful note
Whatever your key message is, it's important that you always leave your audience wih a feeling of hope. They need to feel empowered by what you just told them.
4. Make it personal
Have a chat
Educational presentations are formal enough already. 99% of the time, it's okay to tone it down a bit and just "have a chat" with your audience. Use anecdotes, examples from your department, practice, names and places your audience knows, stuff they can relate to. Let them participate and react to what you say there and then. It will help you relax and you'll be able to catch your breath too.
The audience may not remember your name, but can remember your story, and your message. Always keep in mind patient confidentiality though!
Show your passion (find it first)
Be passionate about what you're talking about, let that enthusiasm come out and spread to your audience. If you’re not able to connect with your audience in an honest and exciting way, it just won't work. When you can't really chose to topic (in journal clubs, in-service training or student placements for instance), make sure you find a way to make that topic interesting to you first of all. Then go and write your presentation. Not the other way round.
Practice using the backwards technique
When practising, start at the end of your presentation and finish at the beginning. It will give you a fresh look at your presentation, and with your conclusions in mind, you'll see if they get supported throughout the presentation.
Come early, set up early, be ready early
Don’t start fiddling around, trying to get the projector to work or to find your memory stick in your bag when you have your audience waiting and looking at you awkwardly.
Keep the lights on
Turning them off, beside sending people to sleep, will place all the focus on the screen. People should be looking at you more than the slides.
Remember the B key to blank the screen
Useful if you need to go off topic for a minute and need your audience to stop looking at your slide.
So this is it, this is the checklist I've put together for myself and that I've been using for a while now. I hope it'll help you if you have to prepare for a presentation in the near future, but also that it might help you realise the needs for such skills in healthcare, especially locally, so we're equipped to present findings effectively to our teams, show relevant people how great we're doing, and save the world.
I'll try and put a powerpoint template for download on here soon, with some cool fonts and visuals. Any questions in the meantime or tips that work for yourself, feel free to share them in the comments. :)
About the author
Nic works as a Senior Physiotherapist both in a busy NHS hospital in East London and privately. Since he qualified, he has gained a large amount of experience assessing and treating various conditions, but also meeting and working alongside all sorts of healthcare professionals. He set up QualifiedPhysio with the idea of making available to future and new physios all the advice, guidance and resources he got along the way, to bridge that gap between Uni and their first job.