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Business Advisor
How to Give a Great Talk
Laura Wisniewski
Publish Date: October 27, 2008

The big day has finally arrived. You're an audience member at your profession's annual conference. The next presentation is on your subject of expertise and you're excited about the opportunity to learn something new.

Speak Easy

If you need help polishing your act, investigate Toastmasters International at writeOutLink("www.toastmasters.org",1) or the National Speakers Association at writeOutLink("www.nsaspeaker.org",1).

The anticipation builds as you listen to the expert's introduction.

The speaker has credentials and initials a mile long. You're ready to be dazzled. Then he begins to speak ?

The "expert" leans on the lectern and proceeds to speak in a monotone voice. You and your colleagues are slowly tortured by facts, figures, "ums" and PowerPoint slides.

Eyes glaze over. Heads begin to nod. Somewhere around slide 207, you hear a loud "Thump!" as one of those heads hits the table.

Suddenly you remember that you paid hard-earned money and took time off from work to attend this conference. "I could do a better job than this!" you declare to yourself.

Why not present as a speaker next time? If you had the opportunity to speak to a group of your peers, what would your message be? What is preventing you from taking this important step forward in your professional development?

Once you decide to take the leap, these seven tips will help you achieve your goal with a little style and pizzazz.

1. Find your voice. Health care is undergoing a time of dramatic change and transition. The best innovations come from the front lines and not the ivory tower. There is a real need for original perspectives to find solutions for the problems facing the ambulatory surgery industry today. Over the years, you might have heard some great speakers and perhaps thought you could never be like them. The good news is that you don't have to be. Just be yourself and not an imitation of anyone else's style.

2. Showcase your expertise. Audiences demand credibility. They're asking themselves the question, "Why should I listen to this person?" Your experience, education and certifications may help get you onto the platform. However, once there you'll need fundamental presentation skills to maintain the attention of the audience. Far too often in health care we rest upon the laurels of our credentials and initials. Very few healthcare speakers have invested the time or resources to develop their presentation skills. Your message is too important to be boring and forgotten.

3. Honor adult learning principles. Speaking is a form of education and there are basic principles you must observe and follow.

Adults are self-directed, problem-oriented and want information that is relevant and can be immediately applied to their work. They expect respect for their time and experience.

Employ a variety of presentation methods to accommodate different learning styles. Some adults learn best by seeing, others by hearing or doing.

The traditional lecture method used predominantly in health care appeals to only a portion of audience members. Try adding visual aids, role-playing, group activities or games. The possibilities are endless. Be creative and think outside the box.

4. Serve the audience. If your objective is self-promotion, please step down from the platform. Speaking is a privilege. It is about meeting the needs of the audience, not your own. Focusing your attention on the audience and your message is also the best remedy for stage fright. If your purpose is one of service, you will succeed.

5. Share your stories. Storytelling has been embraced by the speaking profession, educators and business professionals as one of the best ways to connect with audiences. We have been transferring knowledge via stories throughout human history.

Stories engage both the "thinking" left brain and the "feeling" right brain of the listener. Combining the facts while stimulating an emotional response through storytelling will help the audience remember your points.

It's also easier to remember stories because you were there. By developing your own signature stories, you become associated with them. The audience may not remember your name, but they'll remember your story. A special note: To respect confidentiality, conceal any identifying characteristics while maintaining the essence of the story.

6. Be theatrical. Don't just stand there like a post! As you tell your stories, breathe life into them by using a few simple acting techniques.

Use facial expressions and gestures. We naturally and effortlessly include both in our everyday conversations. However, many speakers suddenly turn into stone when presenting before a group. Practice in front of a mirror or videotape yourself.

Add vocal variety. When speaking to a group, your manner of speech should be conversational and slightly larger than life. Also think of the potential range of your voice as the colors of the rainbow. How many colors are you using?

Develop characters. Draw from people you know as the framework for your characters. Even a slight change in voice quality, pace or inflection will help create distinct personalities.

Improvise. A canned speech will sound like one. Customized presentations will promote spontaneity and audience interaction.

7. Have fun! If you're having fun, your audience will, too. It's well known that humor is the shortest distance between two people.

Having fun is another great technique to help you relax during your presentation. Even if your subject matter is extremely serious, some well-placed humor will help break the tension.

Spread the word
As healthcare professionals, we've dedicated our lives to helping others. Speaking is a way to reach a much larger group than ever possible in your everyday practice. Imagine how many people could benefit from your innovative ideas or techniques. Share your passion and experience with your profession.

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