How to Ace Your Next Presentation: Strategies For Effective Public Speaking

Cardiologists in all practice environments must be able to communicate clearly, persuasively and memorably to diverse audiences. Effective public speaking is key to career advancement, as it requires creativity, critical thinking, leadership, poise and professionalism. Whether you are presenting research at a conference, teaching over Zoom, sharing cases with colleagues or speaking with investors, consider the following strategies to enhance your next public speaking opportunity.

1. Content

Your presentation should convey content through a structure that captures the attention of your intended audience and reformats information for optimal audiovisual consumption.

Win over your audience. The primary question is “why should I care?” Help your audience understand the significance of your presentation. Place listeners at the center of the action. Help people see themselves as heroes of your story, whether the plot involves saving a patient or medical innovation.  Utilize inclusive pronouns, address your audience personally and make eye contact with your audience.

Convey your main idea through a roadmap. Identify the key message and a maximum of three to four supporting points. Outline the structure of your talk at the outset, particularly for longer talks involving multiple transitions. Ensure you relate each section to your main idea. Listeners should come away with a clear message and should not feel “lost” along the way.

Find meaning within your data. Avoid an information dump, whether you are speaking at a research meeting, educational talk or case presentation. Explain what the data means to you and for your audience. Provide context and find relatable comparisons. For instance, compare scaled objects with items of familiar size.

Find stories to ground your information. Use case presentations, analogies or personal anecdotes. Vivid examples will create placeholders for your information in listeners’ minds and will make your message more memorable.

Juxtapose needs and solutions. Highlight a pressing need or problem. Monroe’s Motivated Sequence describes the goal of the unmet need is to create a cognitive dissonance that is subsequently resolved after listeners experience the satisfaction of hearing your solution. For a case presentation, you might describe a sick patient in the midst of a therapeutic dilemma, followed by a unique course of clinical action. For a research presentation, you might describe an unanswered scientific question, followed by an impactful answer through your research. Describe how your solution addresses the issue and the consequences if your innovation is not implemented. 

2. Speak authentically

One of the keys to speaking well is to project your real self. You will stand out as a successful communicator if you are in touch with your feelings about your topic and can react authentically.

Relate to what you are saying. If you understand why you care about your topic, you will more easily convey your passion about the topic to others.

Relate to your audience, surroundings and emotions. Take the audience into your confidence. If distractions or mishaps occur, set listeners at ease by creating a more intimate relationship with them. Be willing to express emotions to the audience without embarrassment.

Overcome speaking anxieties. Focus on what you are saying and believing in your content, rather than worrying about how people will react. If you have fears or reservations about public speaking, try using relaxation techniques, positive self-talk and power posing. You could also try identifying your specific fears in order to overcome them. Public speaking can become easier and even enjoyable through practice and determination.

3. Prepare

Spontaneity does not necessarily translate into authenticity. You will be able to speak more confidently and project an authentic message by preparing adequately for your event.

Know the content. Learn everything you can about the topic you are speaking about. For example, if it is a research presentation, know the research in detail including background literature in the field.

Plan both what you will say and how you will say it. Presentations, especially short talks, benefit from a detailed mental roadmap for your communication. Do not forget to plan inflections, pauses and gestures. Nonverbal communication is equally important to what you articulate.

Make technology your friend. Iron out any and all technical glitches before the time of presentation. This could be as simple as knowing how to make videos auto-play in your slides, making sure your microphone works properly, or understanding how to use the laser pointer.

4. Maintain your speaking presence

It is time for your presentation! Your hard work in preparation can be put into action.

Greet real and virtual audiences. Maintain good posture and use open-handed gestures. Look at your audience, not your slides. If this is a virtual presentation, simulate a face-to-face conversation with the audience. Remember to look at the camera and not your computer screen while speaking. Your face and the top of your shoulders should occupy the full screen projected by your camera.

Avoid filler words. When filler words like “um” are used, speaker credibility and listener comprehension decline. Practicing in front of a preliminary audience or camera may help you understand your use of filler words. Another strategy is to pause at the beginning of a sentence and between ideas.

Be precise with your diction. Make an effort to pronounce words thoroughly and carefully. Place thought into word choice and the speed and cadence of your speech.

Avoid upward inflection. When you make a statement, does it sound more like a question? Although controversial, “upspeak” can reduce credibility with listeners. Do not end your statements with the inflection of a question.

Effective public speaking is a goal that we can aspire to as cardiologists in diverse settings. I hope these strategies enhance and support successful communication throughout your career.

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This article was authored by Pranoti G. Hiremath, MD, Fellow in Training (FIT) at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD.