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Be a great speaker: 10 practical pearls (part 1 of 5)

Posted Mar 16 2013 12:00am
Have you seen how some speakers can seemingly just give AMAZING talks? It actually takes a lot of hard work to make impactful talks look easy and effortless.

The CORD Academy for Scholarship in Education in Emergency Medicine recently has started the " Distinguished Educator's Coaching Program " to help established educators improve their presentation skills. The concept of coaching for mastery is a hot topic, often discussed by Dr. Atul Gawande (surgeon at Brigham and Women’s and professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health).


For the CORD Distinguished Educator's Coaching Program, Dr. Gus Garmel [Clinical Professor (Affiliate) of Surgery (EM) at Stanford, Senior Emergency Physician at Kaiser Santa Clara] has kindly offered to share his top 50 points to improve one's speaking skills. These tips are great for anyone who plans to do public speaking.

Here are the first 10 practical pearls:
  1. Think about good talks you’ve been to, and what made them great (or bad).
  2. Make your talk RELEVANT -- never, ever present the Krebs cycle in EM 
  3. Plan your beginning, middle, and ending.
  4. Master your material. This takes time, so plan and prepare accordingly. 
  5. Use this opportunity to become an expert on the topic. Consider a chapter, paper, or research in this area. 
  6. Multimedia: If you use slides, don't use anything too fancy or cheeky. If you use video, embed it and don't rely on a working internet connection. Also make sure it and any audio works ahead of time, or else don’t use it. You don’t want the one thing people remember about your talk to be the video that didn’t work.
  7. Text density: Know the rule “Drive 55” – shoot for 5 lines of text and 5 words per line as a “maximum." This can vary, and you should vary your slides, but keep this mnemonic in mind.
  8. Color and text: Use either a dark background with white/yellow letters (font size 28–54), or a white background with black letters. Titles and headings should be large and bold, with sans serif font and not the Powerpoint defaults. Consider shadow - if used correctly, it can help. Avoid distracting backgrounds, animations, and transitions. 
  9. Less is more: Don’t rely too heavily on your Powerpoint slides or your computer. It forces you to have less on each slide and to master your material. 
  10. Disclosures: Don't forget to include conflicts of interest, financial disclosures, etc.
More pearls to come next week.
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