Speaking at a Conference? Read These Tips First.

By  |  March 18, 2019 | 

Recently, I was asked to present my top public speaking tips for a group of women leaders. This is a topic near and dear to my heart, and one that I teach a number of groups, from medical students to faculty. I also benefitted from just returning from the Harvard Macy Educators Course, where Victoria Brazil, an experienced emergency medicine physician from Australia, provided her top tips. In the spirit of the upcoming Society of Hospital Medicine meeting, Hospital Medicine 2019, here is a mashup of the top tips to think about for any of the speakers out there among us – with a few shout outs for the ladies out there. Please add your own!

The Dos

  • Do project power: Stand tall with a relaxed stance and shoulders back – posture is everything. This is especially important for women, who may tend to shrink their bodies or anyone who is short. A powerful messenger is just as important as the power of the message. The same also applies to sitting down, especially if you are on a panel. Do not look like you are falling into the table.
  • Do look up: Think about addressing the people in the back, not in the front row. This looks better in photos as well since you are appealing to the large audience and not the front row. Victoria Brazil’s tip came from Cate Blanchett who said before she gives talks, she literally and physically advises “picking up your crown and put it on your head.” Not only will you feel better, you will look it too.
  • Do pause strategically: The human brain needs rest to process what you are about to say. You can ask people to “think of a time” and take a pause. Or “I want you to all think about what I just said for 1 moment.” And TAKE a moment. But think about Emma’s pause during the March for Your Lives. Pauses are powerful and serve as a way to cement what you are saying for even the most critical crowd. Think about whether anyone on their phone pauses, even if you’re on a boring conference call, others will wake up and wonder what is going on and are now engaged in the talk.
  • Do strategically summarize: Before you end, or in between important sections, say the following: “There are 3 main things you can do.” Even if someone fell asleep, they will wake up to take note. It’s a way to get folks’ attention back. There is nothing like challenging others to do something.

The Don’ts

  • Don’t start with an apology for “not being an expert”: Or whatever you are thinking about apologizing for. The voice in your head does not need to be broadcast to others. Just say thank you after you are introduced, and launch in. Someone has asked you to talk, so bring your own unique expertise and don’t start with undermining yourself!
  • Don’t use your slides as a crutch: Make your audience look at you and not your slides. That means at times, you may be talking, and your slides are not moving. Other times, if you are starting with a story, maybe there is no slide behind you and they are blacked out. Some of the most powerful moments in a talk are when slides are not being used.
  • Don’t stand behind the podium if you can help it. This means ask for a wireless mic. Most podiums will overwhelm you. If you have to use a podium, go back to the posture in the ‘dos.’ One year, I had a leg injury and definitely used the podium, so obviously, there may be times you need to use a podium; even then, try as hard as possible to make sure you are seen.
  • Don’t engage grandstanders during Q&A: Invariably, you will get someone who stands up and goes into a long comment that is not a question to hear themselves speak. Insert yourself, say “thank you” and take the next question. If there is not a next question, you can add, “Before I forget, I want to share another question I am often asked which may be of help to you.” Then, answer your own question. You get the final word this way!

Happy speaking! I look forward to seeing you in warmer weather during the spring conference season.

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About the Author: Vineet Arora

Vineet Arora, MD, MAPP, MHM is Associate Chief Medical Officer, Clinical Learning Environment at University of Chicago Medicine and Assistant Dean for Scholarship and Discovery at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. Dr. Arora’s scholarly work has focused on resident duty hours, patient handoffs, sleep, and quality and safety of hospital care. She is the recipient of the SHM Excellence in Hospital Medicine Research Award in 2007. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including JAMA and the Annals of Internal Medicine, and has received coverage from the New York Times, CNN, and US News & World Report. She was selected as ACP Hospitalist Magazine’s Top Hospitalist in 2009 and by HealthLeaders Magazine as one of 20 who make healthcare better in 2011. She has testified to the Institute of Medicine on resident duty hours and to Congress about increasing medical student debt and the primary care crisis. As an academic hospitalist, she supervises medical residents and students caring for hospitalized patients. Dr. Arora is an avid social media user, and serves as Deputy Social Media Editor to the Journal of Hospital Medicine, helping to maintain its Twitter feed and Facebook presence. She blogs about her experiences at http://www.FutureDocsblog.com and actively tweets at @futuredocs.


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