Seven Tips For Medical Students To Improve Public Speaking

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One day you may be performing labor-intensive surgeries and helping those with life threatening injuries, but to some conquering public speaking can be an even greater feat. Even those who are an expert in their field may not particularly enjoy giving speeches, but as a medical professional there will most certainly be several points in your career where you are required to do so – particularly when you have to give presentations in medical school.

No matter your actual comfort level, success public speaking comes down to whether or not your audience believes you are. Whether you are already a pro at public speaking or not, here are a few tips that can help you achieve positive outcomes for yourself and your audience.

  1. Know Your Audience

You will find that having a good understanding of your audience will help you shape the meat and bones of your speech.  For example, if your topic is ethics and your audience is members of the AMA Ethics group, you might tie your presentation to current issues in the community.  If your audience consisted of your peers, you might first introduce the AMA ethical bylaws and ways that medical students can get involved in shaping the rules. The way you approach a topic for an audience of second year medical students should be different than your approach for a group of tenured physicians.   

  1. Demand Attention

Literally requesting attention will not go over well, but opening your speech with an attention grabbing statement will. Think of a thought-provoking question, or a comment that at first sounds like it goes against popular opinion, i.e.: “Obamacare is disrupting the health insurance system, and it could affect your future as a doctor.” You will have the audience wondering what you will say next (in a good way), and can focus on relating your initial statement to the main topic of your speech.

  1. Practice Makes Perfect

Remember those interviews you rehearsed over and over again to impress the admissions committee? The same strategy should be used when planning your speech. Timing, pauses, and tone are all details of your delivery that you want to fine tune before presenting. Practice in front of live people, and if possible in a setting that will be similar to the location that you will be giving your speech. The last thing you want is to realize on the day of that your audience cannot hear you, or any other preventable errors. That being said sometimes the unexpected does happen, which leads us to the next point…

  1. Expect the Unexpected

If you have learned your audience, chosen a great topic, and practiced your speech for hours, then you are well on your way to a successful speech. However, take into account that there may be audience questions that take more time than expected. Other keynote speakers may arrive late, which means your presentation time may be delayed. Preparing as thoroughly as possible is always best, but do not let unexpected circumstances make you lose focus.

  1. Be Aware of Your Body Language

Speaking with authority on your topic is only one component to successful public speaking. Body language speaks volumes, and can either help or hinder the quality of your speech. Move your hands to showcase any visual aids you are using in your speech, or to place emphasis on certain speaking points. Standing in one place for too long can cause the audience to lose interest, but moving around too much can also break their focus. A popular method is to move around in a small circle, making sure no podiums or boxes are impeding your movement.

  1. Be Conscious of Time

You have first hand knowledge that the life of a medical professional- whether resident, student, or physician- is very busy. That is why keeping your speech to the allotted time limit is not only respectful to colleagues, but also can help you with editing your speech to contain only what is necessary to accomplish your end goal.  

  1. Call-to-Action

What is the purpose of your speech? What action do you now want the audience to take? No matter how excellent the information provided in your speech was, medical professionals are constantly learning new information and not everything from your speech may be remembered. Giving out a pamphlet, or even a business card that states your contact information and a resource for further understanding can be helpful at the end of your discussion.

Sierra Kennedy
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