The art of communication, especially when delivering a presentation, is a critical skill for pharmacists to cultivate. Whether it is in the form of delivering a highly technical and scientific presentation to colleagues or providing counseling to patients that have a very rudimentary understanding of medicine (and sometimes even with a middle school reading level).
Effective communication skills will make the difference between getting your message across and losing your audience completely. When it comes to patient counseling, our skills as pharmacists to deliver information in a manner that a patient can understand, distinguishes our services as medical professionals from a computer printout that simply lists all the side effects of a medication (something a robot can easily do instead of paying a human a salary). After years of developing my own skills in this area, I have listed my top 9 tips for delivering presentations:
1. Connect with your audience.
Great presenters are great at connecting with their audience. Be relaxed, take deep breaths, find common ground, be engaging, smile, and make eye contact with as many people as you can and convey your enthusiasm in your voice and body language. Stories are a great tool (see tip #7, but use caution with jokes; there is no better way to lose a crowd then alienating and offending them).
2. Focus on your audience’s needs.
Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and build your talk around their wants, needs, and emotions. Every so often during your talk, gauge your audience’s response and reaction to you. Do they seem to understand, appreciate, care about what your talking about? If yes, great and keep going. If not, take a step back and consider adjusting your approach. Asking direct questions might be an easy way to assess your audience (eg. pop quiz type questions).
3. Keep it simple: concentrate on your core message.
Your presentation should have a clear and concise take away message. I would say no more than 3 main points are at the heart of your talk. If your audience were to forget everything else about your talk, they should at least be able to remember the key message and point of your presentation.
4. Start strongly.
The audience’s attention to you and your presentation will depend in large part on the first few critical minutes of your talk. So captivate your audience with your words, tonality of speech, and body language. It is much easier to lose your audience than to bring them back once their minds have drifted.
6. Use caution with Powerpoint.
The overreliance on Powerpoint slides can hinder an effective presentation. Some potential hindrances to a good presentation include: too many slides, too verbose slides, monotonous slides, and by far the worst thing a presenter can do: reading directly from the slides. The pitfalls of powerpoint are real and can harm your talk more than help it. Your slides should complement your presentation, not be able to replace it. I have sat through too many presentations where a human was not necessary because they simply read from the material on the slides. If I can just read the talk by reading the slides, then that is not an effective presentation.
7. Don’t forget the power of stories.
From childhood, we are programmed to respond to stories. Effective storytelling can captivate your audience, segue into your presentation and help people remember the key message of your presentation. Remember, all presentations, like good stories, have a beginning, middle, and end. The more colorful and visually impressionable the story, the better.
A young musician is carrying a violin and frantically rushing down 7th
avenue in Manhattan, desperately seeking to find an address on a crumbled piece of paper. He looks up and stops an elderly gentleman walking past him, “Sir, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The elderly gentleman, replies, Practice, Practice, Practice.
..and this leads me to my most important tip…
8. Practice, practice, practice!
Rehearse your presentation as much as possible, ideally in front of a friend or mirror. Get a sense of how long the speech is, points where a pause will have a profound effect on the crowd, and how the words sound actually coming out of your mouth and not just inside your own head.
9. Find inspiration.
Watch some of the best orators and speeches in modern time. Here are just a few of my favorites:
Martin Luther King, I Have A Dream
Winston Churchill, We Shall Fight On The Beaches
President Kennedy’s Inaugural Address
Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement Address
Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Brandenburg Gate