Melanie Palm, M.D., M.B.A.What emotions do these two little words evoke: “public speaking”? Perhaps fear, anxiety, discomfort or agitation? If you are among the greater than 90 percent of Americans that have an aversion to public speaking, the idea of being in the spotlight is enough to make your palms perspire and your heart leap from your chest.
The majority of us are uncomfortable with public speaking, and the most extreme form of this — broadcasting yourself over TV to the masses, may seem daunting. I’m here to tell you it is a learned skill that can be perfected. Practice, and some advice from the experts, is all you need to change a frightening experience into a pleasurable one.
In polling experts from PR to TV producers to on-air anchors, several common characteristics emerge as the “ideal” physician expert. Leslie Marcus — producer at “The Doctors,” a nationally syndicated medical show — looks for “someone who can break down complicated medical topics into easily relatable information.” A medical expert should be able to avoid “medicalese” and make information interesting to the viewer. A relatable physician guest wins points with the TV viewership.
Alexis DelChiaro, TV anchor and host of “Today in LA,” defines the ideal physician guest as “well-spoken, attractive, and personable. It should feel like the physician is having a conversation similar to what you would expect in the doctor’s office.”
Getting the message out
How you present a topic on-air also matters. Producers and anchors prefer succinct delivery of information. Bretton Holmes, president of Holmes World Media, suggests summarizing responses into sound bytes. Ms. DelChiaro cautions against memorized responses during the interview. This plays as rehearsed on camera and does not read well during a segment.
Now that the desirable characteristics of a TV medical guest have been identified — relatable, clearly and precisely communicative, knowledgeable, charismatic — how do you get the gig? Well, the most traditional means is through an effective PR team. However, this is not necessary.
With some significant outreach to assignment editors, executive producers, bookers, anchors, and reporters, a physician can garner press attention without the use of a professional team. If you choose to take this route, Mr. Holmes recommends, “Less is more in terms of outreach to the press.” Avoid sending bulky folders or binders of information that won’t be read. Instead, opt for “brief press releases or personal outreach to station personnel,” states Jeff Fischer, managing partner of LMA Worldwide. As you build your on-air time, obtain the clips for your own use. This is helpful for organic content of your website, your YouTube channel, and for assembling a sizzle reel for national outlets.
Remember to start slow with media outreach. Build confidence with local outlets, and your personal network with the media will grow naturally, leading to additional stories and regional or even national segments.
Eye contact and hand gestures
Once you have booked a TV segment, what in the world do you do on camera? Marsheila De Van, a communication specialist and consultant with more than 20 years of experience, offers some helpful tips.
“A good orator is enthusiastic, passionate, and credible in the eyes of their target audience. Remember you are the expert and strive to create the right impression. Be honest and keep energy high.”
For starters, take a deep breath prior to your segment. Look directly at the interviewer and pretend the camera is not there. Have fun and be your genuine self. Producer Leslie Marcus says an occasional glance at the camera is acceptable, but avoid constantly addressing the lens as it “comes across like the doctor is ignoring the interviewer.”
Something I picked up from leadership classes during business school was immensely helpful during public speaking engagements. It’s called the “power rectangle.” When making a speech or being interviewed, use movements within the rectangle formed by your shoulders down to your waist. Using gestures above the shoulders comes off as erratic and below the waist is well, vulgar.
What are some of the other common mistakes that physicians make on camera according to the experts? Topping the list are speaking in medical jargon; using notes on air; a lack of enthusiasm; talking excessively; and minimal variation in vocal rate, pitch, and volume.
Dermatology is inherently a visual field of medicine, so use this to your advantage during media opportunities. Producers look for props or demonstrations to infuse visual appeal — so be prepared to complete a truncated version of a procedure for viewers while explaining it at the same time.
Remember, however, to keep the demo simple and manageable for what is typically a three- to four-minute window of time. And do not sweat the small stuff. I’ve dealt with car breakdowns, equipment failures, location changes and add-on stories — the trick is to stay calm and adapt to the changes.
Numerous resources are available to explore the world of media interactions and public speaking. Practice your oratory skills first in front of those you trust. Rehearse in a mirror, practice in front of your friends, family, or staff, or get involved with a group such as Toast Masters.
A savvy way to build both your public speaking skills and practice identity is to video casual, short bits for YouTube. This is informative, skill-building, costs nothing and brings recognition, expertise and patients to your office.
More structured classes exist. The American Academy of Dermatology annual meeting offers media training with expert speakers including Ms. De Van. Volunteering for Society and Academy PR and Branding committees is yet another avenue for media outreach.
Once you have one or more media engagements complete, remember your manners. Never be a diva! Always thank the station staff, and follow-up with a brief email. Correspondence may even include a well-seeded idea for another feature. This behavior solidifies you as a bona fide expert and trusted, reliable source.
Final advice, and this is hard at first — enjoy the experience. Remember that you are the expert and the vast majority of interviewers are friendly and want a great story — you are the key to their success. Even better, you are building recognition and a positive public perception of our wonderful specialty. So, do not delay and speak out, you just might surprise yourself in the process.