Delivering key messages starts with effective communication

April 1, 2011

Speaking to a group may appear easy and even second nature to some physicians, but the ability to direct important, memorable messages to different target audiences requires practice. Though they may excel in their medical specialty, many physicians are not natural pedagogues comfortable speaking in front of a group.

Key Points

Metairie, La. - Speaking to a group may appear easy and even second nature to some physicians, but the ability to direct important, memorable messages to different target audiences requires practice.

Though they may excel in their medical specialty, many physicians are not natural pedagogues comfortable speaking in front of a group. Depending on the target audience and the issues addressed in a talk, key messages can get lost if the speaker gets sidetracked or delves into too much detail.

"When giving a talk or a media interview, physicians need to develop and master effective communication skills via the tool of key messaging. This skill set required to deliver a memorable take-home message can be practiced, learned and mastered with some practice and guidance," says Patricia K. Farris, M.D., clinical assistant professor, Tulane University School of Medicine, and in private practice, Metairie, La.

"The trick is to break down a large set of information and appropriately package it so that the audience goes home with some main bullet points that are memorable," Dr. Farris says.

"Originally, the course was designed to help physicians more effectively speak to the media during telephone, radio and TV interviews," Dr. Farris says. "But in the past several years, we have expanded our focus. These skills can be easily adapted for use when speaking to colleagues at medical meetings, to non-physician groups in the community and even to our patients." The course has been added to the AAD's Leadership Forum and will be conducted at the annual meeting.

The right direction

According to Dr. Farris, appropriately crafting the direction of a talk for a given target audience is key. For example, when giving a community talk to teenagers on melanoma and skin cancer, the key message might be something related to the dangers of indoor tanning and sun protection. The key message might change when speaking to a community group with an older demographic. In this case, the key message could focus on early detection of skin cancers and the value of skin self-examination.

"We teach doctors that their message needs to speak to their audience. It should be focused, compelling and serve as a call to action," she says. "We also teach them how to create short 10-second sound bites, something that physicians are not used to doing and for some, this can be challenging to accomplish."

Key messages can be crafted into small sound bites, which, although only one or two sentences long, will be remembered by the audience. Key messages should also be backed up by two additional messages. The second message should use statistics or studies to back up the key message, and the final message should serve as a call to action. Things like "see your dermatologist" or "visit the AAD website for more information" are good call-to-action final messages for a media interview.