It's not what you say, but how you say it

July 1, 2007

If you love what you're talking about and care about people you're talking to, you will have a passionate, terrific, one-of-a-kind presentation, according to Steven K. Shama, M.D., a dermatologist in practice in Brookline, Mass., and with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, here.

"The best reason for giving a talk is that you are passionate about the presentation and you care about the audience," Dr. Shama says. "Then the talks can be put together much more beautifully and your audience will love it even more than if you simply feel obligated to give the talk or know that you are the expert. There is no enthusiasm, necessarily, in being an expert."

Four elements for a great presentation

Start by not only being knowledgeable, but also being enthusiastic.

"A good way to do this is by wrapping everything you say in as many stories as you can. Everyone loves a story, and when you start to tell stories, you take people out of the scientific world and into the creative world, and that is where most people truly appreciate what you are talking about," Dr. Shama says.

For example, for a presentation on an approach to clearing acne, the speaker could tell a story about a young girl who is upset because her face is broken out and she is going to the prom with the best-looking guy in the school. She will be heartbroken if her face doesn't look good.

"Then when you talk about giving your antibiotics and your topical preparations, the audience is rooting for the young girl who can be as good-looking as she can be with the boy of her dreams. This makes it real," Dr. Shama tells Dermatology Times.

It's also important to keep it fresh.

"Even if you have told the story 15 times, it should be told as if it is happening for the first time and as if you do not even know the ending of the story," he says.

• Know yourself

Audience members respond to humble, vulnerable and enthusiastic speakers.

"You can't be the 'professor.' People do not relate to professors; they relate to people. Be yourself and be conversational," he says. "I ask speakers several questions, including 'Who are you?' and 'Why do you want to be up on the podium speaking?' If they can truly explain that to themselves, they will have a great talk.

"I never use the podium; I am always at the level of the audience. That is my style," he says.

To get the conversational feel, Dr. Shama recommends focusing on a friendly face in the audience and speaking to that person.

Speakers may also have several fears when it comes to public speaking, such as the fear of isolation or failure.

"They have to overcome the fear of pleasing everyone. You cannot please everyone, and you must allow for people to differ from what you have to say," he explains.

In addition, many people judge themselves too harshly as speakers. "Assume that your audience wants you to succeed. Audiences do not want to see a speaker fail," Dr. Shama says.

• Know your audience

To connect with audience members, greet them as they arrive.

"If it is possible, I shake hands and joke around with them before I am introduced. There is an expression: Audiences do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care. In medicine, too, this is true. You must connect with them and make them feel special," he says.

Too many facts can weigh down a presentation.