Article Date: 7/1/2009

Deliver Dynamic Presentations

Deliver Dynamic Presentations

Follow these seven tips to connect with your individual patients and audience.

JANET PARKER, Madision, Miss.

Many of us do such a great job in explaining and answering our patient's questions about different eye conditions, that one or more of our patients may ask: "Why don't you come to my civic club, and give a presentation on this stuff? I know my fellow members would love it!" This is often when our nerves kick in: The palms become sweaty, the mouth dry, and all recollection of the explanation and/or answer(s) we just gave vanish. If this describes you, your next thought is: "How in the world will I ever be able to educate a group of 20, 40 or 250 people when the mere thought of it makes me so anxious?" Because giving well-thought out and compelling presentations can attract new patients, and therefore increase your practice's revenue, it's crucial you get past your anxiety and utilize this often very effective method of self-marketing.

To do this, I suggest you follow the recommendations of Janet Parker — a great friend and practice management consultant. She basically taught me that I'm not giving a presentation to 250 people, I'm having a conversation with 250 people. This made me realize that presentations can be fun and exciting rather than terrifying. Something else to keep in mind: Ms. Parker's presentation skills can also enable you to strengthen your relationships with your individual patients.

Ted A. McElroy, O.D., Tifton, Ga.

As a healthcare and business professional, your ability to powerfully communicate has a direct impact on your practice's success. In fact, a study conducted by one of the top 10 executive search firms in the United States revealed that almost 90% of high-level executives earning more than $250,000 a year ranked "presentation skills" as the number one factor that propelled them to the top.

You can overcome anxiety, deliver presentations with confidence, credibility and control and, consequently, propel your practice to the top by following these seven tips.

1 Make an excellent first impression

The moment you enter the lecture room, your soon-to-be audience sizes you up. They notice your clothing, body language, facial expressions and the way you interact with audience members prior to your presentation. Fair or not, they use these visual impressions to judge whether you're going to be a credible speaker. To ensure you're putting your best foot forward:

Dress appropriately. If you want to appear as a professional, you must dress as a professional. This means dressing one step above your audience. You can't go wrong in a suit. But, if your presentation is at a resort, for example, khakis and a sport coat, or a skirt may be more appropriate. The bottom line: If you don't dress the part, all your credibly as an expert is shot.

Arrive early. Give yourself enough time to set up and make sure your presentation equipment works. If you're fumbling with your presentation equipment (i.e. laptop, slide program, etc.) while your audience members are arriving, you send the message that your presentation will be equally as unprofessional.

Have confident body language. When you're about to give a presentation, believe it or not, your audience is nervous. They want you to succeed so they can feel their time is well spent. You can put them at ease prior to your presentation by monitoring your body language and facial expressions. Entering the room with a smile and your shoulders back conveys that you're confident in the material you're about to present and in yourself.

Meet and greet your soon-to-be audience. Shaking hands and establishing small talk with your soon-to-be audience members forms personal connections with them. In addition, doing so calms your pre-speaking jitters. Remember: Presenting to friendly faces is easier than doing so to a room full of complete strangers. Also, meeting and greeting your soon-to-be audience enables you to begin forming allies who want you to succeed because they feel they know you a bit now.

2 Start with a spark

The first two minutes of your presentation are the most important part of it, as they determine whether your audience believes you're worth listening to. Therefore, if you want your audience to receive your message, you must immediately captivate their interest. I've discovered several methods that are particularly effective in accomplishing this:

Tell a story, making sure its point relates to the main point(s) of your message. Using active as opposed to passive voice helps the audience picture themselves in the story, thereby holding their attention.

State a compelling statistic that immediately educates the audience of the importance of listening to your presentation. For instance, if you were to give a presentation on the benefits of offering sports vision services, citing a compelling statistic for sports participation in the United States would grab your audience's attention.

Use a famous quote that you can relate to your topic.

Ask a question of or poll the audience, as doing so engages them.

Relate your presentation topic to something humorous. Humor is a very effective icebreaker. One caveat: Don't start with a joke. After all, if the joke doesn't go over well, you've set a bad tone for the rest of your presentation. Remember: Even David Letterman and Jay Leno's jokes aren't always received well by their respective audiences.

The recommendation I give all my speaking clients: Memorize the first two minutes, and practice it until your words flow conversationally. If you start with confidence, you send the message to your audience that you're prepared, knowledgeable and likeable — traits that will garner their attention.

3 Avoid filler words, and edit words and phrases

Be honest. How many times have you sat through a presentation and found yourself counting the number of times the speaker said "um," "uh," and/or "you know" because their repetition distracted you from his message? The "uhs," and "ums," are "filler" words, while "you know" is a "filler" phrase. Their purpose: To buy time, so you can think of what to say next. Many of us use "filler" words or phrases repetitively unless we make an intentional and conscientious effort to avoid them.

To cease using "filler" words or phrases, ask a colleague or friend to help you identify which ones you use and how often. Then, practice replacing these distracting words and/or phrases with silence. Although three seconds of silence will likely feel like 30 minutes from your perspective, from your audience's perspective an occasional pause gives them a chance to reflect on your point or a sense of anticipation for what you're going to say next. And, you can use pauses intentionally to add impact to your message. Thus, silence is golden.

Brevity is also golden. Some of history's greatest communicators understood and practiced the power of brevity. President Ronald Reagan, known as "the Great Communicator," instructed his speechwriters to never write a speech longer than 20 minutes. President John F. Kennedy chose one- or two-syllable words instead of three. For example, he used "foes" instead of "adversaries."

We live in a sound bite world. Media outlets, such as television, have conditioned us to absorb more information in a short period of time. As a result, our attention spans are short. Be mindful of this when you give a presentation.

If someone asks you to give a one-hour presentation, keep in mind that studies show an audience's attention span starts to drift at around the 20-minute mark. As a result, change things up a bit every 15 to 20 minutes. You can do this in a number of ways without disrupting your presentation's flow: Ask a thoughtful question of the audience that relates to the topic; poll the audience ("by a show of hands, how many of you…"); ask for questions (you can do Q&As in chunks throughout your presentation); create audience-to-audience interaction (group or paired exercise); show a video clip; or provide an interesting audio clip.

4 Master your non-verbal communication

Extensive research in verbal and non-verbal communication in both group and one-on-one settings suggests that facial expression, body language and voice quality deliver 93% of communication. Although this leaves just 7% for your actual words, your words are still important. Still, if you don't visually and vocally engage your listeners or they tune you out because of distracting mannerisms, the audience won't receive the message you're trying to send because they're no longer listening. In other words: It's not what you say, but what they hear that counts.

That being said, here are some effective ways to ensure your non-verbal communication aligns with your verbal messages:

Use eye contact. Imagine having a conversation with someone, yet that person keeps looking around and over your shoulder. You'd probably feel as if he wasn't interested in you. So, you'd lose interest in him and look for someone else with which to talk. As a speaker, your audience has the same experience. In fact, one speaker conducted a study in which he purposely made eye contact with half the room only. His presentation evaluations revealed that the half he engaged visually said he was captivating, interesting and dynamic. The other half said he was dull and uninspiring.

Through my experience, I've discovered that the best way to connect visually with the audience is to establish eye contact with one person at a time. Move to another set of eyes as you pause throughout your presentation. This makes it seem as if you're having a series of one-on-one dinner-party conversations with your entire audience.

Gesture naturally. Appropriate gestures add interest to your presentation and punctuate your message. An appropriate gesture is one that naturally serves as a visual extension of your words, which helps to reinforce the message. It compliments rather than distracts from your message.

However, certain gestures can communicate a lack of confidence and control, distracting the audience from your message. Examples of these gestures: locking your hands behind your back (as if you're a criminal); clasping your hands low in front (forming a physical barrier between you and your audience); clasping your hands high in front of you (lack of confidence and a physical barrier between you and your audience); bending one arm at the elbow (makes your arm look broken and communicates a lack of confidence); and placing one or both hands in your pocket (as if you have something to hide and doing so tempts you to fiddle with change or your keys).

Stand relaxed with your hands to your side. This frees your hands so you can more readily appropriately gesture, and it keeps your body open to your audience. This is your "resting position" for when you aren't gesturing. However, avoid keeping your hands locked at your side, as this will send a message to your audience that you're stiff and uncomfortable.

The bottom line: Create an open posture, and keep your hands free so that appropriate gestures will come naturally.

Be aware of your posture and movement. When you deliver your rehearsed opening, stand still. Doing so helps the audience acclimate to your voice, making them more willing to listen and get to know you. As you get into the presentation, you may move about the stage. But, make sure your movements have a purpose. When giving a presentation, often times, one's energy or anxiety manifests throughout the body. This often results in fidgety movements, rocking or pacing (like a caged animal). Constant movement is distracting, and it becomes difficult for the listener to pay attention to your presentation. My advice: Pretend you're standing in wet cement. This means you're not stuck in one place the entire time, but when you do move, it's intentional. For example, you may walk stage left or right to add interest. But, plant your feet in that position for a few minutes, always keeping your posture open to the entire audience.

Enhance your vocal power. Your voice can be one of your best tools for communication. Through your vocal energy and power, you can command attention and communicate with confidence, clarity and poise. I've discovered four methods are particularly effective in accomplishing this: (1) Increase your volume to project confidence, and make it easy for the audience to hear you. For instance, if you were to compare your voice to a car radio with the "1" setting being the lowest volume and "10" being the highest, and you conversationally speak at a "3" or "4" setting, turn up your voice to a "6" or "8." Also, remember to vary your volume to add interest to your delivery. A monotone voice quickly puts your audience to sleep. (2) Maintain a healthy pace. Communication research has demonstrated that people who speak fast and fluently are perceived as being more persuasive and knowledgeable than those who don't. Still, don't speak too fast, or you may lose your audience's attention or overwhelm them. Your goal should be around 145 to 175 words per minute. Tape your presentation, and play it back. Listen for variations in pacing and volume. If you're pleased with the pacing and volume, great. If not, now you know you'll need to adjust your presentation to add vocal variety. (3) Speak clearly, and enunciate your words. Sometimes, we tend to run our words together or don't enunciate all the consonants. If you're audience can't make out what you're saying, there's no point in delivering your presentation. (4) Set a positive tone. As is the case with body language, your voice's tone also affects the mood of the entire presentation. So, use an upbeat tone and positive words.

5 Effectively manage your visual equipment

Remember that slides are designed to enhance your presentation, not be your presentation. Two primary points:

Avoid information overload. Keep slides simple, and use pictures and graphs vs. words when you can. A picture paints a thousand words. When using data slides, follow the "5X5 Rule." That is, no more than five words across and five bullet points down. Also, use your computer program's animation tool to allow one point to appear at a time. If you keep it simple, the audience's attention will stay focused on you, the speaker, rather than on trying to read your slides.

Don't read your slides to the audience. Remember: The audience wants to hear your message, your personal stories and most importantly, how the information you're presenting affects them personally and professionally. They can read the slide deck themselves.

6 End with a bang

How many times have you heard a presenter close their discussion with something along these lines: "Well, I guess that's about it. Are there any questions? No? Okay. Great. Thanks for coming," all in the span of one breath? Communication studies reveal that listeners tend to most remember the first and last thing they hear. For this reason, you must not only start with a spark, but also end with a bang.

Here's a three-part formula to ensure you end on a positive note and enhance your audience's ability to remember your presentation:

Summarize. Briefly reinforce the key points of the presentation (i.e. "today, we covered …")

Invite audience questions, and be sure to give them time to ask these questions. People need time to think of questions. As a result, my rule of thumb is to allow five to eight seconds to elapse before you conclude the Q&A session.

Provide a positive concluding statement. Never end with the Q&A session. This is because the session can invite negativity. Instead, take control of the room, and end with a prepared, positive closing. Examples: a quick story, a famous quote relevant to the topic, or circle back to your opening to tie everything together. Just remember to keep it quick, positive and memorable.

7 Sharpen your communication axe

President Abraham Lincoln said, "If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend six sharpening my axe." Athletes and performers spend countless hours sharpening their respective "axes," before every game or show to ensure they deliver their best.

You can sharpen your communication axe through proper planning, preparation and practice. All are surefire ways to catapult your communication and speaking skills and deliver messages that captivate, inspire and motivate your listeners.

The "secret" of great presenters is they not only consider "what" to say, but have mastered the art of "how" to say it. By following the seven aforementioned tips, you too can become a great presenter. The result: An influx of new patients and practice revenue. OM

Ms. Parker is an international communications consultant and speaker trainer who has helped thousands of professionals gain a leading edge with powerful communication skills that captivate, inspire and motivate listeners. To learn more, visit, or e-mail her at

Optometric Management, Issue: July 2009