Article Date: 6/1/2010

Tested Tips For Public Speaking

Tested Tips For Public Speaking

Take advantage of the fastest and least costly way to become better known in your community

BOB LEVOY, O.D., Roslyn, N.Y.

It's been my experience that optometrists who do public speaking tend to have better practices than those who don't. They're better known, more highly regarded and attract more new patients. Best of all, the demand is there.

"There are many community groups who are eager to have a polished and pleasant speaker inform them about the wonderful gift of sight and the technologically advanced services and products that are available," says optometrist Jerome A. Legerton of San Diego, Calif.

"In our office, we have monthly workshops for parents, grandparents, spouses, teachers, occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapists, etc. to help them learn about vision and learning," says Nancy Torgerson, O.D., Lynwood, Wash., past president of the International College of Optometrists in Vision Development. "I have found it an effective way to communicate to other professionals and parents."

The following are tested tips I've learned as a seminar speaker, with additional insights and suggestions from prominent optometrists who have also "been there and done that."

Conquer stage fright

Let's start with perhaps the single biggest obstacle confronting those who can't bring themselves to actually speak in public — stage fright!

According to The Book of Lists by David Wallechinsky (Canongate Books, 2005), the fear of public speaking ranks number one among the majority of people. Far above the fear of death and disease comes the fear of standing in front of a crowd.

Psychologists explain that stage fright is merely emotional excitement. Its impact on a speaker can be negative or positive, depending on the meaning attached to it.

If you think of stage fright as a sign of nervousness or inadequacy, then it will reinforce those feelings and make you anxious and afraid.

On the other hand, if you think of the extra adrenalin being pumped through your body as a normal, healthy response to emotional excitement, stage fright acts as a shot in the arm. Your emotional response will reinforce your positive feelings and enable you to think clearly, speak better and act more enthusiastic.

It's worked for me. After more than 3,000 speaking engagements, I still get that feeling of "butterflies in my stomach" before a presentation. But it pumps me up. It improves my delivery. The trick is to teach those butterflies to fly in formation.

Action steps:
The first and most important way to conquer stage fright is thorough preparation. This involves three steps: research, writing and rehearsal. The more time you spend on these elements, the more familiar you'll be with your presentation. This, in itself, will significantly enhance both your self-confidence and your delivery.

A smooth delivery is rarely as easy as it looks. As Mark Twain once observed, "It takes me about five-and-a-half weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech."

Another way to cope with butterflies is with deep breathing. Just before your presentation, inhale as deeply as possible. Then, exhale as much as you can. Repeat this exercise 10 or 12 times. It will help reduce shortness of breath, put you at ease and improve your delivery.

Athletes use this same technique. Basketball players for example, often prepare themselves for a free-throw by first pausing for a few deep breaths.

Other tricks to put you at ease: listening to music, doing isometrics that tighten and release muscles and meeting and talking with audience members beforehand. Remember, nervousness doesn't show one-tenth as much it feels.

"My advice is that public speaking will never be as bad as you think it will be — so just get the first one done. It will be nerve-racking but worth it," says optometrist Justin Bazan, of Brooklyn, N.Y. "You will end up looking forward to the next one."

Proven presentation tips

Most of you already have both the qualifications and ability to be an effective public speaker. Public speaking is just an extension of in-office patient education. Follow these presentation tips:

► "When speaking to groups, it becomes easy if you talk about your passion," says Dr. Torgerson. "For me, it is speaking about how through vision we can help transform lives by decreasing frustration in school, work and/or play or by enhancing abilities, such as in sports — so that people can soar in their abilities."
► Meet as many people in the audience as possible before your speech. Make a conscious effort to remember their names. Familiarity with your audience will create goodwill, help you relax and improve your effectiveness as a speaker.
► "Begin at the beginning. Make sure the listeners hear your suppositions and review of elementals, rather than assume the audience concurs with your essential understanding," says optometrist Alan Homestead, of Seattle. "The time discussing basics shortens as audience sophistication increases, but basics should not be taken for granted."
► Keep your audience awake through participation. Do surveys. Ask for a show of hands. The question itself is unimportant, as any will bring an audience back from its daydreams by engaging people's self-interest.
► "Make sure you're speaking at the level of understanding that the group has of the topic," says optometrist Roger Pabst, of Redwood Falls, Minn. "Sometimes, we forget that what we think is ‘common sense’ to everyone is in fact, above the knowledge of the group we're addressing."
► Show something, anything. Pick up the pitcher of water placed at most podiums and s-lo-w-l-y pour yourself a glass of water. Drink the water. Or, put it down. Tell the audience you've changed your mind and continue speaking. The possibilities are endless.
► "Slow down," advises optometrist Scott Brisbin, of Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada and past president of the World Council of Optometry. "Your audience does not know your subject as well as you do or they wouldn't be there to hear you speak. Let them digest your message by speaking a bit slower than your normal speech pattern might dictate, while maintaining the energy that will keep them attentive," he says. "When you make a point, pause to let it sink in. Underline your key points with memorable ‘sound bite’ phrases or ‘memory tags’ that the audience can call upon in the future to recall your message."
► Don't fight distractions that invariably arise during presentations. I've seen them all: construction workers carrying a ladder through the room, the lights going out, cell phones ringing, babies crying, loudspeaker announcements, trays of dishes that were dropped, a dead microphone.

If/when these happen, stop talking. If the opportunity lends itself, join in — but in no case, continue as if nothing were happening.
► "It's a great idea to have a handout of some sort that audience members can keep as a reference with your practice name, address, telephone number and e-mail address," says optometrist Andrea Thau, of New York. "I also give them names and websites of professional associations that they can use to find qualified [eyecare] providers, such as the A.O.A., C.O.V.D. and A.A.O."
► "The best presentations are stories with a beginning, middle and end," says optometrist Art Epstein, of Phoenix, Ariz. "That goes for even the most scientific and technical presentation."
► Use technology sparingly. The reason is that the emotional connection between a speaker and his or her audience is what personalizes a speech, makes it meaningful and memorable — not the diagrams, statistics and bullet points on a screen.
► "If you use Power Point, don't pack too much information onto each slide. Instead, keep the slides minimalistic," says optometrist Brian Chou of San Diego, Calif., " The less text, the better. Images are better than text. Power Point should be an adjunct to the speaker, rather than the other way around." Another faux pas to avoid says Dr. Chou, "is reading from written notes or the text of a Power Point slide. The speaker should reward the attendees with a dimension they could not get from just reading a transcript."
► Be careful of using humor. If done right, it can do great things for a speech. It can break the ice at the beginning, make people receptive, drive home a point, regain attention, add remembrance value, be the perfect change-of-pace and end a meeting on a high note. People enjoy humor, and they will like you more for making them laugh.

But, used improperly, humor can backfire. It can alienate an audience, ruin a speech and even discredit a speaker. My best advice: If in doubt, leave it out.
► "Don't be afraid to laugh at yourself," says optometrist Pamela J. Miller, J.D., of Highland, Calif., and president of the American Optometric Society. "If you make a mistake, get choked up, start to stutter, inadvertently say something inappropriate, just acknowledge it, and keep going."
► Another helpful point from Dr. Miller is to "keep your cool if someone attacks you. Answer the best way you can or say, ‘I don't know’ or ‘I'm sorry’ or whatever is appropriate for the situation,’" she says. "Never get nasty, belligerent or mean."
► Be yourself. Resist the temptation to copy the style of another speaker or performer. There's no substitute for authenticity. Find your own voice. How?
► Practice, practice, practice. Experience is the best teacher. Consider joining a professional public speaking association, such as Toastmasters ( Seek out situations in which you can experience speaking before groups, volunteer for a committee, speak at your church, participate in school board meetings, coach a team or teach a class.
► If your only motive for public speaking is to obtain new patients, you'll come across as self-serving, and leave a negative impression. To avoid any misinterpretation of your motives, make little or no reference to your practice, your years of experience, expertise or patients. Keep it informative and low-key. The idea is to establish yourself as an "authority," not as someone "looking for business." Optometrist Jack Runninger, former editor of OM, recalls a podiatrist who spoke at his Rome, Ga. Lions Club and had a self-serving instead of audience-oriented focus. "It was a bomb," he says.

Reality check: Speaking can be the fastest, easiest and least costly way to become better known in your community, and it gives you tremendous credibility that only increases through time. Don't, however, expect overnight results. Public speaking like practice growth, takes hard work, attention to detail and above all, time to pay dividends. OM

Dr. Levoy's newest book is 222 Secrets of Hiring, Managing and Retaining Great Employees in Healthcare Practice is published by Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Optometric Management, Issue: June 2010