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Teaching Tips

8 Tips for Powerful Presentations

Whether it’s your first time or you’re a well-seasoned presenter, there is always room for improvement. Here are 8 tips for powerful presentations.
  1. Plan from beginning to end. While it’s common to spend significant time on the technical aspects, such as creating slides, keep the concept of “flow” in the forefront of your mind. It’s important to spend time conceptualizing what you know verses what your audience needs to know, as you complete the requisite background reading. This can help you to stay on point. Remember, too much information (or informational overload) will make you talk faster and can leave your audience unengaged.
  2. Practice, practice, practice. There is no substitute for practice. Consider asking someone who is both knowledgeable and willing to give direct and specific feedback. This exercise can help you determine the best timing as well as the painful task of eliminating slides that you might love but prove to be “too much” for your audience. By practicing, you’ll be aware of areas that cause you to stumble so you can adjust.
  3. Engage them at the start. Psychologists have shown that it takes someone 18 seconds to decide if they like you. Consider applying this statement to public speaking. Hook your audience by starting your talk with a pop—think in terms of audience-participation questions, video clips or calls to action. Above all, know your audience--and find ways to keep them engaged.
  4. Tell a story. The best talks resemble a good detective story—following the form of presenting a problem and then searching for a solution. We, as humans, are hardwired to listen to stories and learn our lessons from how these stories conclude.
  5. Watch your tone and body language. Don’t underestimate the role of nonverbal communication when presenting. If you are stiff and uninterested, your audience will notice. Stand tall, use your hands, and be dynamic. And don’t forget to make eye contact. Consider dividing your audience into three segments and pick a friendly face in each section to come back to regularly. Vary the tone and speed of your voice. Consider investing in a remote slide advancer that allows you to move beyond the podium to further engage your audience.
  6. Interact with the audience. Involving the audience is the easiest way to sustain attention. When you begin with a story or a clinical question, ask the audience what they would say or do. Make them respond and continue with eye contact as mentioned. If you feel as though you are losing an audience member, move closer to him or her. This helps your audience members focus on the presentation.
  7. Avoid “death by PowerPoint.” Many outstanding presenters refuse to rely on PowerPoint. And when they use it, the presentations contain very few words and images. These presenters understand that busy slides kill presentations. Slides with too many words cause your audience to focus on reading rather than listening. If you find yourself saying, “I know this slide is busy, but…,” it’s time to simplify the slide. Keep fonts (e.g., Arial) and formatting simple. It’s tempting to use the “bells and whistles” that PowerPoint offers, but most only serve to distract your audience.
  8. Repeat all questions. Whenever you are asked a question, repeat it. This allows the audience to hear the question clearly and helps you stay focused on what you are being asked. If you are asked questions that you are not clear about, ask for clarification. And if you are not sure about the answer, ask the audience what they think. If the conversation turns argumentative, stay cool and diffuse the situation. It is best to offer to talk privately at the end of the presentation than to engage in jousting with facts.
Without a doubt, deliberately focusing on these tips over time will help improve your presentation and lecturing skills. However, if a more formal approach interests you, the Academy of Medical Educators’ iTeach Peer Mentoring Program can help by providing direct and individualized coaching on teaching techniques at the bedside, in small groups or in large group lectures. This program is designed to be a resource for everyone from the novice presenter to the master educator. To sign up, contact Kathy Werfelmann.