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Public Speaking - How to ... improve your publicspeaking

Addressing an audience may be daunting, but with practice it can be enjoyable, writes Jennifer Taylor.

As a GP you are likely to be called on to address an audience from time to time, whether it is delivering a clinical lecture, speaking to your LMC or making a goodbye speech at a staff member's retirement party.

If you have to sound off in public, why not do so effectively?

Overcome stage fright

'Nerves are a part of a great presentation,' says personal development trainer Nigel Jardine, who runs public speaking courses for Apex Training and Development and other companies.

Mr Jardine claims our brains only accept positive instructions, so thinking 'Don't be nervous' will be interpreted as 'Be nervous'. A much better message is: 'Be calm, confident and focused.' However, being a little tense before facing an audience can add a welcome edge to your performance, he says.

'The most nervous I ever get is talking to my peers because I know them,' says south London GP and RCGP ethics committee chairwoman Dr Clare Gerada (see case study). 'Just make sure you are relaxed beforehand,' she adds.

Using notes

Remember that you wrote your talk. That means you should be able to recall what is in it, and, with practice, become less reliant on reading from your script. Audiences prefer you to talk to them- and not to your notes or to the PowerPoint screen.

Try writing down a short introduction and final summary first. That way, you will know how much time to allow for the main section. Then, write down the main points (including a few key words) that you want to stress and divide up the time allowed accordingly.

The notes you have written to introduce the topic, your main points and summary should be all you need at the lectern.

Body language

Particularly for a large event, rehearsing can be worthwhile. Decide on your posture for each section of your presentation. If you practise how you will stand, this should act as a prompt for what you intend to say next. 'We can remember, we just have to use a trigger,' Mr Jardine says.

Video yourself or ask a friend or colleague to watch you. They will be able to point out any unwanted fidgeting or arm waving. You can move around a little, but never pace up and down. 'The audience want to see a human being, not a robot,' he says.

Visual aids

These are brilliant when used sparingly, but a disaster when over-used.

Consider whether the aids you want to use are technically reliable and appropriate, whether they will help convey your message. Do not rely on a particular aid: consider what you can use if there is an equipment failure.

Keep slides to a minimum and vary the format by using bullet points, pictures and quotes.

Never read your slides. Stand back from them and use your arm to point out specific things.

Role models

Watch good presenters on television or at conferences and see what they do that works. Copy the things they do well but make them your own: the most important thing is to be yourself. We all communicate well at times and poorly at others and your goal is more of the former and less of the latter.

Know your audience

For high-profile talks, Dr Gerada advises getting a list of who will be attending. If other healthcare professionals and clinicians will be there, don't just talk about GPs because you will alienate part of your audience. Make references to the different groups in the audience. This will show that you have done some preparation.

- Apex Training and Development, www.apextraining.co.uk


South London GP Dr Clare Gerada has been speaking in public since her mid-twenties. She regularly speaks to a variety of audiences ranging from the prime minister to 30 eleven-year-olds.

'You learn from experience,' says Dr Gerada, who did not have any proper training, but developed her own rules over the years.

Short talks of less than 15 minutes are harder to give than longer ones, she says.

There is less time with a short address to put your message across, while still being interesting. There is a risk of making the introduction too long and missing the main points. 'Never go over time because if you do, the audience gets bored,' she says.

Dr Gerada also advises against over-preparing. When preparing to give a talk to colleagues, she suggests outlining the themes on paper, then keeping a list of bullet points in mind that cover each theme. 'There's nothing worse than giving a talk that was over-prepared and stale,' she says. But for formal lecture to big or eminent audiences, preparation is key. 'You may decide to read your lecture, in which case you need to practise. Print the speech out in large type, add headings so you can find your place and mark where visual aids come in,' Dr Gerada says.

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