Professional development - Honing your presentation skills

Most people feel nervous facing an audience, but practice will make it easier, says Dr Kevin Brown.

Whatever the circumstance, when asked to make a speech, most people stand in front of a group of people with some trepidation. However, presentation skills can be practised and polished.

There are many opportunities in daily life when presentation skills are used, from being a best man or selling your car to educating peers and patients. Here are a few pointers on how to deliver a good presentation.

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Hold the attention of your audience with a look or a nod and remember the importance of non-verbal communication such as hand movement

Content
Presentations should start with an introduction. Explain who you are and why you are in a position to talk about the subject - for example, I am the senior partner in a large GP practice.

After the introduction comes the meat of the presentation. The message you wish to put across must be simple.

When you have decided what this message is apply the magic rule of three. One, tell them what your message is about. Two, tell them your message. Three, tell them what you have said to reinforce it in their memories.

Standing in front of an audience can be anxiety provoking. Most people feel threatened at the prospect so, if you feel anxious when speaking to the public, know you are not alone.

If, despite the day job, you feel drugs to calm the nerves are not acceptable, try alternate nostril breathing easily learnt at yoga classes.

Practice in the mirror, practice in the bath. Practice reduces nerves and so improves performance.

Finish with a joke or something uplifting. Ask the audience what message or idea they have taken from the presentation and if it will change their behaviour in some way. Feedback forms are now very common and offering a prize for the most constructive can be helpful.

Delivery
Remember that the greatest impact of a presentation comes not from the content but from the delivery and non-verbal communication.

Your voice should not be too high or low. Breathe calmly to slow down the delivery. Hit the audience with a bit of silence to raise the suspense.

Choose points in the room to look at; an attractive picture on the back wall or an attractive member of the audience, and give them quality attention.

Scanning every face floods the brain with information, which detracts from the task in hand and adds to the feeling of nervousness. Make a point to the picture and the whole back row thinks you are interested in them.

Hold attention with a look or a nod. Remember the importance of the non-verbal communication. Use your hands: the message then sounds important and the audience listens.

Acetates and flipcharts, slides and PowerPoint are all used to enhance presentations and can make your presentation appear more professional. Keep things simple and bear in mind that technology can go wrong.

  • Dr Brown is a GP trainer and recently retired course organiser in North Devon
  • This topic falls under section 3.7 of the GP Curriculum 'Teaching, Mentoring and Clinical Supervision', www.rcgp-curriculum.org.uk

Learning points

1. Have a good introduction and try to finish on a light note.

2. Introduce your message, explain it to the audience, and reinforce the message.

3. Be prepared for questions at the end of the talk and think about how you will handle them.

4. Try to control your delivery by breathing calmly and speaking slowly.

5. Address key people throughout the audience rather than trying to look at everyone.

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