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PRocrastination, PReparation, PRactice, PResentation

The PRs for all in Montréal

Vincent G Valentine, MD
Allan R Glanville, MBBS, MD, FRACP
John Dark, MB, FRCS

To deliver a good speech or make a great presentation, let's refer to the January 2012 ISHLT Links, Issue 8, Volume 3, On Teaching and Learning. From this article, pay attention to the following points: 1) the one who learns the most while sharing knowledge is the teacher or presenter, and 2) when teaching, presenting your poster, delivering your lecture, or writing your paper, you should ask yourself, "What do I want the intended audience to know five years from now?" Perhaps better advice can be found in the rules for posters and presentations. Finally, the best advice for success in Montreal comes from the June 2011 ISHLT Links, Issue 1, Volume 3 article, On to Prague, from our Program Chair, Stuart Sweet: "brevity and clarity will be key, particularly in oral presentations."

Whatever means you have used to overcome procrastination, now is the time to prepare. Remain mindful of Benjamin Franklin's quote, "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." You will also find his wise words on procrastination in January 2012 Vol. 3, Issue 8, Quotable Quotes.

You might want to note a couple points:

According to the famous Irish Playwright and Critic, George Bernard Shaw; Mark Twain is the "American Voltaire" who taught Shaw this great piece of wisdom: "Telling the truth's the funniest joke in the world."

This American Voltaire was subjected to procrastination, all the time:

"I was born lazy. I am no lazier now than I was forty years ago, but that is because I reached the limit forty years ago. You can't go beyond possibility."

Knowing the basic rules for being prepared will make you aware of your allotted time (see Vol. 3, Issue 1, Rules of Engagement). Within this allotted time, your presentation should comprise no more than 75% of the total time for you to speak. Why? You want your presentation to be memorable. To be memorable, you must find a way to captivate and/or involve the audience. Involving the audience is easier than captivating them. Save time for questions and answers and invoke the Chinese proverb "Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand."

While preparing, you might ask, what will my audience gain by using slides? What will my presentation lose? Be aware how the audience divides their time between you and the screen. Slides can interfere with the audience-lecturer relationship. What happens when the lights are dimmed? It provokes sleep! With this thought, remember—NEVER read from your slides!!! They are there to enhance and clarify, not duplicate, not become a substitute or, certainly, not distract. The slides must supplement your talk, not act as a prompt. What you say must differ from what the audience reads, so keep your slides simple and direct. Each slide should convey one idea, have one diagram, or contain one or two pictures.

Finally, plan not to use a pointer. The audience is distracted when you turn away, and the microphone may lose your voice. If there is multi-screen projection, the pointer is seen on only one. Using the mouse is an alternative, but you have to look at the screen, thereby losing eye contact. Instead, build pointers into your slides-arrows on a photo, underlining a key part of a table, encircling the data you are referring to, etc.

During preparation, be self-critical and practice. Videotape yourself delivering a speech. Your goals are to liven up your presentation, so practice being dynamic, informative, interesting and persuasive. Consider your presentation as a performance (although tempered with the notion that you are not competing for an academy award!). Study the mannerisms of great lecturers or your favorite speakers. To be an effective lecturer, you must plan, begin, and think about your audience.

While practicing your speech, vary your sentence length. Use short action verbs and short crisp sentences. Long complex words are even more difficult to pronounce correctly in front of 2000 people. Use rhetorical questions (frequently more informative) rather than making declarative statements. Be aware of your tone of voice, variations in volume, and appropriate gestures. Do not speak in monotone. Vary your vocal inflections from loud to soft and from a high pitch to a low pitch. Paradoxically, the audience pays closer attention when you become quieter. Convey the idea to the audience that there is no place you'd rather be than talking about the topic you are enthusiastically delivering free from any distraction. Passion-and commitment to the subject-matter most when giving a presentation.

Before the session starts, always check the podium and, ideally, talk to the projectionist, if there is one. Will they display your opening disclosure slide? What mechanism advances the slides (mouse, button, keyboard)? Who controls the lights? Is there a timer controlled by the Chair? Doing all this ahead of time makes you look professional and avoids embarrassing pauses and gaps.

Remember to stand upright. Don't lean on the lectern (unless very drunk from the night before) or stand still for a long time. Walk around, and consider standing in front of the lectern instead of behind it. Use hand gestures economically, and be careful about swaying or using bizarre or repetitive gestures.

And remember, appearance is important. The old adage applies here, especially for us silver-tongued, graying bunch: "We may not be any good, but at least we try to look good." In other words, dress to impress! During your presentation, smile, make eye contact and choose your mood. You know your topic, so show passion for your topic. Bring enthusiastic energy and delight to your subject!

Pay attention to gestures and use of eye contact. You want to connect with and monitor the reaction of the audience as they listen to you. Otherwise, how do you know if you're getting your message across? Study body language and try not to look at your notes. Do not memorize your entire lecture, but memorize the sequence of important things.

With these points in mind, you are now on the road to a great formal presentation. Through repetition and review you will know your topic better than most—if not the entire—audience, therefore you must keep your presentation simple, especially simple from your point of view. Most of all, DO NOT EXCEED YOUR TIME LIMIT by cramming too much material in your presentation.

Finally with repetitious repetition:

  1. Keep it simple
  2. Know your time limit and stick to it
  3. Include full disclosures at the beginning and references at the end
  4. Leave time for questions


Disclosure Statement: The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

This article has been modified from its original version which appeared in the March 2012 issue of the ISHLT Links Newsletter, Procrastination, Preparation, Presentation, Prague.