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Procrastination, Preparation, Practice and Presentation to Present like a U.S. President, not a Presidential Candidate

Vincent Valentine, MD
University of Texas Medical Branch
Galveston, TX, USA

Allan Glanville, MBBS, MD, FRACP
St. Vincent's Hospital

John Dark, MB, FRCS
Freeman Hospital
Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK

There were the PRs for all in Prague and Montreal, we encouraged you to let your presentation Purr in San Diego and was carried with Elegance and Style in Nice.

This year it is time again to prepare to deliver a good speech or make a great presentation, let's again refer to the January 2012 ISHLT Links, Issue 8, Volume 3, On Teaching and Learning. From this article, take note of 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 the success of ISHLT 2012 in Prague is in the June 2011 ISHLT Links, Issue 1, Volume 3article, 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 but be mindful of Benjamin Franklin's quote, "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." You will also find more of his wise words on procrastination in January 2012 Vol. 3, Issue 8, Quotable Quotes.

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 these 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 is to comprise no more than 75% of the total time for you to speak. Why? You want your presentation to be memorable. To be memorable, 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, ask, what will my audience gain by this slide? 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 induces sleep! With this thought, remember-NEVER read from your slides!!! They are there to enhance and clarify, not duplicate, not become a substitute and certainly, not distract. The slides are to supplement not prompt your talk. 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. As a gentle reminder: Living by slides could lead to dying by slides.

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

During preparation, be self-critical and practice. Videotape yourself. 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 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 to low pitch. Paradoxically, the audience pays closer attention when you become quiet or soften your voice. Convey the idea to the audience that there's 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 or think we 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 it. Bring enthusiasm and delight to the subject!

Quick helpful tips:

Simply put, Tell the audience what you will say, then say it and repeat what you have just told them. Keep your messages clear and simple. Most importantly DO NOT EXCEED YOUR TIME LIMIT by cramming too much material in your presentation. Know your time limit-this applies just as much during hours as after.

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.

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

Oh and did we mention, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!

This article has been modified from other versions which initially appeared in the March 2012 and 2015 issues of the ISHLT Links Newsletter, Procrastination, Preparation, Presentation, Prague then the April 2013 and 2014 issues, etc. etc. We thought we would assist the procrastinators, then again maybe NOT by putting this in the April 2016 issue.

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

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