A frequent comment I hear from physicians runs something like this, “John, they didn’t teach us presentations skills in medical school. Thanks, this workshop really filled a gap.”

While most doctors and other medical professionals are not taught presentations skills, many find they frequently present to groups. Whether the presentation is during grand rounds, during a panel discussion or giving a talk at a medical conference, physicians and other professionals in the medical field are expected to deliver highly complex and technical information in an engaging and understandable way.

If a talk is given on behalf of a pharmaceutical or medical device company, PhRMA and AdvaMed add another level of complexity to the talk. Not only must the presenter deliver information effectively, he or she must be sure to comply with important guidelines.

Another common thing I hear from clients is, “I doubt our doctors will be very open to learning.” There seems to be a perception that doctors are not open to constructive feedback. Often people think a certain specialty – surgeons, psychiatrists, anesthesiologists, etc. will be too difficult to work with. I’ve worked with many different specialties and found each group to be very open to new ideas and eager to learn.

Here are a few key things that I’ve found important in working with medical professionals:

  • Use data wisely. I often see PowerPoint presentations overloaded with data and with no synthesis and conclusion provided by the presenter. Learning how to select and highlight relevant data is critical to a crisp and effective medical presentation. I’ve helped medical presenters trim an 8 minute presentation from 55 to 15 slides (still a lot, but hey, it’s progress).
  • Bring your passion forward. Medicine is about improving the quality of life for patients. The best presentations have a balance of technical data and personal stories about patients. Good storytelling is an essential part of bringing a medical topic to life.
  • Don’t be intimidated by your audience. While a feeling of intimidation can be a problem for any audience, I find the feeling very prevalent in medicine. Doctors, especially new presenters, carry great fear that the audience will be hostile and attack their presentations. Many doctors tell me this is due to lingering trauma from medical school. One psychiatrist had some out of control nerves regarding the audience and told me, “John, I have some serious cognitive work to do before I present.” Stated only as a doctor could, and very true.
  • Pay attention to guidelines, but don’t be paralyzed. PhRMA and AdvaMed guidelines are important to understand and follow, but there is no need for them to be overwhelming. A simple understanding of the guidelines eases many fears and helps presenters relax.

I’ll end with a key thing that I think makes for excellent presentation coaching and workshops: treat doctors like people. I continue to be shocked how many people think doctors’ egos are too big to allow learning and feedback or that physicians are too busy to tolerate presentation skills training. All the talk of potential resistance made me a bit nervous the first couple of times I worked with doctors, but my fears quickly subsided.

I find doctors to be much like other participants in that they have the same doubts and anxieties around presenting and the same desire to improve. This desire for improvement, coupled with the high standards physicians place on themselves, and their ability to quickly learn makes doctors a group that can benefit greatly from presentation skills workshops and coaching. Just because these skills weren’t taught in medical school, it’s never too late to fill the gap.

“John, I’ve been a trainer for 14 years and it takes a lot to impress me, but I have to say, I’m impressed–what a pleasure.”

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