Thursday, January 21, 2016

Giving a presentation? Avoid these common statements

I've listened to a lot of presentations during my time in medicine. Whether as a learner, a teacher, or an observer, I have heard certain statements uttered innumerable times, statements that, frankly, have no place in a thoughtfully designed presentation.

So, here are the Singing Pen's top 3 things never to say in a presentation:

3. "There's a lot of information here, and we'll go quickly, so please interrupt me with questions if you need to."

Unfortunately, the most common mistake I see presenters make is including too much information. At most, learners will remember 3-4 main points after you're done; decide what those 3-4 main points are (hint: your presentation's objectives should reflect them) and spend the time you have emphasizing them. For example, you are not going to be able to cover every single kind of cardiac arrhythmia or every possible type of shoulder injury in 60 minutes. Focus on the key points you want learners to internalize.

FYI: Letting your audience know your preference about interruptions for questions is a great practice, just not when it's said to mitigate your unfocused, bloated presentation.

2. "I got these slides from..." or "I first presented this at..."

It's perfectly fine to adapt others' slides from past presentations into a current presentation as long as you have the creator's permission. But the key word is "adapt." Plopping slides created for one group of learners into a session for another, different, set of learners is fraught with peril. It's highly unlikely that someone else's slides will perfectly fit the needs of your learners, and you risk distracting your audience by skipping unnecessary slides or going off on tangents. Keeping your audience and your educational goals in mind, edit and adjust those slides so that they meet your learners' situation. And, for heaven's sake, put the correct date on the title slide while you're at it.

1. "This slide is hard to read..." or "There's a lot on this slide..."

You have the responsibility as the presenter to create slides that are not hard to read. Yes, many of the concepts we teach in medicine are complex, but an overly complex slide is not going to transmit that information effectively. Don't try to stuff too many words or diagrams on one slide; usually this problem can be fixed by splitting the information into multiple slides and/or thoughtfully using animation to bring in content in a step-wise manner (to avoid looking gimmicky, the only animations you should be using on a regular basis are "appear," "fade," and "disappear").

Unfortunately, the vast majority of medical teachers have never learned how to create an effective educational presentation. Most repeat what they have seen done by others throughout their career: presentations with too much content crammed into them, slides with zero visual appeal (typically stock PowerPoint headings and bullet points on slide after slide after slide, sometimes with the added "bonus" of distracting background graphics), and a dearth of meaningful activities that reinforce key learning points. Building a presentation that negates the need for these 3 statements is a great first step to giving high quality presentations.

Stay tuned for more on creating engaging, effective educational presentations!