In this blog, Ross Fisher (aka @ffolliet) takes us into a little-taught area of medical professionalism.
In this introductory blog, we’ll be introduced to a new (well, new-to-me) way of thinking about the oft-repeated act of standing before an audience of our peers and beginning to speak …
We teach clinical skills and yet presentation skills we assume happen by imitation, osmosis or perhaps even magic. The current reality of almost every presentation delivered leads us to the inescapable conclusion that we should teach presentation skills too. They are no more innate than auscultation or performing a lumbar puncture.
The evidence is in the scientific conferences and meeting rooms across our land. With the appropriate resource open, text has usually been copied directly into the chosen presentation software, some clip art and pie charts are added, a template may be applied and the creation is complete. It is then read verbatim to the audience, frequently with no further preparation, the presenter facing the screen. This is not an effective way to share information: most recipients of such presentations would grudgingly acknowledge this fact. What is hard to believe is that this flawed process is virtually universal, repeated even by those who recognise its limitations.
There are three parts to a presentation; the story (p1), the supportive media (p2) and the delivery of this (p3). Each factor plays an important role and the overall result is the product of these three parts (p cubed).
The story is the facts of the topic and a relevant message to be delivered to the audience. As an example we might consider the script to a play such as Romeo and Juliet (p1). The costumes, the set and the lighting are supportive to this (p2). The story must be able to stand without them. The delivery by the actors (p3) upon the stage is the culmination of all the preparation. If this delivery is flawed, wrongly paced with actors missing cues and mumbling, the overall value of the presentation (p cubed) will be reduced (unless those actors are 11 year olds and the audience are their parents). Importantly, the value of our presentation (p cubed) is decided by the audience. Effective feedback is our only measure of value.
The ubiquitous presentation we are routinely subjected to has as its basis a text based slide show (p2). This represents the entirety of the story (p1) and, in the vast majority of cases, its delivery (p3) is simply a recitation of the slides. Thus p1=p2=p3 and the value to the audience (p cubed) can be little more than the slides themselves. This is the reason why presentations fail.
The basis to improving presentations is to change the nature of their construction. The role of the presenter is to consider the specific audience and their needs and then construct a story (p1) that will turn the “what” of data into a “so what” for that particular audience. This should be memorable and engaging in itself, not simply a bandolier of information. Rather than simply writing this story onto slides, the presenter should consider how to illustrate this message with supportive media (p2) not merely annotate it. A handout should be constructed unconstrained by the slideware and available separately. Lastly, attention can then be turned to delivering this whole by performance rather than recitation (p3). The product (p cubed), if even only a little improved in each section, will be dramatically different in its reception by the audience.
To learn more, visit the p cubed blog (where there are many articles which discuss presentations, their construction and delivery, and development of skills required) and let us know if we should be persuading @ffolliet to give us some more blog …