Performance Skills for the Educator: Advanced Preparation

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The Pre-brief

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”  This quote, attributed to Alexander Graham Bell, is true for much of what we do in medicine, be it a lumbar puncture or a conference presentation. In addition to preparing your content and supporting materials, there are many factors to consider including your type of audience and your venue.


Presentation expert Ross Fisher, creator of the P Cubed Presentations website, will repeatedly come back to a major theme: “A presentation is about what an audience needs, not what the presenter wants.” There is little faster way to lose your audience than to be speaking entirely above or below their level or way outside their interests.  You may have a fantastic talk in your back pocket but it can’t necessarily be reused in every situation, no matter how much you want to give it.  Depending on your audience makeup, you may have to change the language you use, details or background you give on a topic, stories you tell, or even what topic is appropriate at all.  When you receive an invitation to speak, inquire about the makeup of the audience and tailor your presentation preparation to their needs.  Ask how large the audience will be, how a question and answer portion will be structured and facilitated, whether you can break into small groups or count on audience participation, and about anything else you think can help you best prepare for this specific audience. 



Our speaking venues come in all shapes and sizes: small classrooms, large lecture halls, traditional theatres, and hotel ballrooms.  And then of course, there is the virtual learning environment we have all become so familiar with over the last year (see The Virtual Educator series for tips and tricks for managing this particular challenge).   Knowledge of the type of space can help you prepare for how to use it properly (think moving on the stage, managing the microphone, etc) and can ease some of your nerves as you lead up to the big day.  When possible, try to visit the space itself ahead of time.  If you have traveled for a conference, after hotel check in, check out the venue.  If traveling for grand rounds, ask the organizer to describe the space or send photos, and arrive early so you can see it in person well before you have to start.  




We can easily get burned by not being aware of the type of technology required of us in advance.  Most medical lecture situations use a computer to display a slideshow, using a presenter remote control to move through these slides, and may use a microphone depending on the size and type of the venue.  Each of these steps leave us vulnerable to disaster.  Ask whether you can use your own computer or must use the venue computer to display slides.  If using the venue computer, be sure to have your slides in a compatible format (ie PowerPoint vs Keynote).  In addition to one of these file formats, I always also have my slides saved as a PDF.  This way if there are formatting or font issues when the slides are transferred to a new computer, at a minimum I can fall back on scrolling through a PDF to have the images as I want them.   Ask if the venue will provide the presenter remote or if you need to provide that yourself.  Ask about what type, if any, microphone you will be using, as rehearsing for a hand held microphone will be quite different than for a lavalier microphone (the kind that clips to your clothes) and may even affect how you need to dress the day of.  Don’t worry, all of these topics will be covered in future posts.  But for now, just try to collect as much information as possible about your venue so you can prepare accordingly.

The Debrief

  • Gather information about the makeup of your audience and tailor your presentation to their specific needs.
  • As early as possible, become familiar with the physical venue in which you will be presenting.  This will allow you to rehearse for that space and ease some jitters.
  • Ask about the specific technology setup you can expect, specifically which file format will be accepted for your slides, whether a presenter remote will be provided and what type of microphone can you expect.


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