Commentary| Volume 132, ISSUE 5, P545-546, May 2019

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So, You Have to Give a Lecture—Are You Anxious?

Published:December 05, 2018DOI:
      One of our chief residents often asks me to help our trainees prepare to present a case or some research findings at one of our conferences. I love to do this because I seem to have the “gift of gab.” Over the years, my mother often told me that as a 2-year-old, I was slow to start speaking, but once I began I never stopped!! During my long academic career, I have given hundreds of lectures to medical center trainees and staff, medical students, undergraduates, public school students, and members belonging to a variety of community organizations. From all of this practice, I have developed a strategy for helping “newbies” deliver their first or second lecture. Listed below are 20 rules that should lead to a successful lecture.
      • 1.
        Know what you want to say and to whom you are speaking. In other words, what is the message you want to deliver?; and know your audience. This is a critical point. I have often been at lectures that were much too technical for the audience present. The message will differ depending on the listeners: high school students will need a different presentation complexity compared with medical students.
      • 2.
        Create an outline or a list of the points you want to make. Take your time creating this outline and make sure that the order of points made is rational. Most medical talks about a specific disease start with a brief summary of the entity's pathophysiology, followed by diagnostic clues, with therapy saved for last.
      • 3.
        Present in a clear and logical sequence; make the material intelligible and meaningful. Avoid technical jargon unless you are speaking to an audience that is knowledgeable in the area you are covering.
      • 4.
        Demonstrate expertise in the subject without being pedantic.
      • 5.
        Prepare appropriately and practice the talk, speaking or in your head, at least twice prior to presenting the lecture. Time your talk so that you remain within the time allotted for your presentation.
      • 6.
        Make sure that you present information that is reliable and firmly based on facts in the event that someone in the audience decides to check on what you have stated.
      • 7.
        Be concise and do not digress into irrelevancies.
      • 8.
        Demonstrate potential practical applications of the material.
      • 9.
        Show enthusiasm for the subject and encourage questions from the listeners.
      • 10.
        Speak confidently, clearly, and slowly, and keep the microphone close enough to your mouth so that listeners in the back of the room or hall can hear what you are saying without straining.
      • 11.
        Use some humor. It engages the audience. Maintain eye contact with a number of individuals in the hall.
      • 12.
        If you are using slides, remember the “Rule of Seven”: No more than 7 words per line and no more than 7 lines per slide. Keep tables simple. Don't forget the first rule of slide preparation: KISS – keep it simple, stupid. Use the largest font that will fit on the slide so that members of the audience sitting in the back of the hall can read the slide with ease.
      • 13.
        Use some variation in color on the slides but not a rainbow of colors on individual slides or sequential slides. Again, remember KISS.
      • 14.
        It is still true that a picture is worth a thousand words, so use images liberally.
      • 15.
        Avoid excessive detail and complicated “busy” slides. Do not read your slides: Explain the slide points and let the audience read the slide (Figure).
        FigureExamples of what does not (top) and what does work (bottom) on a slide presentation. Keep it simple.
      • 16.
        Talk to the audience and not to the screen.
      • 17.
        Summary point 1: Know your objective–what do you want to say?
      • 18.
        Summary point 2: Know your audience.
      • 19.
        Summary point 3: Identify information that needs graphic representation.
      • 20.
        An effective presentation is one that gets the message across and is clear, short, and simple.
      I am always happy to hear from readers, and I promise to respond at [email protected] or on our blog at