4 Things Every Speaker Owes their Audience

April 28, 2012

It’s a pretty regularly that I listen to other speakers.  And more often than not I’m frustrated with what I get when I offer my undivided attention to someone.  If I give up an hour of my time, here’s what I’d like in return:

Tell me something new.  Tell me a story and deliver information that I’m unlikely to get anywhere else.  Pull me in and take me along.  Keep me captivated.

Don’t read from a script.  If you are reading from your notes you either don’t know what you’re talking about or you haven’t prepared.

Don’t read from your slides.  Your slides shouldn’t be what you say but should accent what you say.  Use as few as humanly possible and share as little information as you can to make your point.

Speak from your heart.  If you don’t know what this means then perhaps you should give the mike to someone who does.

And in the end, don’t waste my time.

I think I’ll print these points and hang them over my desk.  It’s what I owe those generous enough to offer me their attention.


Mike Sevilla, MD April 28, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Well done, as usual. Just wanted to vent about some of the talks that I have done, especially to medical education. They always want my slide “deck” before the talk so that they can distribute it to everyone. They are always shocked when I tell them that I don’t have a slide “deck” to distribute, but sometimes I have a one page handout to give.
Getting a powerpoint presentation before a presentation is like getting handed a script before going into a movie. The point is not only the information but HOW the information is given. This is what makes it memorable, or forgettable. Sorry for the venting. I feel better now LOL

DrV April 30, 2012 at 9:05 am

This drives me crazy. And as I work desperately to make eye contact with the audience all I get is the tops of their heads as they flip forward to the end of the presentation.

Lisa Fields April 28, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Dr. Vartabedian,
Thank you for covering this topic.
When giving a talk the speaker is the cake and their slides are simply the frosting.
I actually cringe when I have to sit through a series of PowerPoint decks filled with the dreaded bullet points.

Because we see so many poorly designed slide decks, I thought it would be helpful to include a remarkable deck of slides.
Dr. Suzana Makowski and I share a passion for well designed slide decks.
The following is a wonderful example of how much value can be gained when a slide deck is well designed.
Adding Wings to the Pepper Tree: Integrated Medicine.

Steve Levine April 29, 2012 at 11:21 am

Don’t you think most speakers know when they got it right … Or didn’t? I gave a presentation Thursday that I knew was flat. Broke several of your rules. Other times I know I’ve given my audience what they deserve.

Good advice.

DrV April 30, 2012 at 9:08 am

We’ve all done that, Steve. It’s all a work in progress. I do think that audiences have become so used to bad presentations that it’s almost the norm.

And I’m not sure I’d call them rules, or even my rules. They just struck me recently as important after I had had to endure death by powerpoint a couple of weeks back.

Alex Blau, MD April 29, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Couldn’t agree more, Bryan. Are you familiar with Nancy Duarte? She runs a design studio that specializes in putting together presentations. She created the presentation for Al Gore that ultimately turned into An Inconvenient Truth, and won a couple of Oscars. She wrote a book called Slide:ology, which has some great insights into conceiving, creating, and delivering presentations that truly communicate and inspire. It’s worth a read, or at least having on your shelf as a reference:


DrV April 30, 2012 at 9:09 am

Thanks, Alex. I’ll peek. My cynical side tells me that most presentation advice runs alike. But this sounds really interesting. I’ll peek.

Craig Canapari MD April 29, 2012 at 8:28 pm

I have to echo Mike’s comment above. I make a real effort to provide a written syllabus including references to any talk I give. I know that I find Powerpoint printouts to be a waste of paper. Edward Tufte wrote about the dangers of using Powerpoint slides to communicate critical information, including in the shuttle disasters:


Worth a read for $7. Also, if you ever can go to his seminar, GO.

Lucek S. April 30, 2012 at 5:05 am

A management guru once said:
“When talking to an audience imagine they hold two banners above their heads: Tell me something I don’t know! Tell me something that concerns me!”
Obvious? Then why so hard :)

Kathy Nieder May 3, 2012 at 9:28 am

Love the Evernote clipping button. First time I’ve seen that. Thanks!

Minh Le Cong May 28, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Bryan, great advice. simple and direct. To regain the passion in teaching, speaking from the heart as you say, I have set myself a personal challenge as an educator for 12months and deliberately try to avoid using powerpoint slide decks. my last two airway courses have gone much better since I did this. If I do use slides its for only showing images or pictures, no text at all.
flying doc down under

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: