Giving a Speech

Many emergency physicians actively lecture at medical schools, research forums, and at Scientific Assembly of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). However, beyond your colleagues are other public audiences eager for medical insights and information.

You’ve probably been asked by at least one patient whether your job is like Dr. Carter’s on the NBC drama, ER. Every time you respond to a question, whether about television shows or discharge instructions, you help educate your patients about the specialty of emergency medicine.

By speaking at community events, you are actively educating the public about the specialty of emergency medicine, while becoming a respected "authority" in the community. This may lead to invitations from other groups and/or local media requests for interviews. This chapter provides steps on preparing and delivering speeches. Sample speeches are available online for all ACEP spokespeople.

If you want to promote the specialty of emergency medicine through speeches, you can reach the general public at local schools, community centers, churches and synagogues. You also can reach them through scout troops, PTAs, civic clubs and other special interest groups.

Contact these organizations yourself or volunteer your expertise when they are looking for a speaker. You can be as proactive as you want to be. In addition, your hospital’s community relations department may have a speakers’ bureau that provides speakers to local organizations. Offer to participate.

Preparing a Speech

Effective speakers are well prepared. Follow these steps to ensure success. Even if you’ve delivered the same speech before, you will still need to tailor your remarks to each audience.

Step 1: Select your topic and purpose. Clearly define the single most important message you want to convey to your audience. This should guide the development of your speech. Your speech may inform, persuade, and stir feelings, change opinions or demand action. In any case, the topic should be worthwhile and appropriate for you and the audience.

Step 2: Analyze your audience. Analyze their opinions, knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs before developing your speech. Tailoring your speech to their needs will greatly enhance your speech’s effectiveness. Think about such factors as age, gender, cultural differences, political affiliation and the occasion.

Step 3: Determine your thesis and identify major points. List the major points in order of importance, from most important to least important. This method will ensure you make your most important points, even if you have to cut the speech short. Don’t lose sight of your key messages! Be sure to reemphasize the key points in your conclusion.

Step 4:  Develop an outline. You can organize your speech in a number of ways, but first develop an outline. The most basic way to organize an outline is to list your main points first, followed by supporting facts, anecdotes, or analyses. However, you also may want to consider a format where you present the problem and then the solution, or perhaps you may want to present your points in chronological order. 

Step 5: Write the speech. Now that you have an outline, you’re ready to write the speech. Don’t use jargon or medical terms such as triage or systolic.  Be sure that your introduction and your conclusion are strong. In the introduction, greet your audience; communicate your most important messages. In the main body of your speech, use   powerful stories, statistics, analogies, illustrations, and quotations to support your messages. In the conclusion, summarize the main points of your speech and consider closing with a call to action. Remember the old saying, "Tell them what you’re going to tell them…tell them again…and then tell them what you told them."

Step 6: Length and format. Consider limiting your speech to no more than 20 minutes. You may lose your audience’s attention if you speak too long. Double space your speech and make the typeface large enough to read at a glance.

Step 7: Develop handouts and visual aids. Use handouts and visual aids to reinforce important information and provide supporting material that you don’t have time to include in your speech.

Step 8: Anticipate questions. Prepare to answer questions following your speech (if that is on the agenda).

Step 9: Provide a biography or an introduction; anticipate your needs.
Before the day of the event, provide a brief biography to the person who will introduce you and let the appropriate people know what type of audio-visual equipment or speech aids (e.g., overhead projectors) you need. Provide an advance copy of your speech to reporters if they are unable to attend the event, but embargo the release of any information until the time of your presentation.

Delivering the Speech

Effective delivery is natural and conversational. It should reinforce your message and include eye contact and expressiveness. To improve your delivery, work on these:

Body Language. Body language is just as important in how your message is received as the words themselves. Project confidence. Keep your arms loose and gestures natural. Don’t clasp your hands together, cross your arms or legs, or adopt a posture that will prevent you from moving naturally. Don’t lean on the podium and if possible do not stand behind one. Communicate confidence by smiling, raising your eyebrows and using natural expressions.

Rehearse. Rehearse your speech and master your material. Rehearsing in front of a mirror or asking a friend to videotape you is a good way to analyze expressions, delivery pitfalls, and practice timing. It also is useful to rehearse in front of people to gain confidence in front of an audience and to obtain feedback.

Facial Expressions. Use facial expressions and nonverbal cues such as posture and gestures to emphasize key points and to enhance the verbal portion of your speech.

Eye Contact. Make eye contact with the entire audience, if possible. Really look at the people. If this makes you too nervous, simply look directly above their heads. This gives the audience members a sense that you are looking at someone behind them.

Volume. Use a varied volume to keep your audience "tuned in." Be aware of volume patterns, such as your voice dropping off at the end of sentences. This may distract the audience.

Rate. Speaking too slowly allows the audience to "wander" away from the speech. Speaking too quickly requires the audience to expend too much energy to keep up. As with volume, use variation to keep your audience interested.

Pitch. Use variation in your pitch (the tone of your voice). Speaking in a monotone voice will put an audience to sleep.

Pronunciation. Pronounce your words clearly. Don’t make the audience strain to figure out what you said. Don’t slur your words or omit sounds. Avoid filling your speech with "uhs," "ums," and "ers."

Gesturing When Speaking

Gestures can help you relax while reinforcing your messages. They can also make your presentation more interesting. Use gestures naturally and freely. Avoid quick and jerky gestures—they make you appear nervous. Hold gestures longer than you would in normal conversation. In addition, vary the gestures. Switch from hand to hand, and at other times, use both hands or no hands. Avoid gesturing above your shoulders.

If you’re uncomfortable with gestures, stand with your arms at your sides. Avoid standing with arms crossed or hands in pockets, tightly clasped in front of you, or gripping podium. Don’t rock back and forth. These positions signal nervousness. Although you may feel nervous, you don’t have to show it!

Dealing with Speaker Apprehension

Surveys show that Americans have more anxiety over giving a speech than dying. If you are one of the many people who feel nervous in front of a crowd, try these techniques to alleviate fear:

  • Prepare your speech well in advance. Organize and practice, practice, practice! The more comfortable you are with your speech, the more comfortable you will be when delivering it.
  • If you get the opportunity to give a speech, do it! Don’t let fear stop you. The more speeches you give, the easier and less stressful it will become.
  • Breathe deeply just before getting up to speak.  Deep breathing can help relax your body. If you become nervous while speaking, you can also use this technique during your speech by pausing briefly and taking a deep breath.
  • Move your body. During the speech, don’t stand in one spot. Gesturing will relax your muscles by releasing tension.
  • Arrive early. You can avoid a lot of last-minute anxiety by arriving at least an hour before your speech to make sure the room is prepared, your audiovisual equipment works, and your notes are organized.
  • Practice positive thinking. Tell yourself out loud you are the best person to deliver this speech and you can do it!
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