Strategies for enhancing your public speaking skills and creating powerful presentations.
Given all the recent advances in technology and materials, dentists are relying on technicians as consultants more than ever and public speaking is a way to bring them the information they want while effectively soft selling your lab's services. This strategy can help strengthen your client base and gain credibility for you and your laboratory.
"The commercial power of public speaking is very big. It's interaction with clients in a whole other way. Dentists will remember your name and call you when they have a case, which is really what it's all about," says David Avery, director of training and education at Drake Dental Lab in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Whether or not you were born with the skills of a natural communicator, anyone has the potential to become a good public speaker. Here are strategies to help you get the most out of your biggest—and perhaps most untapped—asset: yourself.
To begin, knowing your material thoroughly is the key to a strong presentation and a good way to squelch your nerves. "As a technician lecturing to dentists, at first it was hard for me to feel like I should be standing there in front of them. I got over that by educating myself constantly, which also helped me know my topics inside and out," says Avery, who takes an average of 150 hours of clinical and laboratory continuing education each year.
It also helps to choose subjects you're comfortable speaking about. "Your topic can be anything from pouring a model to designing a partial denture as long as you believe you have the necessary expertise and you have a passion for it. People will sense that passion and will be more likely to listen," says Tom Fenick, a former lab owner and now a consultant for Americus Dental Labs, Inc.
Joining groups like Toastmaster's, a hands-on program for improving communication skills, or taking courses through Dale Carnegie® or a local college can be good venues for learning and getting a chance to practice. Some lab owners also turn to their peers for inspiration to sharpen their skills. "I used other speakers as unknowing mentors by studying their performance and body language," says Avery. "Then I honed my own by emulating the styles and techniques I found effective."
Common presentation pitfalls are speaking too fast or too slowly, reading too much from notes or from slides, using distracting body language and failing to make eye contact with your audience. In addition to asking a friend or colleague to sit in and critique your skills, it can also be helpful to see yourself in action. For instance, Peter Pizzi, owner of Pizzi Dental Studio in Staten Island, New York, videotaped his presentations and then analyzed his performance. The results? He went through his speech and changed some of his vocabulary and slowed down the speed of his delivery to articulate his presentations even more effectively.
Connecting with the audience
To help forge a connection with your listeners, make a point to talk to some of them before your presentation begins. This allows you to get to know some attendees and incorporate them personally into your program. "Introduce yourself ahead of time to learn some names of people and labs, so you can refer to them on a first-name basis. This always relaxes me, because I feel like I have a couple of friends out there," says Fenick.
The Northwestern School of Speech reports that you have a mere nine seconds to capture the audience's attention, meaning the beginning of your presentation is crucial to convincing the attendees you're worth listening to. But once you've got them, you also need to keep them engaged.
To avoid monotony in his programs, Pizzi plays music at certain points, shows entertaining video clips, never stands still at the podium, and uses humor and real-life scenarios to help people relate to the topic. Mary Borg, president of SafeLink, Inc., who frequently lectures on health and safety and quality management, uses participatory activities, such as Safety Bingo and Safety Jeopardy, with prizes to engage her audiences.
While supplements to your presentations—such as PowerPoint slides—can add interest, they should enhance, not dominate your program. And if you do incorporate A/V or digital equipment, it's helpful to arrive early to check that everything is in working order.
However, even the most prepared presenter can have the occasional technology mishap. For instance, Fenick once used a projector that was set to a timer and his slides advanced before he was ready; he now always uses PowerPoint slides that he advances manually to ensure full control of his presentations.
Borg once had her laptop stolen—with her presentation on it—right before an industry gig. She now backs up her presentations on a CD in case she needs to use another computer. "Everyone felt terribly for me so that helped but, like always, the show must go on," says Borg.