Speaking at a meeting

Rosie Baruah

In September I had the experience of speaking at 3 meetings in 3 weeks. I find speaking at meetings quite daunting and so I’ve put together 12 points as a ‘note to self’ to remind myself of what works for me.

  1. Accept the invitation – you won’t have been asked unless the organiser thought you were a) a good speaker and b) have expertise in the topic. No-one wants duff speakers at a meeting and so if you’ve been asked, you are by definition good enough to speak.
  2. Structure your presentation – look again at ffolliet.com and follow his tips. You’ll invariably simplify your slides and make your presentation more structured as a result.
  3. Prepare well in advance. You’ll never be one of those people who blithely say: “oh, as I was putting these slides together on the train this morning…” And that’s ok.  Practise over and over again – get your timing right, get your slides right, feel you have enough time to say what you want to say. Repeat tricky phrases again and again till you’ve got some muscle memory for them. If you’re feeling brave, record yourself on your phone. It hurts but it works.
  4. Flick through “How to own the Room’ by Viv Groskop – the grey pages at the end of the chapters have advice that you will find comforting as well as practically useful.
  5. Embrace the funny feelings – in the run up to your talk you’ll feel like you’ve got perma-PMS – just that much more nervy, that much more stressed – the funny feelings are all down to the thoughts of the upcoming talk.
  6. Immediately before the session – you’ll have a full on adrenergic sweaty tachycardia thing going on. Think of it as a free cardio session.
  7. Get to the room early and stand behind the lectern if you can, so you know in advance what the room will look like once you’re up there. Chat to the chair so you know exactly how the session will run – Q&A after the talk, panel session at the end etc.
  8. Stepping up to the stage – don’t wear your highest heels as you’ll just be worried about face planting. Deep breath when you get to the lectern, in and out.
  9. The opening slide – have this memorised. When you stand up, first you will be ‘aaaarrrrggh’ at the audience and possible a bit blinded by the lights, then ‘arrrrggghh’ at the sound of your voice booming through the sound system and all of your brainpower will be consumed by this. By having your intro slide commentary committed to memory, you don’t have to concentrate on trying to come up with anything to say.
  10. The questions – try not to spend days and days before the talk dreaming up scenarios where someone asks you a horrible question. Almost never happens – and if someone says something a bit off in the form of more of a comment than a question saying “thank you very much for that” is how you will answer them. Otherwise, try and imagine the Q&A as a conversation between colleagues – because that’s what it is.
  11. If your talk is filmed, go back and watch it. It’s painful but this is how you get better.
  12. And finally, if you really like someone’s talk at a meeting, tell them either face to face or via Twitter. Knowing that someone found your talk interesting and worth listening to is the best feeling – so pay it forward. These are the tips I have learned from the talks I have given over the years – I hope there is something here that you may find useful. The first is the most important – even if every fibre of your being is shrieking no, I don’t want to, I can’t…you can, and you should!

Rosie is the Chair of the WICM group. She is a consultant in critical care and anaesthesia at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh.