Creating Waves of Awareness
Abhinav Garg, a dynamic, 24 year old, dark haired intern attended our 18th Homoeopathic Postgraduate Summer School of The National Academy of Homoeopathy, India at Nagpur, India. For 13 days, he had excelled in case taking, presentation & analysis, completing daily assignments in time, taking active part in discussions, clinics and even night duties, etc. He had also taken great pains in preparing his thesis. But when the time for the final presentation of his thesis came, he became nervous. The thought of standing up in front of fellow homoeopaths as well as the faculty and trying to hold their attention scared him so much that he came up to me and said “Sir, mind if I skip this part? Rest of my thesis work is written well. Please check that instead.” I told Abhinav, as I have assured thousands of other students: “Effective public speaking is an art which can be learnt. Anyone can master the basic techniques for making an audience sit up and listen.” They are:
Be friendly. Audiences warm to amiable, happy looking speakers. Dr. Anju Chawla nee Kevalramani, was dreading the presentation of a Case of Diabetic Neuropathy at our regular monthly clinical meeting. She had even brought her best friend to present the case, just in case, she would develop a last minute stage panic. “Begin with a smile,” I advised her. “It switches on your audience, arouses their interest.” When her turn came on the fourth Saturday of the month, Anju introduced herself to the packed assembly with the biggest, friendliest smile she could muster.Sure enough, the audience responded by smiling back. Having won their goodwill, she was off to a flying start.
Relax. Even an experienced orator like former Indian Prime Minister Late Mrs. Indira Gandhi admitted: “I feel nervous on good many occasions when I have to speak.” But never let stage fright show. Audience feel sorry for a panic– stricken speaker. Then the listeners lose patience as well as interest. During one of the National Conferences, I asked a senior homoeopath, as to why does he recite poems & shayaris before his lecture in many of the conferences? His reply was short and sweet – to relax my self before I come to my main topic.
Take command - Show your audience who is holding the floor and deserves full attention. The speaker, who tries to deliver his speech while sitting, abdicates authority. The one who hides behind the podium, with only his head visible, is keeping listeners at bay. So my advice is to come out in the open. The audience wish to see as much of the speaker as possible. It gives a feeling that you are confiding in them.
Stand confidently - Many students ask me, “How should I keep the position of my hands?” The answer is simple. Use (not overuse) them effectively for gestures or at least keep them folded with palm in palm. It is bad etiquette to keep one or both hands in ones pant pockets or flex them at the elbows.
Keep it simple - Resist the temptation to cram into a speech as many points as possible. The audience will not be able to remember them all and may well remember none. A productive speech consists of up to four main points at the most, leading to one main conclusion. Resist, too, any urge to dazzle an audience with technicalities.
The test for expressing anything in spoken terms is to ask ourselves, "How would I say it to a friend?" Certainly we would not use stiff literary language. Condense the final draft to headings-brief, well-spaced, easy to read- written on post cards. The cards can then be hidden in a pocket until one begins. Nothing makes an audience's heart sink deeper than a speaker climbing the rostrum brandishing a fistful of paper.
Use your voice to the full - A compelling speaker can control an audience like a skilled musician playing an instrument. Raising your voice stirs the brain cells. Speaking slowly in a deep voice impresses with the solemnity of your utterance. Rapid, excited speaking imparts a sense of urgency. Always enunciate clearly, with lips, tongue and teeth, so your audience hears every word.
Include everyone- A patient told me that his school once had a Geometry teacher who used to draw diagrams on the black-board without looking back at her students. One day as the class was on, some 10 of the 35 students climbed out of the open window of the ground floor room. They sneaked back in again, just before the teacher finished. She never knew. The speaker who avoids looking at the audience looses them almost as surely as that school teacher. While speaking, let your gaze sweep back and forth across the audience like a beam of light.
Watch your timing- Speakers who overrun their timing are disliked not only by the audience but also by the organizers. Any social occasion would require a speech not longer than 10 minutes. Once when I was delivering a lecture at the local Rotary club they handed me a piece of paper before the lecture with the best possible advice on timing- “stand up, speak up and shut up."
In-fine - Speaking skills can only be evolved by practice. As doctors, particularly homoeopaths, one should cultivate this skill, more so if one has to teach in colleges or even privately.