William The Coroner’s Forensic Files

Tuesday, 17, November, 2009

Talk the Talk

Filed under: Teaching — williamthecoroner @ 19:28

Supposedly, public speaking is a fear of the majority of people in the United States. These people would rather face death, flying, or spiders (No mention of death by flying spiders) than speak to groups. In THIS post Dean Dad asks

Have you found ways to help students learn the conventions of speech in the professional workplace?

Now, I’m an academic physician. Between lecturing, grand rounds, work rounds, and testifying in court, I’ve been grilled in front of many a hostile audience. Frankly, being pimped on work rounds was worse than any cross-examination, as there are no rules of procedure and no judge supervising to say “dial it back, Counselor”.

For me, I fall back on my experience with Mr. Atwell in Theater and Dr. Banks in Debate. In high school and college I worked on stage and behind it on several productions, and in high school I also competed in speech performances. One learns how.

I’ve also been lecturing now for over seven years. There are some subjects I can do without notes. Frankly, I do most of my lectures without notes and I don’t read the PowerPoint slides. There’s a rough outline on the screen, and I use those points as aides-memoires and flesh out the skeleton.

So how do you become a facile speaker? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall. Practice, practice, practice.



  1. What you say is VERY true, the only way is practice! And sadly, not everyone who is knowledgable makes a good teacher, or have the ability to pass along knowledge…

    Comment by Old NFO — Tuesday, 17, November, 2009 @ 21:52 | Reply

  2. My lab has a weekly reading group, where a grad student presents a recent paper (of interest to everyone) to the rest of the lab members. It’s an easy way to practice giving talks (and returning hard questions), and that carries over to things like lectures.

    Comment by bluntobject — Tuesday, 17, November, 2009 @ 23:32 | Reply

  3. Having appropriate powerpoints is also important. Reasonably good speakers can screw themselves over if they basically transpose their talk onto the slides.

    Comment by K — Wednesday, 18, November, 2009 @ 01:20 | Reply

  4. Having sat through many death-by-powerpoint sessions, I applaud your effort to use slides and a launching point, not a destination.

    My favorite bad example was the treasurer whose endless slides of minute columns of numbers were absolutely unreadable – but perhaps that was his objective all along.

    Comment by Anne Bonney — Wednesday, 18, November, 2009 @ 11:32 | Reply

  5. Yes, this is a skill that improves with practice and with good feedback, but the foundation is solid anxiety management.

    The first time I was cross-examined in open court, it happened to be in a relatively high stakes, high coverage case. I was pretty jacked up- enough adrenaline burn that I was shaking enough I didn’t trust myself to pick up a glass of water. Not much in the way of sleep the night before, either, and nothing in the way of breakfast.

    However, about 20 minutes into it, I realized … hey, my parents met in law school. I’ve been playing this game since I could speak.

    You can’t ground me. You can’t spank me. You can’t send me to my room. I don’t have to pick through this conversation again at every family holiday until the end of time. In fact, I’m getting paid a whole lot of money to do this, and I know the game you’re trying to play. So, BRING IT!

    Lessons learned:

    1. My dad isn’t as big of a jerk as I’ve sometimes thought, he’s just a trial attorney and he can’t help himself.
    2. I, and my pocketbook, enjoy occasional work as an expert witness.

    Comment by pelican — Wednesday, 18, November, 2009 @ 11:39 | Reply

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