Health care needs new presentation techniques

“So, if you look at this table, you can see that group X had a small but statistically significant increase in mortality over group Y. What does that tell us? It suggests that maybe there is some signal that intervention A is better than intervention B.”

The slide has some table from some journal, and the speaker will then often circle some p-value and talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the study as a precursor to the next slide that will also contain a graph from some journal, some other study and some other p-values for you to consider.

This is the standard annual conference, continuing medical education, morbidity, and mortality rounds lecture that we have all had to sit through. The room is often silent. A few people appear to be comatose or are outright sleeping. The rest are flipping through their phones. Only the speaker is engaged, and sometimes even that is questionable. If you have had to sit through one of these lectures, you know they are boring. They don’t engage any critical thinking, and the content doesn’t always translate to any valuable lesson on the topic.

This teaching style is the time-tested, lights-dimmed, sage-on-the-stage style of disseminating information to the ever-eager student.

There is a problem with this format, though. It isn’t engaging people to think. It isn’t keeping their attention. It is challenging propofol to be the agent of choice for the induction of anesthesia.

There has been a paradigm shift in medical schools and other health professions to shift away from the podium lecturer and to engage new ways of learning. This includes the flipped classroom, case-based learning, among other techniques.

While “the lecture” will never be replaced, there is certainly room to improve on this age-old practice and bring some life into the classroom, rounds, and into conferences.

The standard medical conference has not kept up with this change. Most commonly, an expert in the field stands at a podium with a clicker and a pointer to discuss a topic that they are well known for or doing research about.

Graphs, charts, tables, and data in some format is the staple of the slide-makeup of these lectures. Yes, we need the data. But how about presenting it in a different way? Storytelling is one way to convey this information and keep people engaged. Sure, talking about a case is one way to do this, but it often turns into a “this is how smart I am” saga. “I was able to figure this out when no one else could.”

We all know you are smart; that’s why you are giving the talk. A story about an experience or something from history that really highlights your point can be even more engaging and really get people listening and engaged.

Using better graphics is a great way to liven up a lecture as well. Instead of putting up a slide with a graph that shows a 5 % increase in survival when using Drug Y with p-values and scatter plots, put up a graphic with one group of 20 people and one group of 21 (if I got that math right) to really demonstrate the effect you want to show. Or just a slide with a huge “5%” and tell the story of what that means from both a statistical and clinical standpoint.

Another method is the Pecha Kucha method. This is Japanese for “chatter.” The rules of Pecha Kucha are 20 slides, 20 seconds. That is 20 seconds per slide for 20 slides, which ends up being a 6 minute and 40-second presentation. I’m not suggesting that every presentation should be 6 minutes (or should they), but it is a great way to keep a presentation moving.

If you are spending more than 20 or 30 seconds on a slide, you are spending too much time per slide. Keep the program moving, and people will be engaged. Better yet, don’t use slides at all. One of the best talks I have attended was a trauma surgeon, no slides, and an interactive case. Everyone was paying attention.

Which brings us to audience participation. It is important too. But asking, “Are there any questions?” just doesn’t work. No one wants to be wrong, and sometimes you get a statement rather than a question.

Integrating something like Poll Everywhere or a “choose-your-own-adventure” technique is a safer, more interactive way to get people to engage. They already have their cell phones out. Instead of flipping through email, they can participate in a poll or ask a question.

Lastly, make sure to pause. Humans, on average, will only listen to 15-20-minute segments of material before they zone out. That means they are missing half of a 30-minute lecture. Take a pause every 10 or 15 minutes. See where everyone is at. Have them stand up or do something interactive in your lecture to re-engage them.

There are a lot of resources out there on how to improve your presentation. If you are dusting off your old slides or cutting and pasting tables, graphs, and plots, you are doing yourself and your learners a disservice. Integrate some of these and the many other techniques available out there to liven up your presentation and keep people engaged and keep them learning.

Stephen P. Wood is a nurse practitioner and can be reached on Twitter @stephenpaulwoo4.

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