How to Give a Lecture

Intro by Chair-Elect Taryn Taylor, MD, FAAP, FACEP

ACEP in San Diego was an enriching experience. We had an opportunity to learn new techniques, see old friends and reinforce critical concepts that are essential to our practice. We opened the ACEP PEM section meeting with a dynamic presentation from Dr. Christopher Amato, who provided guidance on being an effective speaker. November’s microsite highlights education, and the editor’s thought it  a timely opportunity to showcase  a portion of Dr. Amato’s presentation. Enjoy!


Christopher S. Amato, MD, FACEP, FAAP

Before I begin, I want to ask a few questions: What do YOU think makes a great lecture? What made it memorable? The topic? The location? Or was it the actual lecturer? Let these answers guide you on your own personal journey.

Once you are in front of an audience, you have 30 seconds to get their attention and one minute to establish your credibility. In this limited time, you have to prove to that crowd that they should pay attention to you for the remainder of the lecture.

Before you get to that point, there is the preparation (insert joke about “How do I get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice”), and there are a few crucial factors to determine. Of these, the most important is: Who is going to be your audience? The same topic and information can be presented significantly differently depending on the audience. Is it pre-hospital personnel; grand rounds for pediatrics or emergency medicine, medical students, residents or fellows? There are so many different ways of saying the same thing. After that, it is important to consider how to say it: lecture format? small group format? workshop format?

Audiences will remember:

  • The beginning: start with a question, story, quotation, startling statistic, joke
  • The end: summarize and try to re-establish with the beginning
  • Competent lecturers

Albert Mohrabian, PhD, published a study discussing what an audience will remember: verbal content (things said) 7%, voice (tonal quality—how it was said) 38%, Body language (presentation style of lecturer) 58%.  This indicates that to be remembered you need to provide not only content but also capability—this does not come easily to most of us but requires practice and persistence.  Ask any comedian and they will tell you how they learned more from the performance that “bombed” than from the one that “killed”. Does this jive with what you remember about your favorite lecturer?  Does this ring true with the questions I asked at the beginning?

In preparation for an upcoming lecture, you also need organization and an outline.  Create the lecture and be willing to edit and edit and edit. When you are preparing, try and avoid the inevitable pitfall of providing too much material.  Every single lecturer falls into this trap as we are reading every article on the subject and think the audience needs to know them all.  That couldn’t be further from the truth. Limit yourself to only 3–5 main ideas.  Tell the audience what you want them to know, tell them again, and then remind them of what you told them.

Other classic missteps include not connecting with the audience, lack of enthusiasm, and physical layout or AV issues (I once gave a lecture on a chalkboard, millennials and younger may need to Google what that is, as the AV would not boot up).

ENTHUSIASM—I cannot stress the importance of this word. It is the reason you are lecturing, it is conveyed to your audience, and it is one of the things they will remember the most. Enthusiasm is infectious, so make the subject something that you are interested in or feel passionately about so you can convey that and connect with the audience.

At the end of the lecture, ask for evaluations—you need to seek out critiques because the only way to improve is to hear how the audience interpreted your presentation. Maybe there was a better way to give the lecture or present a specific section. It is the hardest thing to do, but the most instrumental in our growth as a medical provider and presenter—ask how could I have done better.

I have stood on the shoulders of giants, and they have all provided me with a framework to build upon so I can become the lecturer I intended to be.  I would be happy to help the next generation do the same that was done for me.  Just don’t expect that this happens overnight!  You need to start with your community and local institutions, then local ACEP or AAP venues, and slowly you can develop the skills needed until you are presenting on a national stage.

In conclusion, be prepared, stay connected with your audience when you are creating the presentation all the way until you are done presenting it, keep the enthusiasm throughout the process, ensure your presentation is correct grammatically and don’t forget to start with a strong beginning.  Never be afraid to edit yourself or accept critiques of how you can do better.  All the world is a stage, and we are merely players!


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