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How to give a talk
  1. Edward Fathers
  1. Correspondence to Dr Edward Fathers, Department of Neurology, Musgrove Park Hospital, Taunton TA1 5DA, UK; Edward.Fathers{at}

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This is a practical guide to help you stand up and deliver talk to a room full of strangers.

Just as there are no naturally gifted sportsmen, there is no such thing as a natural public speaker. It is a skill that has to be acquired by learning the rules and practising. For a talk to be both educating and entertaining, it needs to have content that is appropriate for an oral presentation. This article explains the important differences between conveying medical information in written form versus spoken form and provides some specific practical tips for giving neurology case presentations and using PowerPoint.

If you are not sure whether you need to bother reading this article, I have prepared a screening questionnaire that will help guide you.

Have you ever given a talk to a group of people where any of the following have occurred:

  1. Halfway through a talk you have looked up from the lectern and wondered if you have accidentally walked into the AGM for the local sleep apnoea and myasthenia gravis association (figure 1)?

  2. More than one-third of the room are staring at their mobile phones before you have even reached your fifth slide (figure 2).

  3. Everybody who leaves the room to answer their phone/pager mysteriously never returns.

Figure 1

Subtle body language from the audience may hint that they are not enjoying your presentation.

Figure 2

If this scene looks familiar you had better read this article.

These could all be signs that your presentation skills need a little buffing.

I have long thought it unusual that presentation skills were not formally taught either at medical student or postgraduate level. This contrasts to the private sector (eg, the pharmaceutical industry), where media presentation skills are constantly being taught, appraised and improved upon.

Having sat through hundreds of hours …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed. This paper was reviewed by Chris Allen, Cambridge, UK.

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