A doctor speaks before an audience at a fundraiser. A pharmacist speaks to students beginning studies at her alma mater. An innovator abandons the laboratory to speak to peers about next steps and invite collaborations.
In different contexts, and for many causes, men and women across the spectrum of professionals in lab coats will often find themselves invited to speak at public events.
The audiences will be sundry, from star-struck students to curious peers to philanthropists whose hands you want to inspire deep into their pockets.
And you? At the thought of speaking in public, your palms might sweat, or your throat might grow tight. Maybe the lights shining down on you as you totter precariously on the stage leaves you feeling blinded by fear as much as the burning bulbs.
If we’re honest, public speaking is hard. Really hard. For those professionals who work in lab coats—whether doctors, pharmacists, nurses, scientists, spa professionals or any other, you have one advantage in public speaking that can set you on the path to greater confidence and better delivery of any discourse: the fact is, if you work in any field where a lab coat is required, you are absolutely an expert in your trade. You are educated and savvy, and you have every reason to be stepping up to the mic.
The only lingering question, thus, is how to do it without losing your lunch!
How to feel more confident speaking in front of audiences
There are some audience-specific recommendations in the sections below, but in general, we like to speak to these three best practices to calm the nerves and give the best delivery you can when speaking in front of an audience:
Start by faking it, you know the adage. By recognizing that you’ll be nervous and anticipating the jitters, you can strategically channel that energy into something to improve your delivery. For example, you can channel nervous energy into a great stage voice, more direct eye contact, or a bigger personality. By anticipating that nervous energy, you can put it to good work.
People can’t actually tell if your hands are sweating or your heart is pounding, even if you’re convinced they can. And you certainly don’t have to tell them. If you think about it less, you can focus your attention somewhere else (for example, looking straight in the eyes of a few people in the first row). Try these attitudes on for size, and you won’t be faking confidence for long.
2: Don’t be boring
If you feel like your subject is impossibly dry, or if you’re speaking to an audience you don’t feel any special emotional ties to, it’s easy to get overly formal in your discourse. In addition, most topics that medical and lab professionals are invited to speak about about are going to be technical. And so, when you’re talking to an audience as specialized as you are, things frequently get over-academic.
Technical though your speech may have to be, you can still inject personality in through your delivery. We’re not saying you write a stand-up skit, but you can let your personal priorities and passions show.
Speak to the audience’s emotions. If they’re your peers, how can you get them excited about developments on the horizon? If they’re students, how can you get them feeling fired up to graduate and jump into the field? If they’re potential donors, how can you tap their “big picture” sense of responsibility to help them feel good about a possible contribution?
3: Visualize success
Especially when you start to feel nervous leading up to an engagement, visualize yourself having finished the speech successfully. If you have to glad-hand after the fact at a luncheon or networking thing, you can actually look forward to the post-speech small talk if it means you’ll be done with the prepared portion of your commitment!
Positive thinking goes a long way, so when you catch yourself worrying about “what ifs” and all the things that could go wrong, try steering your attention into another dreamy space: imagine yourself finishing the speech and feeling good, don’t waste energy imaging yourself mucking it up.
Extra tips for speaking at fundraisers
When speaking at fundraisers, remember to tone down the technical language. If you’re trying to get funding for the university’s research program on X or Y, numbers will be important, but a story will be more memorable and relatable for the audience. Is there someone whose life your research has changed? What has your personal journey been to get where you are with this research? How has your project impacted students at the university?
Once you’ve hooked the audience with a story, their eyes are on you and their ears perked. Here’s where you can introduce the “why” behind your next steps and the funding you need to get there. If you’re asking for donations, first get everyone in the room to agree on the importance of the why before you hand them the pen. The “why” shouldn’t be your success, but it can reflect the personal motivations that got you into the project in the first place. Part of the “why” might also be the success of the university. Or maybe the success of the community. Maybe it’s mankind’s success and general prosperity you’re after.
Extra tips for speaking in front of students
When speaking in front of student audiences, it’s OK to talk a little more about yourself than you would otherwise. In fact, starting with a proper introduction might leave a few students sitting up a little straighter. Your credentials might be something these students are after themselves, so you can get personal to spark interest.
You also want to make every effort to speak animatedly about your topic. How did we get here? Where are we going? Why is it exciting? What expert insights, priorities or predictions can you share? If you deliver these speeches right, you might end up recruiting some of the freshest and most motivated minds to join your efforts in short time.
Extra tips for speaking in front of peers
Speaking to peers, you’ll be able to elaborate on your topic far more technically. And by sharing a background or experience with your audience, it also gives you a special chance to give them the professional validation you know they want (because it’s the validation you want, too).
For example, start by painting the backdrop of how, collectively, your profession or project got where you are today. Reassure the audience that each of them has played a part in getting there. Then untap the “why” behind where it is you’re going, revving the motivators you know they’re have, because they’re the same motivations for you.
How can you stretch their imagination into new possibilities? How can you invite their collaboration and get them talking, with you or amongst themselves?
Speaking to any audience is tough. But when it comes down to it, public speaking—with or without your white lab coat on—is a matter of feeling confident about what you’re presenting and understanding who you’re presenting it to. You may not be wearing the lab coat when you step on stage, but all that training and expertise comes with you—not the coat.