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Clinical Nuclear Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/RLU.0b013e31825d1282
From the American College of Nuclear Medicine

Tips for Giving a Memorable Presentation, Part III: Composing an Important Formal Presentation

Harolds, Jay A. MD

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From the Division of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging, College of Human Medicine, Michigan State University, Grand Rapids, MI.

Conflicts of interest and sources of funding: none declared.

Reprints: Jay A. Harolds, MD, Division of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging, College of Human Medicine, Michigan State University, Advanced Radiology Services, PC, 3264 N Evergreen Dr NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525. E-mail:

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Abstract: Composing an important formal presentation takes much thought and time. The lecturer should talk about what the audience wants or needs to hear. It is not advised to speak about a subject that is important to the presenter and not the audience. The speaker then needs to decide what he or she can offer to the audience, and what he or she wants them to think about, learn, or do after the talk is over. These considerations are critical to the composition of the presentation.

The presenter should speak about a topic that is important to the audience. The subject could be one that wakes the individuals at night or one that the listeners think about most during the day. The talk could be about a topic that is important to maintaining their job skills, passing a test, achieving career advancement or having greater job security. The talk could be on a theme important to their organization or their neighborhood or their country. If the leader does not know what the concerns of the audience are, he or she should ask in advance.1–3

After deciding on a general subject, the speaker should then determine what the audience wants him or her to achieve. Then the presenter must focus on what he or she wants the audience to get out of the lecture in terms of facts learned, ideas comprehended, or things he or she wants the audience to do after leaving the lecture hall. The presenter should compose one sentence that summarizes what he or she wants his or her take home message for the audience to be. Then the speaker should decide on a few major points that support this message. The speech is built around these themes.4,5

In other words, the presentation should center on addressing the likely questions and perceived needs of the audience and then what the audience should accomplish or perform as a result of the presentation. For example, if the subject is a new plan, the presenter might discuss the reason for taking this approach, what leads him or her to believe it will work, how the approach will help, how much will it cost and how this will be paid, what are the risks or disadvantages, how people can tell how well the approach is working in the future, and how the plan will be executed. If the plan means that some people will be adversely affected, such as by higher taxes, lower salaries, job losses, or moving to a facility in a different town, that should be addressed. The listeners should also be inspired to support the plan and sell it to others. For political speeches, there might be a call to vote in a certain way, to mobilize the votes of others, or to raise money or lobby Congress. Typically, a slogan is used to help the audience remember the candidate or the theme of his or her campaign.1

If the purpose of a lecture is to have the listeners pass a final or board examination, the lecturer might discuss the format of the exam, the major themes of the course, or specific types of problems or facts likely to be encountered on the exam. If one is taking an examination in nuclear medicine, depending on the type of the test, the lecturer might give more attention to showing numerous images, or informing the listeners about a major topic, such as how to properly treat and monitor a patient for 131I therapy. The focus is often on reviewing material that the students are familiar with and adding some additional understanding. The speaker might call upon the learners to discuss cases or answer questions as a method of imparting information to all the listeners and giving the person reciting valuable experience. The lecturer should be inspiring the students to amplify their knowledge such as with additional reading, studying, and interpretation of images.1

If the lecture contains a vast number of new facts or ideas, the students will not retain them as the result of hearing the lecture once. In general, the best talks give information or explanation on one or a few subjects, or etch a few concepts vividly in the brains of the learners, or inspire learners, rather than giving a vast collection of brand new rote facts in a short time span. In fact, the learner will retain less of the content of a talk, when the number of new concepts or details becomes overwhelming, than when an appropriate number of points are made. This is called retroactive inhibition.6 For teaching lectures in science, a great number of points are typically made. However, few are typically remembered a month later, unless they are reinforced by further study or experience. It is often better to focus on a few themes with many illustrative examples, than to expect the audience to remember numerous fine details.4 It is important not to use long, complex sentences or words that may not be understood.1

Sometimes lectures are made available online, which makes it more feasible to learn detailed material, by hearing it multiple times. Sometimes a lecturer will assign readings in advance of the lecture, so that the material is not all new, or so the speaker can explain or expound upon certain aspects of the subject.5 Sometimes detailed handouts are provided so the learner will not have to be distracted by taking notes and can study it before or after the lecture. On the other hand, the handouts should not distract the students from paying attention to the lecture. Some say that handouts are best given before or after the lecture, not during it for this reason.4

One of the hardest parts of designing a presentation is to figure out how to begin the project. One way to commence is to consider first, what are the one or several big ideas in the talk? Alternately, the speaker needs to figure out what he or she wants the audience to comprehend or do. Then, the presenter should write a one-line summary. If the speaker is using PowerPoint slides, he or she could begin the composition of the talk by typing up the concluding slides first. Regardless of which approach is used, the speaker should then design the rest of the presentation to support that summary or final slides.1,4,7 Sometimes it is helpful to ask the audience to submit a question to the speaker regarding the topic or the assigned reading.5 This can help guide the presenter in the design of the talk.

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The title should be one that catches the attention of the audience. (O) The opening of a talk is important to get the attention of the audience and get them to relate to the speaker. The key message is usually best delivered early in the talk, sometimes as the first few words. Then the speaker should tell the audience what he or she is going to do during his or her presentation, so the listeners have a mental outline of what is to come, and be better able to follow it. Also, the lecturer typically makes some comments about why the presentation is important and sometimes the historical perspective. Then a major theme is presented, followed by giving specific examples, analogies, or facts to show the validity of each of the major points. Visual supporting information such as pictures, graphs, and tables can be very helpful to get the message across and maintain interest.4 When the speaker is not known to the audience, the listeners should be told why the speaker is qualified to give the talk.5

A good approach is to inform the audience what will be presented, then present it, and then tell them what was presented. Therefore, the speaker’s introductory comments should include the objectives and outline of the talk.5,7 It grabs the attention of the audience better if the speaker tells his listeners in the introduction how his presentation will impact them or what they need to do to make the idea a success.4 Then the lecturer gives the body of the presentation, and finally, the summary.7 To ensure that the audience remembers the important points, the speaker should tell the listeners what these are at the beginning of the talk. Also, it is important to tell the audience why it is imperative that these key points should be learned. Then the speaker should ideally repeat each important point 5 times or more.5

It is often a good tactic to commence with a story. For a story, it is best to be original. Furthermore, it makes a speech more interesting and humanizes it if the speaker tells something of his own personal experience. Using analogies and anecdotes and surprising or shocking facts helps keep the attention of the audience. However, the speaker must be careful if he or she is the main protagonist of a story because that may come across as his being too concerned with himself or herself.1,4

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Motivational, illustrative, or funny stories help keep the interest of the listener. So do descriptive words, slides with high impact, good organization, new information, and content that are important to the audience. Original research can help. It is good practice for a speaker to compile one or more real or virtual folders with quotations, U-tube clips, articles from the newspaper or magazines, journals, jokes, and others for use in future talks.1 Comparing 2 different things, such as 2 different ads or packages or website designs, helps make important points.4

It involves the audience if some members are mentioned by name, celebrating their accomplishments. Mentioning people by name who succeeded, even if outside the audience, illustrates and humanizes the message.1,5

Another way for the listeners to feel that the speaker understands them is to frequently use words, such as us, your, our, and you, to help make the audience feel included. A great word to start is said to be “you,”1 but in the opinion of the author, “we” is a better word because the speaker is including himself or herself. Together is also a good word to use.

Using references that the audience accepts are helpful for the listeners to believe what the speaker says. This could be a famous authority in the field, a quotation from a trusted magazine or newspaper or commentator, information from an independent unbiased organization or government or trade group, data from internal surveys and sales figures, a trusted member of the audience, or others.4

In the opinion of some, having humor in a speech that the audience enjoys helps distinguish the amateur from the expert speaker. The advice is for the presenter to find things that are ludicrous, such as in current events, or what people whine about at work, and make jokes about them. The audience loves it when they see that the leader has the same complaints they do. If there is a situation that is bad in some way, there is likely a funny story or joke that can be made from it.1

It is important to use words, including acronyms, that the audience understands. It is best to present the information in the way the audience will use it, such as with practical or clinical examples. A problem solving approach can be very helpful. Sometimes using an analogy or metaphor can be helpful. One technique is for the speaker to present information and then to query members of the audience to provide examples to illustrate a point. Visual aids can be very useful to reinforce the verbal message, but too much information should not be on a slide.5

In the last portions of a speech, the speaker should consider asking some thought-provoking questions and then giving the answers or telling a story or describing in vivid detail a picture he or she wants the audience to remember.8 There should also be a summary of the material and a question-and-answer session at the end.5 Where appropriate in an educational setting, the speaker should identify extra reading materials, give an assignment, and/or evaluate how much was learned. The latter may be done by asking questions or testing the audience.5

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After learning what is of concern to the audience, the presenter needs to determine what he or she can offer the listeners and what he or she wishes that they do as the result of hearing his talk. A good way to begin the composition of the lecture is to write out a brief summary. Then the rest of the talk is based on this. It is important not to overwhelm the audience with too many new facts. It is also essential to use words that are understood by the audience or to define what they mean. Repetition is important to help the listeners remember the message.

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1. Bates S. Speak Like a CEO. New York, NY: McGraw Hill; 2005.

2. Harolds JA. Tips for giving a memorable presentation. Part 1: Education tips for giving a memorable presentation. Clin Nucl Med. 2012; 37: 669–670.

3. Harolds JA. Tips for giving a memorable presentation. Part 2. Clin Nucl Med. 2012; 37: 763–765.

4. Hamlin S. How to Talk So People Listen: Connecting in Today’s Workplace. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers; 2006.

5. Medio FJ. Improving Your Presentation Skills: Tips to Avoid 10 Common Traps. Grand Rapids, MI: Blodgett Hospital; 2012.

6. Collins J. Education techniques for lifelong learning. Making a PowerPoint presentation. Radiographics. 2004; 24: 1177–1183.

7. Collins J. Education techniques for lifelong learning. Giving a PowerPoint presentation: the art of communicating effectively. Radiographics. 2004; 24: 1185–1192.

8. Harvard Business School Press. Face to Face Communications for Clarity and Impact (The Results-Driven Manager Series). Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press; 2004.


lectures; communication skills; presentation skills

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.


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