Presentation Tips for Patient Advocates: Developing Effective Speaking Skills

As a patient advocate you may be invited to speak in public about your cause, and while some of you will relish this opportunity, many others will find it daunting. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 74% of people suffer from speech anxiety. Surveys show that the fear of public speaking ranks as one of the most common phobias among humans. There’s even a name for it – glossophobia – the fear of public speaking. Whether you are daunted or excited by the prospect of speaking in public it pays to have a plan in place to communicate effectively.  For a presentation to impact an audience and be memorable, you must structure the content, design the slides, and use public speaking techniques effectively. Next time you are asked to deliver a presentation, follow this step-by-step guide designed to help you become a more confident, prepared, and persuasive speaker.

STEP ONE: PREPARE YOUR TALK

Good presentation skills begin with thorough preparation. Here are seven tips to help you prepare for your next talk.

1. Decide what you want to say. What is the purpose of this talk? What do you want your audience to know, feel, or do after they have heard you speak? Your presentation should have a purpose, something that the audience walks away eager to do. Write down your core message in one or two clear sentences. Include a call-to-action (CTA) detailing exactly what should happen next. If you find that you have several messages you would like to deliver, challenge yourself to focus and simplify your message. Once you have a clear focus for your talk, you can then group your other ideas around it.

2. Know your audience. Who will be coming to your talk? Why are they coming to listen to you? What do they already know about the topic you will be speaking on? Find out as much as you can about your audience so you can better speak to their interests and in the language they are most familiar with.

3. Do your research. Do you want to present facts and figures in your talk? Are there any research studies you could incorporate to make your core message stronger? Use online tools like Symplur, the Journal of Internet Research (JMIR), and Google Scholar to help you with your research.

4. Structure your presentation. Now it’s time to put your key messages and research points together in a structured way. Having a structure is a helpful roadmap to keep you on track and to allow the audience to follow along with your points. Start with astrong opening, for instance, share some compelling statistics, outline a current problem, or share a memorable anecdote. If you feel comfortable sharing a personal story, this is one of the most effective ways to get your audience to pay attention. Stories leave a lasting impression on listeners. Patient advocate Martine Walmsley points to the importance of sharing your patient story because the story “behind the diagnosis is a side researchers and clinicians don’t usually see. Don’t assume they already know those details.” (Read Why Your Patient Story Matters for more tips on how to tell your patient story). Healthcare consumer representative and patient experience consultant Liat Watson advises patients to speak from the heart. “People want to connect with you and your story”, she says, “Share like you are sitting around the kitchen table”.

Next, organize your main points into an order that will make sense to your listeners. Reflect on your key points and how you might emphasise them.  Finally, determine the take-home lesson (CTA) you want to close with and how you will convey this to your audience. Your CTA should transmit a sense of urgency. Why is it important they hear your message and act now?  What will happen if they don’t act?

5. Add visual interest. If you decide to use slides in your presentation aim to create highly-visual slides with minimal text. Never cram information onto your slides. Instead, present one idea per slide so the audience can process each point fully before being presented with another idea. By presenting only one point at a time the information is easier to understand, and the audience is less likely to experience information overload.  Avoid excessive use of bullet points, not only do they contribute to the phenomenon known as Death by PowerPoint, but they are also proven to be an ineffective method of communication for presentations. Take care when choosing fonts for your presentation– how you present your text is an important factor in making your slides clear and compelling.  Type Genius is a useful tool to help you find the perfect font type and which fonts complement each other.

For a change from the usual PowerPoint presentation, consider using an alternative such as Keynote (for Mac) Prezi or Haiku Deck. Whichever tool you decide on, your slides should be visually engaging.  Make good use of diagrams and charts and find some compelling images to hold your audience’s attention. When choosing an image make sure it is high resolution so that it will still look pleasing to the eye when it is blown up to full-screen proportions. Don’t be tempted to use an image you have sourced from a Google search unless the image is licensed “Creative Commons”. Instead look for images on sites such as Foter, Pixabay, and Unsplash, all of which gives you access to a bank of high resolution free-to-use photos. As a general rule of thumb, stick to one image per slide – anything more than that simply looks too cluttered.  If you want to add text to a background image, choose a background with plenty of “whitespace” which will allow the text to be read clearly. If your image is lacking whitespace, try applying a blur effect or a gradient fill when you want to add text to your background.

6. Stand and deliver.  Rehearse out loud using whatever slides, notes, or props you plan to use during your talk. Don’t simply practise by sitting at your desk clicking through your slide-deck; stand and deliver your talk as if you are doing it in front of an audience. Work on your voice intonation and emphasis, flow and transitions, and practise controlling filler words, like “ems” and “ahs” (Toastmasters Internationalpoints out too many fillers can distract your audience). Crohn’s disease patient, Nigel Horwood, who has spoken to a large audience of nurses at Kings College Hospital, London, UK, recommends reading your talk out loud when you are practising. “I find that simply reading through what I have written doesn’t pick up the likes of over used words or even ones that are missing. Much better to hear it being read,” he has written in his blog Wrestling the Octopus.

Modulate your speaking voice to a lower pitch (if you can do so without sounding unnatural); the deeper the pitch of your voice, the more persuasive
and confident you sound. In “The 5 P’s of Powerful Speaking for a Memorable Speech”, professional speaker Pam Warren points out that “in public speaking clarity and tone are far more important than volume in that they imply authority, a certain gravitas and above all, confidence.” When speaking on certain points you may want to stress their importance, so practise the power of the pause – a slight pause before you’re about to say something important.  Take a printed copy of your text and make marks, such as a forward slash (/) or use color coding in your paragraphs to remind you to pause at key points in your talk.

The most important thing you should practise is the opening of your talk. Focus on conveying a strong, confident start which will set the stage for everything that follows.  Time your presentation using a stopwatch, or one of the many free countdown timers available online. After practicing a few times on your own, ask a friend to listen to you. If you don’t want to do this, video or audio record your presentation so you can play it back and see how you might improve on delivery.

7. Final preparations. Make sure you have a good night’s sleep the night before your talk and have your clothes freshly pressed and ready on hangars. Back up your presentation to a flash drive (or the cloud), pack a plentiful supply of business cards and handouts (if you are using them). Health consumer advocate Melissa Cadzow recommends making it easy for people to follow up with you after your talk, by having a dedicated business card for your patient advocacy work. She also recommends including information on your LinkedIn and Twitter profiles and providing an email address in your presentation slides.

 

STEP TWO: DELIVER YOUR TALK

It’s the day of your big presentation. Plan to arrive early so you can familiarise yourself with the room, meet the technical team, check your slides are working correctly, and practice using the microphone.

When you take to the stage, resist the urge to begin speaking straight away. Take a few moments to ground yourself – set your feet slightly apart, toes pointing towards the centre back of the room (this gives you balance and is the most secure and comfortable way to stand when talking).  Pull your shoulders back and down – this allows your chest to expand, so you have more breath when you begin to speak.  Make eye contact and smile at your audience which will help to relax you if you are feeling nervous.
When you begin to speak, do so slowly and clearly to give your audience time to absorb your words. Remember to take full breaths between sentences.

Dealing with presentation nerves: Feeling anxious or being nervous before a big presentation is normal. If you feel nervous, focus on the fact that your audience wants you to succeed. They are on your side. You were chosen to speak and you are the expert they have come to hear. There’s no need to tell them that you are feeling nervous – people probably won’t even notice if you don’t mention it.  Whenever you feel those first signs of nerves such as a racing heart, sweaty palms and shallow breathing, bring awareness to the physical sensations, take some deep breaths and anchor yourself by touching something physical, such as a table or the slide advancer, or push your weight into your toes and feet.  It’s perfectly natural to feel nervous, but try to focus your attention away from your nervousness and concentrate instead on what you want to say to your audience. Recognize that nerves are a signal that this is something that matters to you. Turn your nerves into enthusiasm and passion for your topic.

 

STEP THREE: AFTER YOUR TALK

Spend time after the presentation to reflect on how things went. Ask yourself (or others) what you thought went well and what could have been better? Take some notes on which techniques worked to help calm your nerves, which stories resonated with the audience, and how you answered any questions in the Q&A.  The purpose of this exercise is to become a better presenter the next time you are asked to give a talk, by putting the lessons you learn each time into practice. Take every opportunity you can to practise speaking in public. Not only is it an important way to get your message out into the world, but mastering the art of public speaking is a wonderful way to boost your personal and professional confidence.


Editor’s Note: For another creative presentation design tool, please check out Canva.

Words of Advice from a Lung Cancer Survivor

When I was diagnosed with lung cancer, it was a shock. It was like a fist to the stomach- and it turned my life and my loved ones lives- upside down.

My world changed immediately and drastically. But I had to learn quickly not to let fear, shock, anger or distress keep me from advocating for myself.

I learned very quickly that you have to be your own champion.

So, how does a lung cancer survivor best advocate for themselves?

  • Never take no, or inaction (a form of “no”), as the final answer. Keep fighting. Your life is the most important to YOU! Don’t give up. If one doctor tells you to give up, find another. Keep fighting.
  • Research your doctor. What do others say about him? Where was he educated? Is he interested in research? Is he with a private practice or a university hospital?
  • Not all treatment facilities are created equally. The US News and World Report publishes a list of best hospitals every year. The National Cancer Institute designates certain hospitals that have been proven to deliver cutting-edge cancer treatments to patients. Other hospitals also deliver excellent services, but if you are uncomfortable with the treatment you are receiving, keep looking for a facility in which you have confidence.
  • You know your body best. If something doesn’t seem right, make sure your doctor knows. And takes it seriously.
  • Keep in mind that your oncologist works for you. If, at any moment you decide he is not doing an adequate job for you, fire him. You do not have to continue trusting your life to him if he loses your faith. Your medical team holds your life in their hands. Find the ones you trust completely.
  • Conduct your own research. Look at respected sites, such as LUNGevity, American Association for Cancer Research, Bonnie Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), etc. Make sure that you can differentiate between opinion and vetted study results. If you are aware of what is out there, you can advocate for yourself. Unfortunately, not every doctor knows what all of the latest treatments are.
  • Start a binder or a file where you keep important test results and copies of your scans. List questions for your doctor so you don’t forget when you get into his or her office.
  • Take along a friend or family member to doctor visits. Two sets of ears are better than just one, especially if you receive some shocking news during the appointment.
  • Join support communities (in-person or online or both). It helps to spend time with others who “have been there, done that.”
  • One of the best organizations that I have associated with since my diagnosis is LUNGevity. It is dedicated to funding research for lung cancer and to providing HOPE to all lung cancer survivors. If you want to spend time with others who have lung cancer and exude HOPE, get involved with LUNGevity!
  • Spend time spreading the truth among your friends and acquaintances! Unlike what the general public, and unfortunately, even many doctors, believe, lung cancer doesn’t just happen to smokers. It doesn’t matter if you smoke or don’t, are white or black, male or female, young or old, skinny or fat. Lung cancer happens to people with lungs.
  • Try to maintain as normal a life as you can. Eat as healthily as possible. Drink plenty of water. Exercise as much as you are able. Smile, even if you don’t feel it. Watch happy movies and laugh. Cancer is an awful disease and none of us want it. But, it doesn’t have to consume your every thinking moment. And, it shouldn’t.

It is hard enough to be diagnosed with cancer. But, when you are diagnosed with lung cancer, it is a double whammy. The misconceptions and stigma that are associated with lung cancer can make people look down on you or discount the importance of your disease and your fight.

lung cancer survivor

Donna is now a stage 4 lung cancer survivor.

Keep your head up. Whether or not you have a smoking history, everyone deserves quality treatment and compassion. No one deserves to die from lung cancer; no one deserves to be looked down upon because of lung cancer. Set aside any feelings of shame or guilt or if you never smoked, the question “why me”.   Become a champion for yourself.  And remember, there is hope.

My story is a story of hope.

Yours can be too!

Surviving Lung Cancer

(Editor’s note: Randy Broad is a 7 year lung cancer patient, avid lung cancer patient advocate, and Secretary of the Patient Empowerment Network Board of Directors. He is a former international business executive and author of the book, It’s an Extraordinary Life – Don’t Miss It.)

At 52 years of age, Randy Broad was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer. There was no history of lung cancer in his family. He had no idea of what the disease was. He was recommended to an oncologist, but realized pretty quickly that this oncologist was not for him. Randy did some research and, as he says, ‘got really lucky’ and found Dr. Renato Martins at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Randy knew right away that Dr. Martins was the right doctor for him.

Dr. Martins enrolled Randy in a clinical trial, telling him that a trial was ‘tomorrow’s drug today’. That’s all that Randy needed to hear. Eight years later, Randy is living well and telling his story to countless other lung cancer patients world-wide.

In honor of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, I interviewed Randy to ask him about how he is living and coping with the history of a lung cancer diagnosis. Below are his thoughts.

Joan: How did you deal with the initial diagnosis of lung cancer?

Randy: All I could think about was my kids. That they would grow up without a dad. As soon as I was diagnosed, I had to text my kids and tell them that I loved them. I had to figure out what it was all about and what really mattered to me. I went to the local oncologist and was told that I had 2 years to live. I thought, how does he know? How can he say that without even knowing me? I just knew that I had to shop for another doctor. This is a life and death decision. Then I stumbled upon Dr. Martins at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and I knew that he was the doctor for me. He advised me to enroll in a clinical trial and I trusted him and did just that.

Joan: Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?

Randy: Back then, some of the resources weren’t available like they are now. I didn’t really know how to search for a good doctor. Now I really think that the best way to find a doctor is through a pharmaceutical representative. They know all the doctors at all the hospitals. They know which doctor is doing what research and who is most knowledgeable about drugs and clinical trials.

Joan: What would you tell a newly diagnosed lung cancer patient?

Randy: Take someone with you to every doctors appointment. Take notes, talk it over with someone else, because really, you will only take in about half of what the doctor says. You really need someone there with you. Get a good doctor that you can relate to – a specialist for your condition. And even if you really like your doctor, get a second if not a third opinion.

Joan: How do you stay healthy today physically and mentally, knowing that you have survived a serious illness?

Randy: You have to live your life. Do what you love. Focus on what matters and not on what doesn’t. Assess what you want out of the rest of your life. A cancer diagnosis puts life into perspective. Take time to enjoy. Personally, I started writing. First I wrote a blog and got my thoughts down every day. This was cathartic for me and really helped me. It also helped me keep in touch with family and friends who were interested in how I was doing. A blog was a way to communicate my story to all of them. Then I started writing a little more philosophically and my blog turned into a book! Writing this book was a great experience. I wrote favorite stories about my life so that my children could read them and know about my past experiences.

As far as exercise goes, I did yoga and meditated during the time I was getting chemo. Now, I ride my bike and walk. I only really have half a lung that works, so stairs are difficult for me. I have always eaten well. I like to cook and eat healthy. People used to send me information about diet plans. I’d receive about a diet a day: melon diet, this diet, that diet. What I do is I eat in moderation. If I want to eat a steak, I eat it. I enjoy it. I really try and live each day and enjoy what I have.

Joan: Any last thought as a 7 year lung cancer survivor?

Randy: As lung cancer patients, we don’t think about the destination, but live life in moments. When lung cancer patients share their stories, you will hear, ‘I just want to see my daughter get married’, or ‘I just want to see my grandson take his first step.’ I have seen my daughter go through high school, graduate from college, fall in love and now she lives with her boyfriend and they just got a dog together. My life is now measured by milestones that I will always remember.

 

“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it” Moliere

Success is Being a Survivor

Success means so much – its definition is reflective of the heart & soul of the perceived successor. To me – Success is not just about chasing a dream and securing it – true success is a lot deeper than pushing through a physical barrier to win the prize on the other side.

I believe true success is flying in the face of danger, marching towards the fire and leaning towards the negative perception that your efforts will reap nothing or your existence is un-important.

Success is proving that your hunch was right, your dream was correct and your gamble paid off – NOT because you put in resources to get back (something for yourself). But, rather you gave your all for the good of others, for the delivery of kindness, for love in the form of understanding and ultimately sacrificial leadership for the fulfilment of a need in your community. Success can take many years and in most cases it does. It’s a gradual slope of hard work and its rewards are up there – on top of the mountain.

Why do I believe this? I am a survivor of cancer x 3, medical negligence, a disability as a result and currently 77 doses of cancer treatments to keep me alive and very soon a bone marrow transplant. I’ve seen people lose their fight, right in front of me. I’ve heard people tell me to be quiet and stop fighting for the suffering of others. Success is being a survivor and that’s what I am!!

What do we need to be a survivor? What do you need to be a survivor? A very important element for me has been faith and foundation. My faith is everything and the family who love me, combined with my faith are my foundation. Without a strong foundation – we may topple and fall, either mentally or emotionally. However, many people find other elements of underpinning to keep them strong, through the largest hurricanes of life.

Even with these ropes of strength in our greatest storms, we may still topple – however a secure footing will help us find it easier to rebuild again and seek help when we need it. This may include a shoulder to cry on, someone to take us to medical appointments/assist with medication or someone to call a Psychiatrist. There is nothing wrong with asking for help, I believe it proves our strength and resolve.

Being a survivor takes a strong desire to continue no matter what, a resolve to not listen to the masses or those who do not support you – this may include family and friends. Believe it or not, when we have a difficult health journey, people walk away – even folk who should not or those we thought we could rely on. Some of us often discern these individuals, as they run for the hills and never return, yes – even those who are related to us.

We may not understand this behaviour at the time, but often the ones that run cannot cope with our journey (even if it’s a long-term success) and in the end, we may find that these relationships weren’t contributing to our health anyway. For myself personally – of course, there are days when physically I find my daily duties difficult to fulfil – these days, I discipline myself to know & practice when I need a little extra medication/a little extra rest and a little extra prayer, these things are what survival currently look like for me.

After my Bone Marrow Transplant, I will have less cancer pain and more resolve to survive in a different manner – I will continue forward and enjoy each day blessed and given to me. I will enjoy every day granted to me with the family and friends who love me and the ones that have stuck around – they are the ones we are surviving for. They are the people who value our survival – we may not realise how many people around us cherish our life and the energy we put into surviving, however, I know most of us have a good handful and many more supporters after that.

Treasure the people who cling to you and love your survival – you are worth more than all the gold and jewels, on our beautiful planet – your life and the days you have are more significant than you could ever know – just ask the people who love you.

Thank you for reading, please feel free to contact Jodie at the following email address: Jodie@jodiesjourney.com

Advanced Care Planning – What to Do Now!

This is important! And often overlooked, neglected, procrastinated, or ignored…for many reasons. If you are an adult, you need to think about your future and your wishes and desires in terms of your health care. And you need to discuss these wishes and desires with those close to you. It is only by doing this that you can ensure that your choices will be heard.

It is sometimes a difficult conversation to start, but those around you and close to you need to hear you. Start by thinking about quality of life, choices, and what is important to YOU. Think about who you can trust to listen to you and carry out your wishes if you are no longer capable of doing so.

If you are a cancer patient, think about what treatment options are available to you, what makes sense to you and what doesn’t. Do your research, talk to your provider or medical team and talk to those close to you. Then think about those discussions and what is important to you.

This is ultimately an individual and very personal decision. However, family members need to hear and respect your viewpoint, so include them in the conversation early on.

So many times, it happens that when a patient is unconscious or incapacitated in some way, family members get together and try to make decisions. Often, the family members cannot agree on what the patient would have wanted and their opinions and emotions cause conflict, anger and heartbreak. And then, since the patient never made her wishes clear, they are not carried out.

You can avoid this.

Take action now and start the conversation.

Once you have discussed your wishes with family members and loved ones, it is important to fill out the correct paperwork. Medical directives are legal documents that will state your wishes and help to see that they are followed. But do not rely on medical directives alone. Be sure to talk to family members or others close to you.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, large national studies showed that although more patients are completing medical directives, these directives are not always available to hospital staff when they need to be. Patients often keep them filed at home and they do not find their way into patient medical records or into the hands of those caring for the patient in an emergency situation. Be sure and make your wishes know to those closest to you and give them a copy of your directives.

Advance Care Planning is also a process. You can change your mind and may do that as time progresses. Be sure and update family members as your wishes change.

You do not have to do this alone. There are numerous avenues of help.

Resources

There are many resources that help with Advanced Care Planning. One good website is The Conversation Project.

Here, you can find information, a “starter kit” to help you get your thoughts together and start the conversation with your loved ones. This kit is available in Spanish, French and Mandarin as well as English.

There is also a PDF on how to have the conversation with your doctor, in Spanish and French as well as English. The website has a blog with patient stories and stories from staff members and advisors.

MD Anderson has an entire web page dedicated to Advance Care Planning . Specifically for cancer patients, this page was developed by an interdisciplinary team of doctors, patients, social workers, health educators and other health care professionals.

On this page, you will find step by step guidelines on how to start discussions with family members, talk with your provider, assign a family member to be your spokesperson and how to complete the legal paperwork necessary. PDFs are available in English and Spanish.

There is also a 5 part video series explaining the process of Advance Care Planning in depth with patient viewpoints and advice on how to make the decisions and discussions go as easily as possible.

The MD Anderson web page also includes information on Advance Medical Directive documents such as Living Wills, Power of Attorney and Out of Hospital DNRs (Do Not Resuscitate) with links to the legal documents and instructions and advice on filling them out.

This page is an excellent resource and also includes a number to call for further questions.

Don’t hesitate. Start the conversation now.