Why dental presentations and dental presenters usually suck

Public speaking is my bag. No, seriously. I like speaking about topics I’m passionate about in front of a group. And I’ve been told that I’m pretty good at it. I keep getting asked back, so I must not be too bad.

I would like it even more if it were really easy to put together a good presentation. It’s not at all. And worse than that, I’m a terrible procrastinator. If I could just fast forward past the idea generation, slide design and rehearsal I’d be in heaven. The actual getting in front of a group and doing it is a blast. There have only been a couple times when I didn’t do well in front of a group. Very occasionally I just don’t connect with an audience or they just aren’t into the subject matter. Sometimes I don’t think I’m connecting and I’m doing O.K. But usually you can tell by the energy of the audience.

One reason why presenting to dental audiences is hard is the amount of time we’re supposed to present. The classic dental meeting time frames are 3 hours (“half day”) or 6 hours (“full day”). John Medina, author of “Brain Rules” suggests that 50 minutes is the maximum amount of time an audience can stay involved with a presentation. Further, the presenter has to do something different to grab their attention every 10 minutes or they’re toast. My experience tends to agree with this.

So why do we have 3 hour and 6 hour classes? I don’t know. The courses I took at the Chicago Midwinter this year were varied. One was really bad, a couple were pretty good. All were 3 hours. And every last one of them should have been no longer than an hour and a half. That would have required the speakers to boil it down and would not have required the audience to have such endurance.

The other problem is the speakers. As speakers, we need to remember that we’re there for the audience, not vice versa. In other words, it’s not about the speaker. It’s about the audience. It’s not lecturing, or at least it shouldn’t be. It’s closer to a performance or, as Garr Reynolds describes, a conversation.

A couple pet peeves of mine when I’m watching a speaker:

  • The speaker reads their slides…usually bullet point by bullet point. No offense, but you could have emailed me that and saved me the trip.
  • The speaker prepared the slides up to the morning of the presentation and never did any rehearsal. I’ve been guilty of this in the past. I’m trying to get better. Just try not to be baffled by your own slide deck, mmmkay?
  • The speaker isn’t sure how long their stuff is going to take. So, they go way over. Usually into lunch. Don’t do this. Ever. Go short as much as you want. Don’t go long. It’s rude and disrespectful of your audience. Remember, going “short” means there’s plenty of time for questions.

Dentists and dental teams are above average audiences. They forgive a lot. Trust me, I know. They can stay with you on the wildest tangent and they’ll overlook your awful tie if you treat them with respect. They’re colleagues and they want you to do well. Just do your part as a speaker and they’ll keep asking you back. Or at least that’s my experience.