Presentations remain great way to teach


Veterinarians are often asked to talk to various groups regarding animal health and management issues. Financial compensation may or may not be offered, but is usually not enough to justify the time needed for preparation and presentation.

Veterinarians are often asked to talk to various groups regarding animal health and management issues. Financial compensation may or may not be offered, but is usually not enough to justify the time needed for preparation and presentation.

Unless you are able to repeat the presentation several times, preparationwill usually require far more time than the delivery. Of course it can takeseveral hours out of a busy day to stop work, change clothes, travel tothe meeting site, give the talk, and get back to work.

On the positive side, an opportunity to address a group is a great meansto educate producers, and to create a favorable image of you and your practice.Public speaking is a good way to attract new clients. Through your preparation,you will probably come to know your subject better, and to experience somedegree of personal and professional growth.

As with most things, deciding whether or not to accept a speaking invitationrequires balancing potential benefits against costs.

Add up the pros/cons

How many people are likely to attend? Are they candidates to use yourservices? How far will you have to travel? How badly will it wreck yourschedule? How much preparation time will be needed? Is a written paper required?Requesting payment or more payment than is initially offered may be appropriate.Saying no is definitely the best response in some instances.

Do it right

Once you accept the invitation, make a personal commitment to adequatelyprepare. No one benefits if you deliver a boring, poorly organized presentation.For most of us, we need several hours of preparation for a one hour talk.Visual aides can greatly enhance your message, but take additional timeto develop.

It is very important to clearly understand what you are being asked todiscuss. I like to see the title in writing, just as it will appear on theprogram and on any promotional material.

I have occasionally prepared a talk, and found that it really did notmatch what the audience had come to hear.


Producers are interested in information that impacts how they operatetheir business. For example, if talking about bovine virus diarrhea, I minimizeany review of cytopathic versus non-cytopathic viruses, but spend a lotof time explaining how a non-infected dam can carry a persistently infectedfetus.

The latter concept means they should test calves of purchased animals,or of heifers that were co-mingled with others in early pregnancy. Thusit directly impacts their manangement.

Make it visual

Choose your visual aides carefully. Slides or overheads serve two purposes.First, they serve to remind us of what we want to say next, often illustratingkey data. Having it on the screen saves us having to memorize it or to referto notes. However, it is easy to overdo our use of slides for this purpose.Know your topic well enough, and rehearse it often enough, so that you onlyshow bullets of information, rather than extensive parts of your talk. Whileit helps people to see information, as well as hear it, no audience likesbeing "read to".

The second reason for using slides is to share pictures or graphic informationthat cannot be adequately described with words alone.

Keep your use of graphs and charts to a minimum, and keep them very simple.A complicated graphic will confuse more than it will educate. Learn to faceyour audience and establish eye contact with people, rather than lookingat the graphic when you talk.

Pictures of real-life situations are almost always helpful and interesting.Buildings, animals, people and equipment are good images to have in frontof your audience as you explain related concepts.

Carrying a digital camera in your practice vehicle, and taking photosas you deal with common problems is the best way to have these availablewhen you need them. Asking permission to use them is a good idea, and usediscretion about where and when you share them.

While computer programs make it easy to generate all types of slides,be careful about overusing this tool. Sometimes it is still more effectiveto use a flip chart and markers. Consider taking a course to enhance youruse of visuals.

Tell stories

Most of us have a rather short attention span. If you want to keep yourgroup "with you", intersperse plenty of real life anecdotes tostimulate interest.

Again, discretion is important, but you can usually change enough detailsto protect the guilty. Tell about some problem, how you determined the cause,what was done to solve it, and the outcome.

Obviously it needs to relate to your topic, and you need to be able totell about it in only a few minutes. A photo or two serves to make it complete.Humor can help a lot, but know your limitations in this department.

Read your audience

Learn to "read" your audience. You can tell the degree of interestby looking at faces. If they are alert, with eyes on you or the screen,then you are doing well.

If you see a lot of heads down, it is time to change something. Be preparedwith a story, or simply change your voice intonation or volume. Ask a questionof the audience if you need to get their interest, and consider callingon a specific person to answer it if no one volunteers.

In small groups, it usually works best to encourage questions, and tohave a degree of dialogue throughout your presentation.

Public speaking to appropriate groups is an excellent way to market yourpractice. You will learn and grow through the experience, and your audiencewill as well.

You must balance the potential benefit against the time and expense neededto prepare and deliver an effective presentation. In some cases you needto decline the invitation. If you do accept, commit adequate time and resourcesto ensure that your talk is interesting and informative.

Dr. Gardner is director of animal health and herd economics at KeystoneAgway. He also consults with dairy practitioners on practice management.

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