Tell Me a Story

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Most medical presentations make me want to stab myself in the eye. You’d think that after 4 years of medical school followed by another 4-8 years of post medical training, that as physicians, we would have learned how to present valuable information in a less mundane fashion. We certainly have not.  Within 5 minutes into a given talk, half the room is on their smartphones either A) texting to each other how lame the talk is or B) fact checking every word the poor presenter is saying so they can ask him an endless pile of minutiae afterwards.

Back to the eye stabbing. The reason why I would want to do such grotesque harm to *my precious* eyes, is simple. Our presentations are really, really, boring. And dry. Seriously, I’ve had some of the most drool-dripping, dead-arm pins and needles to the hands throbbing, psychedelic-dream inducing, naps during multiple 6 am medical lectures.  We try to pack as much data and information into our presentations, aimlessly hoping that our peers won’t slam us  for not having enough evidence to support our claims, or that if we don’t put all our thoughts into 10 powerpoint slides, we are shortchanging our audience. Either method fails to captivate the intended audience and we are left having learned nothing.

What I think is lacking is the art of storytelling. Most of us went into medicine because of our fascination with the unknown; the intrigue of what science can help us discover about diseases, humanity, and link between the two. Bringing back the art of storytelling will not only enable better presentation skills, but bring forth better understanding and long term implementation of difficult medical concepts.

The first way to do this is to familiarize ourselves with author  Nancy Duarte. Nancy is a master at teaching world changing presentation skills. I first learned about her at Stanford Ignite in the Global Innovations Programs through the Stanford Business School. We were introduced to two of her books, “Resonate” and “Slide:ology”. In a nutshell, “Resonate” focuses on the art of storytelling and provides a template on how to successfully produce and execute powerful presentations. “Slide:ology” does the same, but focuses mainly on how to utilize her tools for slide presentations. We should utilize the tools she speaks about in her books as a first step into effective and captivating medical presentations.

We love the movies, the theatre, and TV shows because they entertain us, but also because through storytelling, our emotions are able to be moved, and we relate to the content more intimately. This is how our presentations should be done. By incorporating this art into our medical presentations, not only will we be able to effectively communicate valuable information, our talks will be entertaining and the information will be etched into our long term memory. Personally, I’d appreciate knowledge communicated to me more effectively that way.

There are many stories to tell in medicine. Let’s start utilizing the tools available to tell them effectively.