Executive Speaking Success: Tips for Healthcare Leaders

I’ve spent the last year crisscrossing the globe, working with more than 100 healthcare leaders, doctors, nurses, and researchers, all preparing for important executive speaking engagements where the subjects are complex and the stakes are high.

Regardless of whether these smart, compassionate healthcare leaders had decades of experience, or were stepping up to the podium for the first time, I learned that THE defining factor as to whether or not they would be a successful communicator – or fail miserably – came down to one word. Confidence.

Surprising? Maybe not. There’s certainly a great deal of research and “self-help” tips making the rounds on how to achieve confidence. While there is a lot of good, evidence-based advice, I’m dumbfounded that one platitude has managed to stick around for so long. “Fake it till you make it.”

All I can say is, really?? If you don’t know your content and you can’t communicate it effectively, how in the world will you feel confident or project confidence?

I know I won’t buy it. And, even if others can’t put their finger on exactly what it is a speaker lacks, they will walk away uninspired, unengaged, and unmoved.

So, what can speakers do to make an impact and be remembered? They need to reach what I’m calling the new C-Suite. No, not that C-Suite located on the top floor filled with a company’s most important C-level executives, the CEO, COO, CFO…

No, this C-Suite outlines the executive speaking elements you need to master, whether you’re on your way to the corner office…or already there.



Let’s start with content since I believe it is THE foundation upon which everything else rests. How do you create compelling content in complex industries with piles of data and multiple points to make? You narrow it down. There are diminishing returns on the amount of information you deliver and what your audience actually retains. The more you layer on, the less they remember.

What does that mean for you? You have to know your subject so well that you can simplify it. Don’t believe me? Maybe you’ll believe Albert Einstein who said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you just don’t understand it well enough.” Structuring your content into what 3D Communications calls “Message Pyramids” organizes the information specifically to be both credible and memorable. Start with a headline that draws your listener into your story. It’s one (maybe two) engaging sentence that either makes someone lean in to learn more, or dares you to prove it. No problem. You’re ready with the next layer of the pyramid that includes facts and data that prove your headline. Then, reinforce your message by speaking to a person’s more creative, intuitive side with visual language and stories. These will help to bring your story to life. Finally, bottom line it. Sum-up your message with a short, bring-it-home point.

You must master your content – all of it – so you can own what you know, respond to questions, and keep your story on track.


Let’s say you’ve followed the Message Pyramid and structured a truly great story about a novel, life-changing product. But then you walk into a room slumped shouldered, make no eye contact, and deliver a flat, monotone presentation. Will anyone care about your carefully crafted content? Probably not. If you can’t deliver powerfully and connect with your audience, it will be like the redwood that falls in the forest and no one hears it. Your body language, voice tone, and verbal pacing are all essential elements to your communications success. (Carmine Gallo, author of Talk Like TED, has a fascinating break down of the words per minute spoken by TED Talk speakers. Bottom line, it’s faster than you think and more effective if you present like you’re having a conversation.)

As part of my sessions with healthcare leaders over the last year, I’ve asked them to complete a survey where they respond to questions about how they prepare for an important presentation. Truth be told, these execs spend a lot of time preparing. They write down their remarks, potential questions, and even their answers. What don’t they do? Practice. By and large there is at least a 50% gap between executives who prepare their content, and the number who actually take time to practice it. Which means they actually have no idea how their words will sound, whether they look nervous, or if they sound boring. There are many ways to overcome communications challenges like this, starting with taping yourself and, yes, watching yourself too. You can’t fix what you don’t see or hear.


Which leads me to confidence. Knowing your content and delivering with authority will lead to real, honest, authentic confidence. Confidence that you – and your audience – will feel. Your nervous energy will be channeled into simply energy. The fact that you may not know an answer to a particular question will be taken in stride. You’ll acknowledge what you don’t know, agree to find out, and then use the opportunity to provide a broader perspective. It’s a confidence not built on arrogance, or faking it. Rather, it’s a confidence that reflects your humanity, your commitment to an issue and your desire to make a difference. That’s the person your audience was hoping to meet. And it’s the person you know you want to be.

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