University of Wisconsin
School of Medicine and Public Health

Public Speaking Guidelines

Pedagogy: Enhance Learning

  • Start with learning objectives. Specific, behavioral learning objectives are necessary to help learners know what they will gain, to identify key points of your session, to focus and plan what is feasible, and to guide what to cut.
  • Limit content to only THE MOST important. When it comes to learning, less is more.
    • Have 3-5 key points and revisit them early, often, and summarize at end of your session.
    • You cannot overuse repetition.
  • Orient your audience. Use key points to create a main message or scaffolding of your presentation. After a key point is made, use these opportunities to signpost, or to reflect on progress in session.
    • Cue important points.  Change voice quality/speed or posture, use visual cues (e.g. arrows or circles in PowerPoint) or verbal signposting to highlight key points (e.g. “This is a crucial point…”.)
  • Engage your audience and their prior knowledge.
    • Use examples and analogies whenever possible to help explain new concepts. Using cases or stories are a way to contextualize content and enhance both attention and retention.
    • Our minds wander: Refresh attention by breaking up your session every 15-20 minutes. Insert a new instructional method, video, question, tasteful humor, or active learning into your presentation. 
    • Break up the lecture by introducing active learning to emphasize your key points.  For example:
      • Answer yes/no or multiple choice questions with hand raising (or number of fingers) or audience response system (like
      • Pair and share (with partner next to them share answer to a question, or 1 think have a question about, etc).  Great low-risk way to engage everyone and break up the session.

KEY: Focus on less, repeat key points and engage audience.

Dynamic Delivery: Compete with iPhones

  • First impressions matter. Open with a “POW statement” (e.g. a story, or a question, or a case, or an unusual statistic) to capture the attention of the audience immediately.
  • Practice. Practice more than you think you need to, with a friend or colleague to practice eye contact, avoiding reading from slides, and for feedback. It will help to improve presentation, confidence, identify extraneous material, hone wording, and to get your timing down. Videotaping yourself works well (and isn’t as painful as it sounds).
    • Pauses/Non-Words: Use pauses to increase emphasis. Avoid filler words like “um."  Practice helps.
    • Use Vocal Variety: changes in volume or pace can be used to increase emotion or attention.
  • Who Cares? Show why this is important to them: Aim to attach relevance of your material early on, to motivate audience to pay attention and show them this topic/issue is relevant to them. Cultivate emotions. Tell a story or a case that speaks to them as a provider, as a person, as a member of society.
  • Energy!!! The more energy you can present while speaking, the better everything else is. Use vocal variety and non-verbal communication (facial expressions, movement, eye contact): this translates into people being more engaged.
    • Use movement, including away from the podium to be more connected to your audience. Purposeful steps or gestures at transitions or key points will increase engagement.
    • Look at audience members as much as possible. Look at colleagues you know well to help with nerves.

KEY: Practice, open with a POW, and increase the energy!

Tame PowerPoint

  • Less is more. ONE message per slide—make it clear. Avoid complex graphics or tables: put the gist clearly and crop out any unnecessary info from the graphic. Minimize distractions from key point (extraneous text, animations, etc).
    • Primary function of slides is to enhance YOUR presentation. Slides are NOT meant to be handouts. 
    • 7x7 rule (7 bullets per slide, 7 words per bullet)—don’t put everything on slides, or the audience has to choose between reading your slides or listening to you. Use short phrases.
  • Make it readable. Heading fonts should be 36-44 points, and text fonts 24-32 points. Select easy-to-read fonts. Crop and blow up key elements of complex tables/charts. High contrast easier to read (black and white). Explain the X/Y axes on your figures.
  • Images are better than words. The more you can replace text with images, the more engaged your audience will be.
  • Build sequencing. Introduce bullets and images ONLY when you are ready to talk about them, which will focus your audience’s attention only on what you are currently talking about, and also simplifies busy slides for them.

KEY: More white space, replace words with images, make it easy to interpret.