Hardest Public Speaking Part 2 – The Doctor’s Speech

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We’ve all either experienced it or seen a rather over-dramatised version of it in a television programme – the doctor delivering bad news to the relatives of a patient.

You might not immediately think that this is public speaking. However, it’s a single person communicating a message to an audience of normally more than one using many of the techniques that are taught as part of the majority of public speaking courses.

Before we look at the techniques that a doctor uses to deliver bad news in the best possible way. We have to first understand the audience.

The audience for the doctor’s speech is likely to have a high emotional involvement in the situation, be experiencing volatile emotions and be extremely tired. The ultimate reaction to the doctor’s speech is likely to range from anger to disbelief to fear or something completely different – we all react to bad news in different ways.

The doctor’s speech objective is therefore to deliver this information in the most straight-forward and emotionally sensitive way to minimise the chances of the audience reaction being extremely negative or even destructive.

How does the doctor do this?

Tone of voice – the doctor’s tone of voice is likely to be sympathetic yet as matter-of-fact as possible. They need to appear sensitive to the audience’s feelings, yet still position themselves as the expert in the room to avoid the audience losing faith in their medical abilities.

Use of language – a tired and emotional audience is likely to become frustrated if the doctor explains the situation in medical gobbledegook. They will not understand the message and may become confused – not something that is desired at this most critical of times. The doctor needs to use language well to translate a medical situation in to easy to understand terms.

Openness to audience participation – it’s likely that the audience will have many questions bout the medical situation – the reasons, the outcomes and the patient’s prospects. The doctor needs to ensure that they give the audience ample opportunity to ask questions and that they are answered in a positive, constructive and comprehensible way. The doctor also needs to ensure that the audience isn’t too intimidated to ask questions and so should appear approachable. This can be achieved through positive tone of voice, facial expressions and gestures.

In conclusion, the doctor’s speech is a short speech, but an important one. It’s likely that the audience will remember this speech for the rest of their lives and that its message being communicated clearly will have an effect on their emotions.

Clear, positive communication is key here, even at the end of a 12 hour shift – not always easy, I’m sure!

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Rich Watts is the UK Business Speaker of the Year and a past JCI National Public Speaking champion. He setup and now runs Rich Public Speaking providing presentation skills and public speaking training.

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