Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Going Solo?: Embrace Public Speaking

I have always believed that giving a talk to a group of people is a great way to market oneself. When you give a talk you can present yourself in the most positive way and appear to be an expert on virtually any topic. And the more people you speak to, the better. Here are 4 examples of my memorable talks.

The AUA Meeting, 2001: This talk—actually it was a paper presentation—was heard by 500+ people and was on a novel application of a robot for use in urologic microsurgery, a project that I and my fellowship mentors pioneered. At the end of the talk, 100 people lined up to make comments, 20 times the typical number of commenters at these things. One commenter offered the following piece of constructive criticism, “this is the worst example of science that I have ever seen.” OK. Actually, I wasn’t offended, since I had certainly done worse science than that in the past. Some in the crowd obviously agreed with him, as his response evoked a loud cheering. Some defended me and the paper. “I congratulate you on your pioneering work and for pushing the envelope. . .” one said, and this too evoked a loud cheer. Others echoed this person’s sentiment in their own comments. And on and on it went; negative and positive comments, back and forth. Wow! I had written and presented a paper that generated debate, and lots of it, something that I had never before done. Only, at the time, I viewed the presentation as a disaster; an ending to a serious academic career. However, it was not. It was great experience. Six years later people still remember that talk, and colleagues of mine bring it up every time they see me at meetings, certainly a sign of a good talk, or at least memorable one. In addition, the study’s design was copied by other prestigious institutions and published. Not bad.

May 2002: I was put on the OB-Gyn grand rounds schedule and asked to give a presentation on male infertility, my specialty. I’ve always believed that the best speakers use humor to engage their audience. I would do the same. 200 people came, all OB-Gyn attendings and residents. I was not nervous. I actually enjoy public speaking and I felt that this talk could be an important tool for growing my new academic practice. I started with something like, “Thank you coming. I’ll be speaking on male infertility.” Then I saw eyes glaze over. So I decided to liven it up. “Infertility medicine owes its roots to animal husbandry research. . .” and then went on to explain, among other things, how zoologists retrieve sperm from endangered species. One such species is the mandrill, a large primate. I began to tell the audience, a now very engaged audience, about the mating behavior of the mandrill; a mating behavior that includes very frequent masturbation in the males. This seemed to be a good placed to insert humor, so I added, “When I learned about how much a mandrill masturbates, it occurred to me that my college roommate may have, in fact, been a mandrill.” Crickets. And then a couples of chuckles here and there. I thought it was funny. A few others did as well. My college roommate didn’t. Oh well. You may, or may not, want to try to use humor when you give a talk.

March 05: A Pfizer rep asked me to give a “dinner program” on ED. I agreed. Four people came. Two were residents from a local hospital’s family practice residency program, and 2 were local family practice doctors. All four, I learned, were so called “dinner docs”, a strange breed of physician that goes several times a week to Pharma sponsored dinner programs. They actually had no interest on my topic nor were they looking for a new specialist to which to refer. They just wanted the free meal. During my presentation, the dinner docs sipped from a variety of fine wines, enjoyed a caviar staircase, and dined on filet mignon. As I showed the chemical structure for sildenefil, one of the residents asked me to pass the butter for his dinner roll, and then sheepishly asked me whether or not I ever prescribe Viagra to patients with coronary artery disease. I said that I did, and then passed the butter. A total waste of time not to mention a disgusting waste of resources! I no longer do Pharma dinner programs.

October 06: the Long Island chapter of RESOLVE, the national infertility support group, asked me to give a talk at one of their meetings. Actually, I asked them if I could speak, as I saw it as good opportunity to drum up some business for my new solo practice. I showed up a 9PM for the meeting and no one was there. Apparently the meeting was scheduled for 7PM. . .on Tuesday. . .not Friday. I was 2 hours late and 4 days early. So when I finally arrived the following Tuesday at 7, no one was there either, except for the organizer. She apologized profusely, but apparently nobody was interested in the topic, though “adoption issues really gets’em out.” I started to give the talk to her, and as I did, one of the maintenance crew came in the room, so I spoke to him as well. They liked it! They learned something. I’ll talk to who ever will listen.

So there it is--my illustrious speaking history. I still do talks, but I no longer think that I’ll be overrun with patient phone calls in the weeks that follow.