How do you prepare yourself for special moments? This life is all about taking advantage of special moments and special opportunities. I want to share some examples with you from my own experience, in particular two moments that I often come across as a speaker and as a dental professional. The first of these is speaking in front of people, the second is meeting a patient for the first time to discuss the Digital Smile Design concept. These are two very different situations but both are key moments in which to make the right impression.
Part 1: Preparing to speak in front of people
When it comes to giving a speech or a lecture - it doesn't matter if it's 10 people, 20 people, 1,000 people, or 3,000 people - I think it's important to control your nerves. For me it's always an amazing honor to be able to speak to address an audience because they have paused their busy lives to be there sitting there. They're giving their precious time to you and are expecting your speech to be something useful. It doesn't matter if you’re presenting a business plan in front of ten investors or if you're giving a lecture for 1,000 young students -- people are giving their precious time to you. It's a huge responsibility to make the time useful, so you need to deliver. In addition, you don't want to embarrass yourself.
OPEN THE CHANNELS OF COMMUNICATION
It's a mix of feelings that generates pressure. Of course, pressure ends up being the number one enemy when it comes to doing a good job when you speak. For me, it was always very important to understand how to help myself to deliver from the first minute. The first moment is always the most important one. You need to make people understand that they need to stay with you and listen to you. You need to open the channels of communication and maybe break down some barriers. In the audience, there may be people that don't really like you or are expecting you to fail. You need to protect yourself from this energy and actually surprise people -- even the people that are hoping for you to fail. You need to surprise them with a good start and spark their curiosity.
TIP 1: Mentalize the first minute of your speech
One of the things that I think is very important is to actually imagine the first, I would say, one minute of your lecture. Rehearse on your own. Of course, it's impossible to fully memorize a whole one-hour, eight-hour, or even half-hour presentation, but if you do write everything down and just read, you're going to lose everybody. It needs to be genuine and it needs to show that you have the thinking process organized in your mind.
Of course, the number one thing is to understand the topic very well. You need to prepare yourself to defend your point, to express and explain your thinking process about that specific topic. Create a beautiful story. That first moment is key. Everybody who speaks knows that if the first minute is good, if you don't mess up, if things flow, then everything else will continue on the same path with the same energy. For me, one of the most important things is to memorize the first minute. The day before, imagine exactly the words you're going to say. When I say exactly, I mean exactly. Repeat them several times. How are you going to say hello? Who are you going to thank? What kind of compliments are you going to give? What kind of classy joke or fun story are you going to start with? Or, if it's very serious, what kind of words are you going to use to introduce yourself, generate curiosity and introduce the topic?
TIP 2: Rehearse the beginning in advance
You should practice this a week in advance. Mentally close your eyes, imagine yourself on that stage. Imagine a thousand people in front of you and imagine you're saying the perfect words. Really, it's like leaving your own body and looking at yourself as if you were a different person. Move yourself to the back of the room and watch yourself at the front succeeding, feeling empowered and transmitting good content. Imagine the audience enjoying it and connecting with what you are saying. Really build that image in 3D in your brain. Just close your eyes and do this meditation. Then, rehearse in this meditational mode, in this three-dimensional mode, and express the exact words you're going to say. Don't put pressure on yourself if you don't use exactly the same words. That's not the point. You will probably use almost the same words if you really rehearse those moments. Just repeat the first minute, until the tension is gone.
Do this maybe a week beforehand, if it's a big event. As you get more experience, you will be able to do it the day before. When you're really an expert at speaking, you’ll be able to do it five minutes before. That's what I usually do. When people come to me ten minutes or five minutes before I go on stage, I just try to give myself a moment. I usually don't even need to ask for time. People see that I'm in concentration mode and they usually leave me alone. Just go to the corner. Usually you are beside the stage -- the previous speaker is still finishing or the MC is introducing you. A couple of minutes beforehand, put yourself into this mode. Close your eyes. See yourself walking onto the stage and delivering. Practice a few words, repeat once, twice, three, five, ten times. Repeat the first few sentences until they are so natural and so automatic that the tension really almost disappears.
What happens is that when they introduce you, you get the mic, you walk up on the stage, and since you already visualised yourself at that moment exactly, you can just deliver. It’s very interesting because many times I have seen good lecturers with good speeches, but when they deliver a bad first minute, they lose confidence. They lose the people. Many people actually leave the room if you're not delivering in the first three to five minutes. When I go on stage, and these first minutes are automatic and the words are just exactly where they should be and the introduction is exactly the way it should be, after one or two or three minutes I see everybody getting silent, looking up at me, focusing on me. I get this feedback and I relax. The rest of the lecture goes smoothly.
TIP 3: Choose a friendly, engaged audience member to focus on
Another helpful strategy is a few minutes before you go on stage, to look at the first few rows in the audience and try to find a person that, for some reason, you have a feeling is excited about being there to watch you. Maybe it's somebody you already know. Maybe it's a fan. Maybe it's somebody that came to you before the lecture to wish you good luck. Maybe it's a team member or somebody you know is there for you and is excited to watch you. Sometimes you don't know anybody in the audience, so you just need to look at the first few rows and try to find the person that you see is focused in that moment. If you don't see them before going up on stage, you can definitely find that person as soon as you go on stage. Look for that person that is really looking into your eyes. What do you do when you find that person? Connect visually to that person and pretend, at least for the first few minutes, that you are only talking to that person. Create a connection. Everything you say, that person agrees, shakes their head. You create that dialogue, almost, with that one person and that creates confidence and generates focus. In fact, a good speech is like making everybody in the audience feel like you're speaking individually to each one of them. That's when you really connect. When you connect with one person, all your words are directed to that person, to that character that you just built. It's like you're customizing that speech, you're individualizing that speech, you're personalizing that speech. Of course, everybody else, or most of the people at least, will feel like you're speaking to them one by one in person, a direct message. That message is for me -- it's perfect.
As you go on, you want to look at everybody. Maybe you want to connect with other people in the audience if you want to use examples. From time to time, always go back to that one person. Connect your eyes. If you feel at any moment that you're losing the people, that you're losing focus, go back to that person. Look into that person's eyes, connect again, refocus your story and continue.
TIP 4: It’s OK to slow down and pause
A big mistake I see many times with speakers, because they are nervous at the beginning, is that words don’t flow and then they get stuck. Words don't come when we put pressure on ourselves. That happens usually when you're speaking in a language that is not your first language. In my case, a huge majority of my speeches are in English and it's not my mother tongue. Something that I have learned that helps me with this is to slow down. As an example, I usually use one of the best guitarists ever seen: Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits. He was a guy that used a few notes to create amazing solos. He didn't waste notes. When we speak, it's the same. It's better to say a good sentence and pause, breathe, and say a second good sentence very slowly than a bunch of words that are not ideal. Anytime I see speakers trying to explain something with many words it’s because the ideal sentence is not coming to their mind because they're nervous. Create a pause. Silence. Even if it's one, two, three seconds, there's not a problem. If the next sentence comes with a great message in a very well-built way, everybody will stay with you. Use the silence. Slow down the sentence. Think internally about the right words. Give yourself time to build a sentence inside your brain and then say, with a strong voice and good pace, the perfect sentence. If you do that at the beginning, your speech is going to generate high quality. People will see how impactful your speech is, with the right sentences, and they will stay with you.
This pace can change as you get more confident. You can speed up, you can change speeds depending on the story, moment, and storyline, but at the beginning, the suggestion is always to slow down and pick the right sentence than to speed up and use the wrong words or too many words to explain an idea.
Part 2: Speaking to patients
Meeting people for the first time is a magical moment in life. One of the most beautiful things in life is to meet people for the first time. The moment you meet somebody that you've never met before is magical and will never come back. We should really be thankful and appreciate this magical moment. Sometimes we meet people and we are in automatic mode and we miss the opportunity to really generate magic in this moment.
For dentists, I think it's very important because we are meeting patients for the first time in every other first appointment. As we know, creating an immediate or fast emotional connection is the key to increase patient acceptance, and to make people like us, trust us, and become our patients and pick us instead of other doctors. We know that the decision-making process of picking your dentist is emotionally driven. It’s not a rational process, so creating an emotional link is the key to make people choose us. When we meet somebody for the first time, we need to understand how important those first three minutes are. Again, doing a similar meditation is very powerful.
TIP 1: Visualize the meeting going well
If you know your new patient is coming, your assistant just walked into your room saying: "Doctor, Maria the new patient, arrived. I'm going to bring her in." Create this almost like a meditation, again, and visualize. Close your eyes for five seconds, ten seconds, and visualize Maria walking in the room. Visualize the way you want to behave, think about your body language, how you will use expressions and feel a happy positive energy. Imagine yourself saying the right words that Maria wanted to hear. Each person wants different things so we need to imagine that. Immediately when we see Maria, we're going to read her emotionally. We're going to adapt ourselves, and we're going to become who she wants us to be, at least in the first moment. Imagine Maria happy. Imagine yourself talking with great synergy. Imagine the conversation flowing, imagine that you're going to deliver a great message and that Maria is going to like you very much.
Our brain is so powerful that when we rehearse a moment internally, it's like we prepare ourselves to increase the chances that it's going to happen exactly like you imagined. When we do this rehearsal every time we're going to meet people for the first time, we usually generate a very powerful first impact. People leave the conversation not really understanding why, but just having a great feeling that they liked you very much. But on a deeper level, the meaning of doing this preparation is that you value the moment. In the brain, somehow you are able to transmit this message that you value the other person's time and that you are there to serve them. If this message comes through, the chances are that this person will want to stay with you as a patient.
TIP 2: Communication is a team effort
It’s important to explain this approach to your whole staff. Have your team understand that the first minutes of meeting somebody for the first time is the most important part. Whatever impression you leave in those first few minutes will stay with that person forever and it's very hard to change it. So you need to make sure that the first few moments are good. Even if you mess up in the future, you're going to have much more credit with that person. If you don't do very well in the first few minutes, it's very hard to change the person’s mindafterwards. You're going to have to spend a lot of energy to convince that person otherwise.
Invest in those few minutes. Prepare your staff to do the same because the patient’s experience starts on the phone. The first few seconds on the phone, at the front desk, in the waiting room, the first introduction with the assistant treatment coordinator, all the way that brings the patient to you. It's important that the whole team understands that when we are meeting people for the first time, we need to give our best in those first few minutes. If somebody's in a bad mood, somebody on the team is not feeling well, the best thing to do is to send that person home or at least tell the person that for this day, they should be backstage or, even more important than this, that person will never be the person to meet new people for the first time.
TIP 3: Pick the right words to generate the right impact
You can use this strategy even when you're about to have a very important conversation with a relative, with your kids, a tough conversation with your spouse when you know something is not going right. Before you enter the room, before you start saying what you think, imagine yourself, meditate, stop. Prepare yourself for the moment. Give importance to those first few minutes of how you're going to express yourself. Close your eyes and visualise it. You enter your room telling your spouse that you want to talk, and just imagine that you're going to say the right words, honest words, that you're going to be able to express yourself properly. If you need to apologize, imagine yourself apologizing. If you need to be humble, imagine yourself being humble. Just imagine which words you're going to pick. Practise those words, repeat. As you see yourself in that situation, you're going to see in advance that many times we use the wrong words, and that this makes the moment even worse. As you practise the moment with yourself, you polish the moment. You pick the right sentences that can generate the right impact to express yourself better.
How many times, at the start of a conversation, do we say something and then we regret it or say, "No, that's not what I meant"? By then it's too late. If you rehearse the first few minutes, you pick the right sentences, you really understand what you want to express. What is your genuine, honest, ethical, elegant message? When you practise and you build this moment, you increase the chances that the communication will start well. As you know the other person, you know the weak moments, the words that you need to avoid, the reasons why things are not going right, and you can shift things if you do well in the first few minutes. Of course, adopting a humble position is always an amazing strategy.
Whether you're talking to somebody privately or you're lecturing, if you can pick the right words that send a humble message, even if you are the best in what you're talking about, even if you're right and your spouse is wrong, pick the humble path, the humble attitude. This will break the ice, will break the barriers, will break down the fortress that an audience can always have, or a spouse or relative or friend or partner. This is another great suggestion for how to start a speech: to pick a humble position, an honest position. That is what I always try to do.
Do you apply these techniques in your professional and personal life? What do you do when you meet a patient for the first time? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks that you have developed in your interaction with patients and for speaking events.