Have you ever sat through a lecture that you struggled to enjoy? Or felt entertained by a speaker but gained no valuable information to take forward with you?
In a recent episode of Coffee Break with Coachman, Christian Coachman and Dr Tony Rotondo, Specialist Prosthodontist and Educator from Brisbane, tackle these questions and discuss the ways in which, as speakers, we can evaluate and improve our skills, and how as audience members we can be more discerning about which courses to invest our time in.
How to evaluate yourself and other lecturers
“We want to help people to increase their skills as evaluators. Evaluators of themselves if they are a teacher, and evaluators of others if they are part of the audience. We will share some ideas that can help us to improve our skills as a speaker, and as a member of the audience, tricks and tips on how to evaluate who you are about to listen to and better invest your time or, after the lecture, do a comprehensive assessment of what you just heard and better interpret, evaluate, judge, analyse, and filter and contextualize what you listened to.
Over the years of presenting on the international circuit and attending hundreds of lectures from my university days through to my professional years, I have found there are four typical scenarios for audience members attending a lecture:
1) What you have learned is worth investing energy in - so you can learn more and implement it
2) You don't learn - and you want to know how to avoid the same waste of time next time
3) When you are really entertained by a lecture - you need to know how to understand in advance that you weren’t going to learn anyway and you consciously decide to stay there and be entertained
4) When you're bored - how to consciously make the decision that you want to stay anyway because the topic is important. And the person there is a good teacher, not an entertainer.
You can always see people in congresses leaving rooms and entering rooms without going through this conscious process of making a conscious decision about why they are staying or going.
“I think that the difficulty for particularly younger people listening to lectures is their ability to work out what it is that they're listening to. I think if you've been around for a while, you can pretty quickly work out whether that person has something to offer you. And even if they don't have much to offer, you can start to think about getting the little bits of information that are in fact going to be useful to you.
But if you sit there in the audience expecting to get a lot out of someone and then you're let down, that's largely your own fault because your expectations have been too high. But if you know what you're listening to, to begin with, it makes it a lot easier to get something out of the material I think.”
Being critical of yourself as a speaker
“And being critical of ourselves as a speaker, of course – we make mistakes all the time. I can remember, for example, explaining or promoting a lecture or writing a synopsis or the take-home messages and not making the real goals of my speech. I would be speaking about strategies and more conceptual topics and having people in the audience saying ‘Christian, when are you going to start showing clinical cases?’ And I'm like, ah, that was actually not my intention. This is a more strategic lecture for dental office owners. If you want to learn how to do a prep, that's a different lecture.
The other thing, the other mistake that I made in the past was assuming that people already understood a certain concept, so I would start with that and then take people from there – not giving a good summary at the beginning and contextualizing the topic within a bigger picture.
Could you share a couple of your mistakes as a teacher, Tony, and things that you did to address them? Because it’s not easy.”
"It was probably the single best lesson I ever had in teaching: not to get emotionally invested in something that's really dear to you, a case or a material or a technique." Tony Rotondo
“Two things come to mind. The first is that often you get a question after a lecture. And my immediate thought is one of frustration because I think ‘My God, weren't you listening?’ That's the first thing I think, and then suddenly I realize that it's my fault. It wasn't that the person wasn't listening. It was that I failed to deliver the message properly. Or I made some assumptions about what people know, or I didn't deliver the information in an appropriate order or whatever. So, whenever I hear those questions and I feel that frustration, I have to quickly turn that into the knowledge that it's my problem and my fault.
The second, and it's a story from when I was a student at UCLA and we used to share some dental materials classes with the guys at USC, which was the other big university in Los Angeles. The guy that was in charge of that program was Terry Donovan. And anyway, each of the participants - there were about 10 of us - had to give a presentation on a dental material. This was in the mid 1990s. I had done some Empress restorations, and at that time in the USA, not many people were doing all-ceramic restorations, and I had some photographs of those cases. I immediately went to those photographs and built my entire presentation around two or three cases.
It was so difficult for me to get past showing those cases, that I forgot to deliver any sort of valuable message at all. In fact, I thought I'd put together such a great presentation and I just got absolutely destroyed by Terry Donovan at the end of it. It was probably the single best lesson I ever had in teaching: not to get emotionally invested in something that's really dear to you, a case or a material or a technique. And yeah, that's probably the biggest for me. How about you?”
"That's when I realized the difference between showing cases and teaching." Christian Coachman
“It's very similar. When you're putting a lecture together at the beginning, these cases are your babies. One common mistake that I made in the past when I started was doing too much. I wanted to show all of the cases. Basically, I wanted to show off more than teach.
You want to fit everything into the presentation and it’s just one case after the other. That's when I realized the difference between showing cases and teaching. We see a lot of great clinicians showing cases in lectures and we see very few great teachers actually teaching a topic in which the cases are just the tool to help you teach something – a take-home message.
I had great teachers. At that time I was working with Team Atlanta, so I was giving lectures with David Garber and Henry Salama because I was lecturing as a technician, so we were always lecturing as a team. That was great because there were two people on stage and we had to actually put the lectures together. So they were just like ‘Nope, nope. Remove, remove. Simplify, straight to the point, pragmatic, too much, overwhelming.’”
"And then I fell very quickly in love with lectures from Frank Spear, John Kois, Vince Kokich. I was listening to the, and I noticed the difference completely." Christian Coachman
“I had some great help from these guys at the beginning. And then I fell very quickly in love with lectures from Frank Spear, John Kois, Vince Kokich. I was listening to them and I noticed the difference completely. An amazing line-up of speakers, but they were so way ahead in terms of delivering an educational message and I immediately said to myself: ‘I want to understand how to do this’.
So the message is more important than the case. That was the beginning of my journey and how to improve that. The other thing I understood is that you need to lecture for the people who want you to fail. I learned that with DSD because when I started to lecture about Digital Smile Design, we were talking about so many disruptive ideas that, of course, many people didn't agree. Some people were not agreeing in a good, positive way, but many people aren’t comfortable when you bring something new, all these emotional aspects of competing for space, etc. I realized I was leaving too many open topics for people to criticize.
And first, before addressing the cool stuff, I needed to address certain topics to show people that I knew what I was talking about – that I knew about quality dentistry, about the principles. So, I created a short introduction showing some kind of background and authorities, meaning that I know this, I've done this, and from there, exploring the new topic. That was another tough lesson for me – to reduce the amount of criticism and bring more people on board.”
“So you kind of had to set some background information before you were able to get on with your message.
They say that a common mistake of lecturers is that they want to lecture to the other lecturers in the audience and not the audience itself. Do you think that is what you were doing? It sounds like you were lecturing to the other lecturers in the audience, not the audience itself.”
"Bring the haters on board as much as you can." Christian Coachman
“Yeah. You need to address two or three different types of people. And usually what I like to do is to understand that the crowd is diverse and pick the three more common personas in the crowd. In the first two or three minutes, indulge them with things that they want to listen to. Bring people on board. Bring the beginners on board, bring the experts on board, bring the haters on board as much as you can. And then you relax and then you start introducing your content.
So yes – you cannot please everybody. The majority are just good people, average dentists wanting to learn. Yes. But the problem is that if you have a hundred people and you have five opinion leaders sitting there, these opinion leaders have an impact on the others right after the lecture and people will come to them. So if you gain the 95 general dentists and you lose five opinion leaders, then after the lecture, the criticism will be generated by the opinion leaders and it's going to be hard to overcome that.”
How to assess a dental lecture: the Evaluating Speakers Chart
Christian Coachman and Dr Tony Rotondo designed the Evaluating Speakers Chart – a way to evaluate and score speakers based on five key factors: Educational Quality, Entertaining Quality, Clinical Quality, Useful Information and Bias/ ethics/ ego.
To learn more about what inspired it, how the scoring system works, and how to apply it to evaluate yourself as a speaker and the lectures you attend as an audience member Click here
"As we learn in storytelling, we need to put the audience, the crowd, at the center of the story, as the hero of the story. The hero is not you." Christian Coachman
”That's a great question. As you said, we all have egos. You're completely right. It's not about not having egos. And I talked about that in the past. When I see people say, ‘No, no, I don't have an ego. That's under control.’ I am already sceptical about it because when people say ‘I don't have an ego’, usually they have the biggest egos. That's amazing. The biggest egos. You talk about this topic and they say, ‘No, no, that's completely under control. I don't have an ego.’
So the point is not not having an ego. The point is controlling it daily. Like a morning exercise every day for life in general. And when you're speaking, even more. When you're lecturing about something, your ego's up there. By the way, everybody that likes to teach has a big ego, period. So we all have one. We all have one because we like to be on stage and that's not a problem. It's not a crime to have an ego, you just need to control it.
One thing that I can say when I evaluate myself and others is that when I see the first five minutes, it’s usually enough for me to decide where to stay or go. I don't want to waste more time. If the person on stage is talking about: ‘Hi, I do this. I've done that. I…’, if there's too many ‘Is’, I'm gone.. After the third ‘I’, I'm gone.
First because it’s not ‘I’, it's ‘we’, it's ‘us’. And it's not about you. As we learn in storytelling, we need to put the audience, the crowd, at the center of the story, as the hero of the story. The hero is not you. We all know people that are good communicators who put themselves at the center and become not good, it's not nice. It's not entertaining anymore. Most of the great communicators, they lose themselves by putting themselves at the center of the story. And one way I do it, is to evaluate the ‘I’.
The other thing is the introduction. When they start to show their office, the celebrities that they treat, the things that they've achieved. And there's so many people. They use up precious minutes explaining how great they are.”
”You're right. It is kind of a waste of time. I mean, I think there might be some value in introducing yourself and letting the audience know where you came from.”
”That's the balance you need to find.”
”But if it goes on for too long, you are just stealing the time of the audience.”
”But that's the trick. You nail it again. That's the trick. Because you need to show people that you know what you're talking about. You need to create an authority position but in a very elegant way and in a very pragmatic, fast way, because you don't want to waste people's time. You want to show people: ‘Stay, because I know what I'm talking about. I have this experience. I did this course’.
If you are not well known to the point that the crowd knows you very well, you need an introduction, otherwise you're going to lose everybody. You cannot jump into the topic. You need to give value to your position, to your point that you want to make. That's a very tricky thing that you can do very well if you control your ego. If you control your ego, you say, what is the smartest strategy to - in 30, 45 seconds - make people understand that I'm good at what I do without being egocentric. This is something that we need to practice and every lecture needs to start with that. Authority, I call it authority with class. That's definitely a 0.1 on the Ego.”
How do you protect yourself from bias as a speaker?
”From bias. That's tricky. I mean, it's easy to identify it in other people, but it's hardest to identify it in yourself. And personally, the biggest bias that I have is with different techniques. I want to show people work that I'm good at. It goes back to that first case with Terry Donovan and personally, maybe I have some skills with composite resins.
So I could quite easily become enamored with that material and see it out of context of all of the other materials that are out there, but I have to somehow be objective about it. I have to realize that maybe my skill set is a little bit better than others, which means that while that material might be good for me, it might not always be good for everyone. I need to understand that there are some limitations to that material. I need to be really honest about them. So I need to be able to put my own techniques in perspective. And as a teacher, that's an incredibly difficult thing to do, particularly when you're trying to teach something people should be interested in.”
”An interesting way to explain this for me, is that when you explain something, anything and when you're listening to something, both as an educator you need to understand, I believe what I'm going to say here and as a listener as well. When you're going to explain something, you need to understand you tried one thing, you like that one thing, you're very good at that one thing and you want to teach that one thing, right?”
”And in my view, that's the biggest bias that people have. Everyone wants to show the world something.”
”The other that you need to understand is the comparison. I liked three, I really explored the three, and I want to bring to you guys the comparisons and what I like more in one, what I liked more in the other and what my final conclusion is. So as a listener, when you're listening to a speaker, you should do this analysis for every topic in the lecture. What this guy is saying to me is something that he does very well. And because he does very well, he's doing more and more, and it works very well with him. And that's fine. Let's learn from an expert on that. But it's different to another topic in which the same speaker might be comparing three different ways with an in-depth comparison. Both are good, but you need to understand that beforehand. You need to evaluate that point by point.”
”And once again, for a relatively experienced dentist, he or she is probably going to be able to pick that up relatively quickly, but for the younger participants of the audience, being able to work out what that particular speaker’s biases are, is really quite important and difficult to do. And maybe looking at that chart, hopefully or both of our charts. Hopefully maybe it'll help people be able to evaluate those speakers more objectively so they know what they’re listening to. That's even where it gets more difficult, then you have to battle your own biases.”
We’re going to cover all the topics now in a very practical way, we're going to divide them in two:
- From a speaker perspective, how do you improve that? How do you avoid the problem?
- And as a listener, how do you evaluate to take the best out of the information?
Understanding speaker bias
So for me, the bias topic, of course, there's the obvious bias. The relationship of the speaker. So you can read that on the disclaimer, you can and should research the speaker beforehand to understand that obvious bias:
- Relationship with the product
- Relationship with the service
- Relationship with the company
- Relationship with the invention of the idea
These are the four obvious biases. There's also the much more subtle bias that is unintentional because the speaker is not a professional teacher, he's just talking about something that he really likes to do. The problem is that when we like something a lot, we tend to believe that it's the best way. We tend to believe that it's the only way.
So, my suggestion to the listeners is of course, to do your homework with the obvious bias. And then when it comes to the specific topics, I immediately do this analysis:
- Is he a fan of one procedure and going to teach me that one procedure?
- Or is he bringing me that procedure in perspective with other ways of doing it?
Good teachers will immediately explain before each topic: ‘This is a way that I do it, I don't have experience with the other ways, but let me explain how I take full advantage of this technique.’ This gets you a lot of credit because now the crowd is advised that we’re not comparing.
A good teacher will also bring a lot of value to the comparison because most people don't have the material and experience to compare. That's why it's so difficult to compare. That's why most lectures don't compare.
And that's why most lectures are biased – most lectures are given by clinicians who just do it the way that they like, and don't compare.
That's why it's so good to listen to real teachers: people like Markus Blatz. He goes and researches five and then he goes back to the literature and studies all the ways to do it. And then he puts that technique in perspective, makes a comparison, pros and cons, the decision-making process. He is feeding you with the tools to make the decision yourself on what technique you want to use. To me, this is the difference.”
"There needs to be more room on the podiums for great academics." Tony Rotondo
“There needs to be more room on the podiums for great academics. We don't see enough of them at the moment.”
The difference between showing off and real teaching
“But this is why this webinar that we are doing is so important. You know why the podiums are full of entertainers, great clinicians that are not teachers? Because the audience values that. We need, as an audience, to be more critical. We need to demand better quality because the congress organizers will put the people that we want to hear. We need to demand real teachers. We need to understand how to evaluate and say, ‘This is not a real lecture – this is just showing off. This is just a bunch of good clinical cases, but this is not why I'm here. I'm here because I need help to think better, to process better, to compare better, to decide better, to analyze better. And you can only learn this from real teachers.
If you want to like or dislike a topic, do it with more depth. If you want to use a technique or not use it, do it with more depth. Do it with more information. Do it with more metrics. Don't go just because it's cool or because you had fun.
This is the problem that we are just talking about here: real educators. How do you, in the first three minutes, decide whether someone is a good teacher?
“I think a good teacher will set up the lesson very early. So you'll get a nice introduction to the topic. And then maybe you'll have to put up with 10 or 15 minutes of information that you've already heard before, but typically it's put together in a really nice way. And you know that they're setting you up to go down a particular pathway, which could be a bit of fun for you. It could be quite interesting. So, if I see a speaker set things up really nicely, then maybe those are some clues in the first five minutes that I'm going to be in for a good lecture. Of course, sometimes you can feel like everything's being set up and then it doesn't go anywhere. But typically I think people will do that. There'll be some sort of, kind of introductory process and then it'll kind of build as things go. What do you think?”
“The introduction is the key. Every teacher, good teacher, real teachers, this is what they do. They understand how to take a one-day topic, one-hour topic and introduce it in five minutes in a way that gives value to what they're going to talk about. It's explaining the ‘why’s:
Why should you stay here with me?
Why is the technique I'm going to talk about important, even if it's a simple technique?
Addressing the problem that the audience has. So you start by explaining: ‘I'm going to talk about this. And this is important because too many dentists are having this problem. So if you have this problem, if you face this challenge, I'm probably going to have a good solution for you, and I'm going to teach it in a very practical way so you can have a very clear take-home message.
I usually evaluate a speaker within the first five minutes, and it's very straightforward with a clear explanation of what the problem actually is. It's very hard to value a solution or a technique if you don't understand the problem that you're solving.
If you're going to talk about crown lengthening and you're telling me that your idea of how to do it is better than the way I already do it, you first have to explain to me what the problem is that I'm facing right now with the way that 90% of the crowd does it. The good teacher goes: ‘Okay, this is how most people do it. And by doing this, you are probably facing these problems. And everybody's like, yes, that's me.’
The way I do it is pretty good. I'm very proud of the way I do it, but these problems are a reality. So if you're going to talk about how to overcome these problems, I'll stay. And it gives relevance to the technique:
- A very clear explanation of the problem we want to overcome
- Very clear bullet points on how to structure the one hour
- What we’re going to start with
- What is going to be shown
- What we’re going to conclude with
- This is the problem we're going to overcome
- These are the reasons why we invest the time and energy in making this technique happen
- And of course, we're going to cover the technique step by step
Evaluating the educational value of a lecture
“Tell me Christian in that first five minutes, when do you know that the speaker is not going to be of great educational value? What are the clues?”
“So in terms of educational skills, I believe that when you start listening to somebody and the person starts with the case and jumps into the case – because it's very easy to give something a fancy title, for example ‘New ways of interdisciplinary communication, how to be a better interdisciplinary dentist’ – and the introduction and the lecture starts and the person puts the first case on the screen and says, ‘Look, this is how the patient came’, then like that, I'm gone.
If you're going to talk about how to become a better interdisciplinary dentistry, I need a little bit of perspective here of what are the problems that we are facing right now.”
“You pretty much know it's going to be show and tell and that there might not be so many solid lessons there.”
“The other thing is that you need to look at the title and understand, is this a technique title? Is this a conceptual title? Is this lecture saying that we're going to have a new way of doing it? Or is this just more of the same? Do I want to reemphasize the same way I'm doing it? Do I want to actually see the big picture or do I want to learn just how to make a little suture, better suture here?”
“And in fact, there's nothing wrong with show and tell if you're learning a specific technique that you're really interested in learning it and that's fine.”
“For example, if the lecture is about how to suture better after a crown lengthening procedure and the speaker comes and says, ‘Look, I'm not going to conceptualize here, this is not about philosophy, this is not about treatment planning. This is not about clinical cases. This is a specific way to suture. So let me show you how I do it.’
This is good because you're straight to the point, but it's even better if you explain the problems with the other ways of suturing. This is how you keep more people.”
"What exactly is your topic? Often it looks obvious, but it isn't." Christian Coachman
How to put together a successful lecture
“I've got another question for you and it's because you are one of the great deliverers of educational messages in the world. So when you're putting together a lecture, what's the process? How do you isolate your thought process from the couple of great cases that you've got? What do you do? What's the first step? How do you come up with the message?”
“Yeah. This is something that I do constantly. Actually, during COVID I did it over and over again with my own lectures. By the way, this was one of my first jobs besides dental technology. Dentists used to hire me to improve their lectures.
And it was a lot of fun because I had a dentist that was teaching about how to use social media in dentistry. And you don't need to be an expert because I'm not an expert in social media. But the first thing I asked the teacher is: ‘What exactly is your topic? Often it looks obvious, but it isn’t.
For example: CAD-CAM. This is too broad. What do you want people to actually learn? What is your take-home message? So let's start with your take-home message. CAD-CAM, okay. You know a lot about CAD-CAM. Now let's try to pick from everything that you can say about CAD-CAM. Do you have something in which you are better than average, something that is really unique about the way you work with CAD-CAM? What did you develop in CAD-CAM?
Then we need to work on the topic itself. Working on the topic is a great exercise. It's not about CAD-CAM. It's about how I can transform, for example, the initial 3D design into the final restoration with precision. That's one specific topic in CAD-CAM. It's copy-paste. If I do a 3D wax-up and a final restoration, how can I make them look more alike?
So let's develop a cool title. I love working on titles because they help me put the story together. So let's build a title to start brainstorming, even if we change it later.
“So I get by working on the title, you're really focusing all your efforts on the fundamental message.”
Yes, distilling is perfect.
“Into one drop. That's what we want. I want one drop and then we can transform this into one day, one hour, two days, we can grow and add other topics. But that is your one drop, for example, on the specific topic on which you think you have something special. And usually this exercise already makes a lot of people understand that what they thought they were special in, in fact, they aren’t really...
They think ‘Actually, I'm very good overall, I do it very well, but there's not one special thing about this’.
So then maybe I say, ‘Okay, but if you don't have one special thing, maybe your uniqueness is actually your consistency. There's nothing special about that, but you're doing this a lot’. So consistency needs to be in the title, predictability over and over again. How to make this become a routine. Make CAD-CAM become a routine.
So we are distilling that actually it's not one amazing little thing, but it’s the consistency of implementing the workflow and repeating it over and over again. So how do you start this lecture? You need a slide that shows like 30 cases all together on one slide, because you don't want to waste 10 minutes telling people that you did a lot. You don't need it.”
“Over and over again.”
“Over and over again. The second part is, once we have the topic, consistency with CAD-CAM, once we have a good title to start, let's make a list of the reasons why learning this is important. This is the core and the most important part. I want a list of the major problems that people are facing who don't know what you know. If you think that most people don't know what you know - and I believe most people don't know what you know - give me a list of all the problems: technical problems, clinical problems, lifestyle problems, working too much, stress – everything that understanding what you know will help with.
So we're going to make a list. Three things, five things, 10 things we round up and this can even become part of the topic. The 10 things you need to learn to make CAD-CAM a routine. Putting numbers, recipes in the title or in the subtitle is very powerful. So the three things you have to learn to make CAD-CAM become a routine in your office. So then you need to list the reasons, the problems and the reasons you should learn that. Then you write the technique.
So let's now get into what you probably have most organized, the technique itself. It sounds obvious as well, but most teachers talking about a topic don't even have a document describing the technique step by step.
Send a PDF to me - it's not a paragraph, it's not a book, it's not an article, I want bullet points. Step one, two. And usually when I go over the steps with the expert, we need to re-correct. I say, ‘What about this?’ ‘Oh, I forgot about this’. ‘What about this? Is this after or before that?’ ‘Oh, it's before’.
So we need to polish the step by step, because that will also feed us with the reasons and the problems. And often, the step by step is not emphasizing the issues that we discussed before. So you gave three reasons that we need to overcome and you don’t have a step that overcomes that issue. So we need to cover that. The 10 steps need to overcome the three main issues why people are suffering with this process.”
“Christian, I've got about 10 lectures that I'd like to run through with you. Have you got a bit of spare time?”
Christian Coachman :
“I love doing this. I really love it. First because I’m the main one to learn. I learned so much by doing this with others because I'm talking to the experts, I'm not the expert, and the experts are giving me all the answers. I'm just organizing the information that is already in their head.”
“So that's the key really. It is organizing that information long before you put the slides together.”
"When you start a technique, everybody needs to be already completely in love with the possibility of learning that technique." Christian Coachman
“Oh yeah. Putting the slides together is the next step. It’s the script. So now you have the steps, you can put the lecture steps together. That's ready: the technique from A to Z. Now, you put that aside a little bit and now you need to put the storyline together:
- Introduction, why I'm an authority, why I know what I'm talking about.
- Then I jump into the issues that dentists are facing because they don't know what I know.
- How are we going to overcome these? These are the three reasons why these are the 10 steps.
- Then you jump into the technique. You explain the technique. If you want, you can add a little bit of history before – you can show the way it used to be done, the way we do now, where we are heading. That depends on time and the topic. But then you fall into the technique.
When you teach a technique, everybody needs to be already completely in love with the possibility of learning that technique. That's the main thing. Everybody needs to be begging for the technique: ‘Please show me this, I want to learn this because your introduction was so good, the reasons why you should learn this are so clear. And I'm in the audience and I'm realizing, Oh my God, why didn't I learn this before? This is the sensation you want to generate. Oh my God, I've been wasting my time and energy. He's talking about problems that I didn't even think about. But now he's saying it, I can see these problems over and over again.
So now you start with the technique and 100% of the people are connected, right? Connected, giving value to your technique and of course, afterwards, you need to conclude with simple take home-messages, explaining the first step to change, the first thing you need to do Monday morning to not allow this information to just fade away. You need to do this and this. Buy this, train your staff on this, prepare this, pick your first case and do it.”
“I think those five minutes was worth the price of admission for anyone that's ever given a lecture before.”
“I hope. It works with me and it works with the guys that I work with. I'm very glad to work with the guys that I work with, I'm very glad to see people actually improving. And it's very hard to get that from a professional teacher of speakers, because they're going to give you the story-telling, the communication skills.
But as I mentioned at the beginning, that's very important as well. You need to become a better communicator, period. Now, this is not the most important thing. The most important thing is, how do you look at yourself and say, ‘Why do I want to be a speaker? Why should people listen to me? Just because I'm a great speaker?’ That's not the reason why people listen to you. Being a great speaker is a plus.”
Should you change your personality to be an entertaining speaker?
“I have a question for you, another question. If you're a speaker, and you're not especially entertaining, should you change your personality? Or should you work with what you've got?”
“That's actually the plus, right? So, let's pretend that we found your topic. We build the story. It's definitely a very useful lecture that I would love to listen to: the slides are good, cohesive, the cases are very good.
You have the basics of expressing this in a technical way, but you don't want to be boring. You want to be cool. You want to be charismatic. You want to be entertaining.”
This is actually a question that people are asking me more and more, Tony. Because there are different ways to be cool, right? There are different ways to be entertaining, different styles. Very different styles. You have a very unique way of being cool in person, and also lecturing.”
My wife and son don't think I'm very cool.
“Your son definitely doesn't think you're cool. I know that. Your wife thinks you're very cool. And that's the question, the million dollar question, how to be cooler. Because you know, everybody loves being around cool people. You don't need to be outspoken to be cool. You can be shy, and be cool.”
“Everyone has different styles, and some styles are just inherently entertaining and educational and out there. And you know, if you're someone like me, you would love to be like that. But I've always felt that as much as I would love to be like that, I'm stuck with myself, you know.”
“There's one suggestion that I learned from my father. Because being cool doesn't mean being fancy. Being cool is just being cool, generating the feeling in others. It's about others for sure. It's not about you, it's about others. That's the coolest level of being cool, when you really care about others. And that's where you lose many people, because many great communicators pretend they care but their ego is all about them.
So, really caring about the people sitting there, even the people that are not cool. You know, it's very easy to speak when you have the coolest people sitting there, because then you feel you're not ... everybody's cool, everybody's smart. But when you're lecturing in the middle of nowhere, and you look at people, and then just normal people, and you're like, ‘Damn, I thought I was going to lecture in a super cool place.’ And then you look at people and you say, ‘I don't care, it's about people. It's about them.’”
“I think that's a really important thing. And focus on the audience. If you can remind yourself that it's not about you.”
How to make people comfortable
“Now, the other thing that I learned with my father that I was going to say, is how to make people comfortable. What does that mean? This is, you can practice when you are hosting people at your place, at your home.
It has nothing to do with sophistication; you have to break the ice. If you bring somebody to your home, and usually when somebody's coming to your home for the first time, you have several barriers and layers of tightness. Because people are just respectful. How can you, in 10-15 minutes, make the person completely forget that they are in the home of somebody else, maybe somebody important, and bring everybody to the same level, and have people at the end of the night saying, ‘Wow, this was so cool, man.’
The posture of the host is key, because you need to understand why people are tight, why people are tense, why people are defensive. And you need, in a very humble, honest, transparent way, to say the right words and behave the right way. Not being cool, no, not showing off. But the opposite, and really making people relax.”
“I can tell you 100% Christian, you're a master of that. And that's exactly what I felt that you did for Shannon and me when we were at your wedding. You know, we arrived there. We didn't know who was going to be there. We're kind of a bit anxious, excited to be there, and within moments, I think you made everyone there feel totally at home.”
“I'm very happy to hear that. Of course, that was probably the most special moment of my life. The best party for me, right? The best party ever, because I think that the reason was we had 150 people from 25 countries there at the wedding, 150 people. The most important people in dentistry that I know were there, and there were all the conditions to become an uptight event. And it wasn't at all. A hundred percent the opposite. And I love when people come to me and say, ‘That was just a special moment, because I felt at home.’
So, when you are lecturing, my suggestion is to do the same. How can you make a thousand people in the crowd feel at home? Really feel that, and control the ego, not showing off. It's not about you, it's about the crowd, being honest with the topic. Being honest to yourself.”
“It’s important and also one of the most difficult things to do, because it's not an especially relaxing environment. It's a big thing.”
“So, you need to practice keeping your cool on the podium. That is definitely not a place where you feel cool, because you're tense, right? So, that's the exercise. The trick is how to reduce the pressure on yourself in a high-pressure environment. Because when you reduce the pressure on yourself, you are calm. And when you're calm, you're comfortable and you can make other people feel comfortable.
How to reduce the pressure you put on yourself
“Any tricks for reducing the pressure on yourself?”
“There are tricks, and I think the first trick is to do the homework that I just mentioned about putting your lecture together.
You know you have a great topic. That's not enough. That's why people are tense. People are tense because people are like, is this the best way to explain this? When you do the homework and you go through that path that I mentioned, and you put the lecture together properly, you know you're going to kill it. You have that feeling. You say, ‘Look, I may not be a great speaker, but I know the story is great. The topic is great. The problem is very clear and the solution is very clear. So, I'm very proud of what I did.’
There's no success without preparation. Preparing yourself in the right way, because most people waste their time trying to prepare themselves but don’t prepare properly. But when you feel prepared, your tension halves.
And then there are exercises that you can do to improve the first few minutes of your speech. And that's another great exercise: to mentalize how you're going to speak at the beginning and prepare yourself for the first three minutes.
Memorizing exactly what you're going to say, that's not a big thing and it brings tension down completely because usually, the first three minutes are the ones that are going to kill you because they are the most tense minutes and are when you get confused. And if you get confused, quality goes down. And if the quality of the first few minutes goes down, you mess up the whole lecture. And you’ll know it in the middle of the lecture. And then, you're pissed at yourself and trying to recover. And to recover, you want to show off. And then everything will be the opposite of where it should be.”
“I have two outstanding examples of that, a terrible first three minutes. The first was one of my first lectures in Australia, in Sydney, and I started speaking to this fancy group. I was really anxious and I could hear the shaking in my own voice when I was speaking. And I just got on top of that, and I started to find a rhythm. And then, there was this older guy in the audience that was in the front seat, and he was just laid down in his chair and he started snoring. Completely lost my rhythm. It took me another five minutes to get going.
The second time was a group in the US. For me, it was a really big audience. And I was really prepared, all ready to go. And as I started speaking, I just didn't realize how nervous I was. The words just couldn't come out of my mouth. It was probably bad that I felt sorry for the people in the audience that I knew were feeling sorry for me.”
“I have another suggestion that is exactly for that. And it's not easy, but it's a very powerful suggestion, and I try to do it all the time. Don't take myself too seriously.
Don't take life too seriously, don't take myself too seriously, don't take my topic too seriously. Okay, it's a contradiction, because I prepare for a month. I go through this homework, I really work hard. This is the thing. You work super hard in preparation. I do the best I can. I'm going to kill myself to really prepare something special, but at the same time, I'm not giving too much importance to myself.“
“It really helps to think of the audience, to not think so much of yourself. You know what I mean? The more you're thinking about the audience, the less you're thinking about yourself, and the less potential there is to get just …”
“You downplay, you know, and that's something that I do in many situations in life when you know it's an important situation. You know what you have is important. You downplay the situation and it always works in your favor. You need to always see how confident you are. As you gain confidence more and more, you can put a little bit more pressure on yourself. But if I look at myself and say, ‘Look, I'm shaking, I'm sweating. I'm nervous, I'm tense’ then when I feel this way, I downplay.
I go up to the stage with really humble body language, it's really a favor that everybody's doing, sitting there and listening to me. And I don't have the cure for Covid. I don't have the cure for cancer. I'm just here talking about this specific topic. Of course, you're not going to say ...you may say that. Try to find something that really makes people come to your side, cheer for you. Not ignore you, but cheer for you. And one of the best ways to make people cheer for you is to downplay, is to not take yourself too seriously, is to be humble, and smile.
Just smile. If you lose your voice, smile. If you make a mistake, smile. If you have a better way to explain, smile and explain again, you know? Let me explain again, and give a big smile. And then, start over. You know, ‘By the way, I'm kind of nervous, so I'm just …’”
“Just the words: ‘I don't know’. For me personally, when I got comfortable with saying, ‘I don't know’, that made it possible for me to relax.”
“That's another great thing, because when your lecture involves questions and answers at the end, and many ask for that, you need to prepare yourself for that as well. And you cannot let that affect your lecture because you're already nervous about the topics. And that's a situation with me because as I say, there are always a lot of people that want you to fail or want to ask the tough questions to see you in trouble. Be ready for that in a very humble way. Say, ‘I don't know, this is not my expertise.’ Or in my case, ‘I haven't been doing clinical work. I'm a conceptual …’ I talk about concepts, right?
And I see from time to time people trying to catch me out by asking clinical, technical questions, already knowing that maybe I'm not doing that at this moment. So again, smile. Don't take that moment too seriously. Be honest. Don't try to answer something that you're not prepared to answer. And try to bring importance to the topic again. Say, ‘Look, I'm here to help you think about the workflow. Now, I'm sure that the next speaker can maybe help you with the technique.’
A final message: take an honest look at your lecturing style
“I think the main thing is that when I put that little graph together myself, it made me think about myself as a speaker, it made me think about where I sat in that group. And without describing myself, it was a great way of self evaluating. And if you're capable of being honest with yourself, you can start to see the holes in your own lecturing style. So in that respect, both your diagram and mine, and yours is sort of an evolution of ... You know, I think they're quite useful for people that are interested in teaching, if they're honest with themselves.
And from the perspective of people in the audience, I think the message is, if you can use these couple of parameters to assess who it is that you're listening to and accept them for what they are, and if they're one of the eight to 10 speakers, then sit back and enjoy every second because you're not going to hear them too often. And if they're not, make sure you enjoy, pick out the pearls. Find what it is that that particular person has to offer.
And I think it's also worth saying that just because I came up with this diagram, doesn't mean that I personally think I'm at the upper level.”
“I was going to say that, knowing you, Tony, I know that as you were doing this diagram, you were doing it for yourself first.”
“I just saw that first diagram with the press. I thought, yeah, that's exactly what's going on in dentistry.”
“And I can tell you that you probably did the same. When I was doing all the bad examples of teachers in my diagram, I saw myself in each one of those situations in the past. When I made this mistake, when I made that mistake; it’s useful for self evaluation.
The key is not to point fingers. It's to improve ourselves as speakers but also reduce the chance of regret at the end of someone else’s lecture. I don't want to have any regrets; I want to sit and enjoy. If the person has this quality, I'm going to prepare myself to take advantage of that quality. You know, and I think that's the goal.”
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