Have Anxiety Before Public Speaking? Tame the Butterflies With a Checklist

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Neil Baum, MD, and Neeraj Kohli, MD, MBA

Neil Baum, MD, is Clinical Associate Professor of Urology, Tulane Medical School, New Orleans, LA, and author of Marketing Your Clinical Practice-Ethically, Effectively, and Economically, Jones Bartlett Publishers.

Neeraj Kohli, MD, MBA, is Director, Division of Urogynecology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Assistant Professor, Department of Ob/Gyn, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.


Public speaking remains one of the best ways to market and promote your medical practice. For many physicians—myself included—we are out of our comfort zone when we are in front of our peers or laymen and laywomen. One of the best ideas that I (NHB) have for making sure that everything is ready for the program during which I am speaking is to have a speaking checklist. Let me relate two stories that demonstrate the importance of a checklist.

I was asked to give a presentation in another city and was informed by the meeting planner that I would be talking to an audience of primary care physicians (PCPs) on a drug for treating the enlarged prostate gland. When I arrived at the restaurant, I was introduced to a dozen urologists! There was no way that the talk I had prepared for the PCPs could be used for the urologists, as the material would certainly be information that they already knew. I took a few minutes and crafted a talk that was more appropriate for an audience of fellow urologists. I discussed some case stories and conducted a round table discussion, and then I ended with a few magic tricks!   Not one of my best performances, but I was able to muddle through and not embarrass myself or the pharmaceutical representative who invited me to give the presentation.

In another instance when I was invited to give a talk, the meeting planner indicated that she would provide the projector and that I just needed to bring my computer. I had a Mac laptop computer, but the cable that connects the computer to the projector would not plug into my laptop. Fortunately, there was someone in the audience who lived nearby and was able to get a PC computer, and I was able to transfer the presentation file from the Mac to the PC.

There was a great deal of anxiety and tension before both of these scenarios were resolved. As a result, I created a checklist to ensure that I have everything ready and that I have all I need to give an outstanding presentation. This checklist includes knowing your audience, the venue, the meeting planner, the audiovisual requirements, your introduction, and speaking time, as well as having your handouts ready and your slides on a CD or thumb drive as backup.

I can assure you that the checklist will be invaluable to you and will prevent omissions and avoid creating an anxiety-producing event instead of an event that will allow you to showcase your material and your practice.

So, what is my take-home message? Check your checklist and have a relaxing and enjoyable presentation.


Example of a checklist:

  • Date of meeting
  • Location
  • Title of talk
  • Audience makeup
  • Name of meeting planner
  • Contact information for meeting planner
  • Venue and contact information, including map
  • Slides, CD, or thumb drive
  • Computer with adapter to projector
  • Need for projector?
  • Request for wireless microphone
  • Introduction sent to meeting planner and spare copy to bring to meeting
  • Airline ticket
  • Hotel and contact information
  • Handout copy