Teaching is a privilege


Teaching a privilege and an honour I hold deeply. I honestly believe we don’t do it well enough in Medicine. The didactic chalkboards and whiteboards have been replaced by the projector and millions of PowerPoint slides with the primary effect of numbing the brain. We may have killed dynamic thinking with the PowerPoint. It’s all cut and paste and data dump nowadays. There is enough information out there to suggest that teaching with PowerPoint is not necessarily teaching. Traditional podium teaching with focus on slides and data correlate poorly with retention and behaviour change. On top of that, we have the challenge of today’s contemporary methods of teaching including videos, audios, social media, Apps and other active mediums.

I have always been fascinated by the Art of Teaching and Speaking. Despite the amazing array of current technology that we have access to, there is something about Public Speaking and the use of the Spoken Words to deliver powerful engaging messages to large groups of people. Over thousands of years, nations and communities have risen and fallen over the power of Speech. Today, the Public Speech still moves and it is still the primary currency that is transmitted over videos, podcasts, social media and the like. Every single day on planet Earth, there is a conference, a meeting, a classroom, a hall where one person stands and speaks publicly to a group. The power of the Teaching and Speaking Platform.

I have been moved many times by powerful speeches. I am here today as a specialist surgeon because of thousands of hours of didactic teaching that form a significant part of my training. I can recall certain outstanding teachers who have taught me immensely and changed my practice. I still love attending lectures, because I sit at the feet of a Master and I get to do mental analysis and synthesis while they speak thoughts into my mind. Something about the human speech that trigger my mind to see and think things differently. I’m sure you can think of engaging speakers who have changed your life and your medical practice. This year I have got 18 speaking engagements locked in to various different groups and a few more in the pipeline. Every single time I get up there to speak, I know that it is sacred time. The fact that I am given time and attention is an exceedingly priceless honour and privilege. I want to do well and I want to know how to do it just a little better each time.

So what’s the secret to a successful teaching time? What is the secret to being a great teacher?

I wish I can simplify it and distill it to a few simple steps. You know better than I do that there are hundreds of books out there and resources that are available. A great example is a website by a friend of mine Dr Ross Fisher who have popularised his P3 (P-cubed) format. Check him out. He is legit. I have learned a lot from him.

May I add my own personal take on this? None of you need to adopt this formula. This is my own recipe. This is how I think about my presentations when I prepare them.

Teaching = Information + Inspiration

Information alone is impotent. Inspiration alone is infantile impetus without direction. Both information and inspiration are required to effect lasting beneficial change. Many of our medical talks are full of information, but we need to add inspirational ingredients in each of our recipes for our talks. Reducing information to essentials and adding inspiration may make your talk more powerful, memorable and effective. What’s a good example of inspiration: stories. Someone said that stories are data with a soul. Stories, ideas, imaginations are languages of thoughts that turn a data into a stimulus for change. I have seen this happen in many lectures and conferences. The moment a story is told, data comes alive and become memorable.

ABC of planning for a talk

When I plan for my talk, I think of

A: Audience

Who am I speaking to? A talk to medical students will look different to a talk on the same topic presented to ENT Surgeons sitting their Final Specialist exam. There is something in the audience that you need to connect to so your talk can be accurately pitched and be easily engaged. A talk to 5 people will look different to a talk to 5000 people. The needs of the group is different and you have to tailor your talk to each audience.

B: Behaviour

At the end of a compelling talk, there should be a behaviour change. Your listeners will need to be able to engage in a tangible change of behaviour. What is this change? Managing stridor. Treating asthma. Connecting with people. Leading a debrief. Recognising burnout. Mentoring others. Correcting hyperkalaemia. Starting ECMO. You know what I mean. What are the key messages? Limit these key behaviour change messages to 3 or less. Something about the human brain that can only retain a small number of information.

C: Connection

Return them home. Connect the dots of your talk to their native environment. You don’t want them to be you. You want them to act and be a better version of themselves wherever they are. Connect your message to the reality of their environment. Help them digest your talk so it becomes applicable to their workplaces and homes.

Those are my personal thoughts in preparing my talk. This is still all on a cognitive level. Next up are the 3 tools for the talk itself. The mechanics of my talk. What I call the Triple M: Message, Medium and Messenger. Yes I go to Ross Fisher’s P-Cubed for gospel truth and I refer you to his brilliant mind for the origins of these thoughts. He presents it beautifully. I go to him for practical tips on delivery. My simple mind retained it in my unique way, this way. He takes the limelight. I am leveraging his concept. I am only noting down personal ideas and thoughts to enhance my own future talks. (I don’t even know when I will get to pen them down, so we shall see when the next blogpost will be up.)