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Show Stage Fright the Exit

Kate Traynor

One way for pharmacists to overcome stage fright when speaking in public is to think of the forum as a double opportunity—to promote pharmacy and to give listeners information they need to know.

"I think we, in pharmacy, have a tendency to work behind the scenes and do a lot of good things, but don’t let the public know about them," said Tom Brenner, director of pharmaceutical care at York Hospital in York, Pa.

Brenner speaks regularly to senior citizen groups about medication use and also gives occasional speeches on medication safety. He described his public speaking skills as something he has acquired over the years because of his involvement with "a lot of public things."

"You learn to be able to speak in public," Brenner said. "I’m not an English major or anything like that. I just like to get up and—especially a topic that I’m very familiar with—talk about it."

During National Pharmacy Week in October, Brenner said he had the chance to appear in a locally televised ceremony at which the county commissioners issued a proclamation recognizing the importance of pharmacy.

"They gave us the opportunity to talk for ... five, 10 minutes about medication safety," Brenner said. "Any time we get an opportunity to become visible in the public with pharmacy issues and helping people understand their medications and talk about medication safety, I think it’s important that we do that."

Brenner said the recent national emphasis on public health issues may create new public-speaking roles for pharmacists.

"I’ve been asked a lot of questions about treatments of anthrax. So I think there’s an opportunity there," he said.

Ellen Wilcox, ASHP’s public relations director, said pharmacists’ opinions are in demand these days.

"Pharmacists are becoming more visible to consumers and the media," she said. "And, more and more often, reporters are appreciating the expertise pharmacists can bring to a story about health care and medications."

For those just venturing into the public speaking arena, Brenner advised sticking to a familiar topic.

"The key thing is in being very knowledgeable about the topic you’re going to speak to," Brenner said. "And your audience—know who your audience is and what your audience wants to hear, what they’re interested in."

Knowing your audience's attention span is critical, too, Brenner said. "You want to be able to bring across the information in a period of time that you’re going to maintain your audience’s concentration. You don’t want to get up there and speak for 45 minutes on something you could say in 10."

Several Web sites offer practical advice on public speaking:

  • Toastmasters International, a nonprofit group, claims to be the world’s largest organization devoted to helping people improve their speaking and communication skills. Club members hone their speaking skills by completing a planned curriculum of assignments and participate in workshops every week or two. 
  • Professional speaker Tom Antion offers practical tips on issues ranging from constructing and memorizing a speech to the effective use of humor in public presentations. 
  • sells prepared speeches for special occasions but also offers basic advice on public speaking. 
  • Author and physician Morton C. Orman discusses 10 basic principles to overcoming a fear of public speaking.