Management + Leadership

How public speaking skills can impact you as a dentist

Public speaking is a part of everyday life. It is a form of communicating that allows us to effectively share our opinion and knowledge with those around us. If this is the case, then why do many shudder at the thought of public speaking?

Speaking in front of an audience can be daunting. Honing our skills as a public speaker is not only helpful for the stage, but also in more intimate spaces during doctor-patient interactions.

Dentists must effectively interact with patients, and this is a skill that comes with time and practice. Speaking with knowledge is one thing, but speaking confidently, compassionately and humbly about that knowledge takes your communication as a dentist to the next level. In this way, we discuss the oral health of our patients so they may understand and trust us to care for them. Dr. Nipa Thakkar, an ASDA alumna who has spoken at past National Leadership Conferences, shares some tips for honing your public speaking skills.

ASDA Blog: How do you learn to get over nervousness before public speaking? 

Dr. Nipa Thakkar: I often get nervous before public speaking, but I remind myself that I am going on stage to speak to an audience as my authentic self and that the people in the audience have chosen to be there to hear what I have to say. My nerves would take over if I did not stop to give myself permission to be vulnerable and honest with my audience. Honesty makes life a lot less complicated in general, but as a speaker, it is absolutely critical to create an engaging and impactful presentation.

How does your skill in public speaking help you as a dentist, with patient communication? 

I speak with my patients in the same way I [approach an audience of peers]. It’s never a sales pitch — health care providers are not snake oil salespeople. I want to educate, inform and, above all, listen. I have yet to run into someone who can fake authenticity. It isn’t worth the risk of ethical compromise, and the message is never as touching. I also think it is exhausting to be an encyclopedia during a conversation or a missionary for someone else’s truth. So, I’m honest and vulnerable. And I’d like to think my patients recognize that. 

What are some tips about public speaking that dental students can use when they have to present or speak in public?

It’s important to prepare, pace yourself and breathe. Be a speaker you would want to hear. If you’re not a funny person, don’t use the stage as a chance to confirm that. If you speak too fast, recognize it and make a conscious effort to slow down throughout. If you ramble, time your thoughts and stop when you know you’ve made your point. Ask questions, take feedback and listen to your audience. Their body language and level of engagement will tell you how you’re doing.

The ability of public speakers to engage many different people at the same time amplifies their ability to have one-on-one interactions. A dentist who will be seeing many patients and personalities daily must be flexible, adapting the conversation to the personality of the patient. When people trust you and you establish good rapport, successful clinical outcomes can increase. Engaging the audience, having confidence in what we speak about, entering the room prepared, being aware of our body language as well as the patient’s, and speaking with authenticity and honesty allow for better patient encounters and oral health care overall.

~Thao Do, LECOM ’21

Thao Do

Thao Do is a current third-year dental student at LECOM School of Dental Medicine in Bradenton, FL. She enjoys participating in ASDA, spending time with family and friends, baking, playing the guitar and piano, and expressing herself through fashion in her spare time.

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