Mastering Global and Public Health Presentation Skills: Your Passport to Impactful Communication

By Sabine Donders and Candela Iglesias Chiesa

Picture this: You have exactly ten minutes to showcase the amazing new results of your project, the fruits of long years of work. The audience has already been through four hours of similar presentations and most people are fiddling with their smartphones. Your heart is pounding and your palms are sweating. An important grant or contract may hinge on your ability to interest key members of the audience in your work… Sounds familiar? 

How do you capture the audience’s attention and manage to deliver a memorable presentation that will make them eager for more? 

Why are presentation skills important? 

As a public health professional, strong presentation skills can help you in various scenarios:

  • Communicating complex ideas: You’ll often need to convey ideas, research findings, and complex interventions to a diverse audience, including colleagues, government officials, healthcare providers, and the public. 
  • Advocacy: Participating in public awareness campaigns to advocate for policy changes, promote health initiatives, and raise awareness about public health issues requires compelling presentation skills that can change people’s minds on a topic and push them to action.
  • Securing funding: When presenting ideas for grants or research proposals, your presentation skills can significantly enhance the likelihood of securing funding for your projects.
  • Effective collaboration: In a world of multidisciplinary teams, these skills enable you to collaborate effectively, share insights, and contribute meaningfully to discussions. Whether you’re a communication specialist, researcher, policy advisor, or program manager, presentation skills are your foundation.

How can you enhance your presentation skills?

If you thought great presenters were born with those skills, we have good news. 

It turns out that delivering memorable presentations or speeches is a skill that can be learned. There is a general recipe for it that we can all learn and practice. 

While there is no magic bullet, with a little bit of work, it is easy to go from feeling overwhelmed or terrified by the idea of public speaking to feeling confident and excited about it. The following points might help you with this. 

Be clear on your key message

When giving a presentation or speech, you have to decide on your one and only, central, key message. You can do this by answering the following question: “If my audience could remember one and only one thing of my entire presentation, what would I want them to remember?”

Know your audience

To be able to answer what your key message is, you first need to know who your key audience is. While the “essence” of your key message may be very similar across audiences, you may want to tweak it a bit for each one in order for your message to be heard and remembered. 

If I’m presenting my work in front of a group of scientists, my key message might be: “The new H1N1 viral variant has so far not presented mutations consistent with anti-microbial resistance”. If I’m talking to the general public, my key message might sound more like “The new influenza virus: are the available drugs still effective?”

If you have no idea who your audience is going to be, try to find out. Call the organizers, look up past or similar events on the internet, and find out about the type of people who go to that venue. Do your homework; it will pay off.

Tell them why should they care

Most great presentations have one crucial thing in common. They answer a key question from the point of view of the audience members: “Why should I care?”

You obviously care about your presentation; it is about your work, your results, and your passions, but why should your audience care?

It is not enough that you get clear in your head why your presentation is relevant for your audience; you also need to spell it out for them. Because you want to make sure you capture their attention for the entirety of the presentation, you will want to address this question early.

Capture their attention

A good way to do this is by starting your presentation with what we call a ‘hook’. The hook of your presentation is like the opening lines of a great book. It is your opportunity to grasp your audience’s attention and captivate them from the start. The hook can be a question, a testimonial, a story, a challenge, or a joke. Examples include:

  • “Did you know that every minute, an area the size of 20 football fields is destroyed due to deforestation?” (Question)
  • “By the end of this talk, I aim to convince you that…” (Challenge)
  • “Imagine a small village where the simple act of having access to clean water became a life-changing story…” (Story)

Choose your props 

This is one of the parts of preparing a presentation that I enjoy the most: choosing and preparing your props.

When we are asked to give a presentation, most of us think only in terms of a simple speech using our body and our voice to deliver it, or maybe adding some slides. Yet there are many more ways to support your presentation. Your props are only bound by your own imagination and creativity.

Think, for example, about short videos, handouts, or objects to reinforce your message. One famous TED talk actually used a brain as a prop.

Practice, practice, practice

You know what they say: “Practice makes perfect.”. And this is definitely true for developing presentation skills.

Practice is the most important thing you can do for your presentation. It will help you build confidence and optimize your speech.

I use the following three ‘rounds’ of practice:

  • Round 1: Time your presentation. Make sure it fits into the time slot. If it’s way too long when you’re just reading it aloud, you may need to cut some parts out.
  • Round 2: Be your own critic. Record yourself on video. Although seeing yourself on video is confronting for all of us, it is a super powerful method to correct our mistakes, posture, body language, voice inflections, and filler words.
  • Round 3: Practice in front of a friendly audience. Ask a trusted friend, colleague, or family member to act as your audience. Practicing in front of them will help you start dealing with the nerves of standing in front of an audience.



Visme: 7 Storytelling Techniques Used by the Most Inspiring TED Presenters

TED talk: My Stroke of Insight

Coursera: What Are Effective Presentation Skills


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