Physician and Nursing Leaders – Improve Your Influencing Skills

One topic always seems to get everyone’s attention during our physician and nursing leader training work.  We provide a straight-forward, practical method to prepare for meetings and presentations.  In fact, this was a big part of our recent session at the leadership workshop for the American College of Preventive Medicine.  The topic was improving “influencing” skills. 

We’ve seen physician and nursing leaders frustrated at their inability to effectively communicate their message and influence the group – mostly in meetings.  Most do well in formal presentations but their failure to adequately prepare for meetings means they aren’t as persuasive as they could be.  They aren’t effective at crafting the message, or delivering it, or both. 

What We Have Learned

The methodology can help with a formal presentation, a small or large meeting or even that phone call that’s happening in 5 minutes.  With practice, you can get to the point where you go through this process in the time it takes to walk down the hall to the call/meeting.  I was working with medical students recently and we practiced applying this to discussions with patients.

We have developed this approach based on my experience at Board meetings, sales meetings, teaching graduate school classes, presenting at conferences, and more consulting meetings and calls than I can count over nearly thirty years. 

In each of these situations, my goal was to educate and persuade, Sometimes I was more effective than others and I learned more from my failures than from my successes.   I recall for instance, getting back to my seat after a presentation to a group of physician and administrative leaders at health system . . . . 

I thought I’d nailed it.  I was articulate, eloquent, delivered the exact message I intended, made them laugh, made them think, everything flowed -it was just one of those days.  I got back to my seat and my colleague immediately told me we “missed the mark”!!!  I couldn’t disagree more – my delivery was PERFECT! 

He was right.  The outcome was NOT what we’d hoped for because while my delivery was solid, the message we’d crafted was not on point.  It was a powerful reminder that the “delivery” is only part of the equation.  Everyone assumes that the delivery is what makes a good presentation – that’s not always the case.

Three Key Areas

You can always improve your delivery, but the delivery is meaningless if you don’t have a clear message that is on point, persuasive and backed up by relevant information and data (the “content”).  I review a presentation or meeting in three areas: (1) Did you craft the right message? (2). Did you present the right content to support your message? and (3) Did you deliver the message effectively?  It’s that simple.

A Simple, Practical Approach

This approach can be adapted to almost any situation.  As an example, the leadership team for the OR at a large academic medical center recently re-structured the entire department.  The challenge was communicating the value to all of the constituents so they would support the changes. This was going to require some thoughtful planning and messaging.  Here’s how we went about it:

Identify Specific Goals:

People often fail to spend a few minutes here identifying the goals.  Obviously in this situation one goal is “sharing information”.  That’s easy.  The other important goals? 

  • Unite the group around the changes
  • Share the anticipated benefits to patients, staff and physicians.
  • Build trust and transparency
  • Ask for help and patience

By defining these broader, more subtle goals, we could be thoughtful about messaging, delivery, and content.

What’s Your Primary Message?

If you only have two minutes to deliver your message what are the main points you’d make?  Write this down.  In fact, I don’t memorize a presentation, but I ALWAYS write down my primary message – because if you get off-track (I’m rarely in a situation where I’m not interrupted or in meetings that are more discussion than presentation), you can always get back to your primary message.  I usually also define three secondary messages that support the primary.  I even do this for meetings and phone calls.

That primary message makes for a great opening to a presentation or meeting, and some version of it is a great way to close by reminding the audience of the most important message..

Tailor the Message to the Audience

In the example above, we needed to be sensitive to different audiences with different goals, concerns, history, and certain terms/words/concepts that might not be well-received.

The Delivery Method

Should your message be via email, phone call, meeting, or large group presentation?  In this case, we chose a combination.  An email announcing the meetings would deliver some preliminary messaging.  Then there would be a few small meetings with important groups to get buy-in, followed by larger presentations. 

Anticipate Questions and Objections

By thinking from the audience’s point of view, you can anticipate questions and have the best answers ready.  Another place where writing these down (I love a white board for this), is incredibly helpful.  In our example, we had a good idea of the concerns of the physicians and nursing staff, particularly, and pre-emptively addressed those concerns and had responses ready for tough questions.

Psychological Safety

Healthcare cultures are not historically good at creating psychological safety in groups.  Think about ways to show vulnerability and model psychological safety behaviors to encourage a more open and productive dialogue.


What data, information or visuals will support your message?  Be concise.  People have short attention-spans.  If the data is merely interesting but doesn’t directly support your message – scrap it.  

DO NOT start your preparation by looking at content.  If you do you may make the mistake of letting the data drive your message rather than the other way around!  Build or select content to SUPPORT your message. Can you build in teaching? 

People like to learn something new.  In our example, we decided to use a graphic showing the improvements in flow, efficiency and patient experience, and another graphic showing the new structure.


Know your style. What works for you?  I had a colleague who would memorize an entire 45 minute presentation and deliver it verbatim – polished and confident. You’d never know it was memorized.  I can’t do that. It’s not comfortable to me and most of my experience has me in rooms where I’m going to be interrupted and questioned. I’ve had a lot of experience speaking extemporaneously, so I’m comfortable in that space – this is MY method.  Find yours.

  • Don’t memorize but FAMILIARIZE (You can work from notes.)
    • Rehearse aloud – on your feet.  Include other people – bounce ideas.
    • Memorize certain elements where the wording is critical.
    • Refer to notes and discussion points, but the delivery is flexible, can evolve, feel natural, and responsive.
  • Find your delivery style.  It can vary, and you should experiment with different styles for different situations. It might feel odd at first, but don’t be afraid to record parts of your presentation and listen to yourself.
  • Think about the tone you want to set . . . Upbeat, educational, fun, serious, challenging?
  • Positioning – If you want to engage people in a meeting do NOT sit at the head of the table.  Sit in the middle and when the conversation gets going, sit back a bit to signal you want the group to take over.  Do you always need to present from the front of the room?  Sometimes it makes sense, but I’m sure you’ve seen people talk from the back of the room, or the side, and it can be effective if done correctly.
  • Roles – If there are multiple people presenting, understand how you will divide the content, and where you will support each other – and ALWAYS support each other.
  • Pacing – How many times have you seen someone spend 50 minutes covering the first 25% of their content and then scramble to rush through the remaining 75%? Avoid this with a little thought and practice. Actually time yourself when practicing.
  • Staying on Message – This is where knowing your primary message helps.  Meetings sometimes go sideways, and you need to be able to adapt.  You need to REALLY understand your goals and primary message.
  • Answering questions
    • Understand the question – Too many people use questions as the opportunity to show what they know even if it’s not really answering the question!!!
    • Consider your overall goals – Answer every question with the overall goal/message in mind.
    • Be concise – Make your point and move on.  Rambling on because you aren’t sure you made your point, just makes it worse.
  • Be ok with silence – You do NOT need to fill every second of the meeting with noise.  Whether it’s on the phone or live, it’s OK to allow the room to think about what you just said.  Let people process.  Don’t beat them up with more words.
  • A note about nerves and distracting behaviors/habits – Preparation – really knowing your content, helps alleviate anxiety. Ask for feedback on distracting habits. Having someone tell you exactly how many times you said “um” or “OK” is a wonderful way to force yourself to stop.  Again, you do not need to fill every second with sound.  Make a statement.  Stop.  Move on to your next.  I had a colleague who had a terribly distracting habit of slapping his hands on the table to make points – constantly.  He didn’t know he was doing it, but once he realized how distracting it was, he quickly stopped and thanked us for the feedback – and I’m sure clients who were on the other end of the phone were happy that the persistent, baffling pounding noise had stopped.

As Usual, It’s About Preparation

No matter the profession, the ability to effectively communicate may be one of your most important assets, or limitations.  This sounds like a lot of work, but it’s not.  If you apply this methodology for a while, it becomes habit.  For more formal presentations, it might be a structured, half-day process.  For shorter meetings, it only takes a few minutes.  You  can do much of this on a tablet in the 5 minutes that everyone is getting settled.

Effective meetings or presentations are NOT just about a smooth delivery.  They are, like most things in life, about deliberate preparation – and that preparation will positively impact the delivery, too!  Imagine how much more effective you’ll be as a leader if you significantly improve your ability to craft and deliver a message that moves the organization in the right direction?

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