Uniting Quality Writing with Dynamic Speaking in Health Care Communications

A woman in a white coat speaks to her colleagues.

For people working in the health care field, developing their writing skills can help them do their job more effectively. But did you know that you can further develop some of the same skills that enable you to write polished prose in order to give more engaging presentations? In fact, developing both excellent writing and speaking skills can help you build a strong foundation that will enable you to take your career in exciting directions.

“People often think of writing and public speaking as entirely separate elements. Yet, both skills are needed in order to be an effective communicator,” explains Terry Gipson, MFA, who serves on the faculty of Harvard Medical School’s Effective Writing for Health Care postgraduate certificate program and is also a preceptor in Public Speaking for the Harvard College Writing Program. He points out that both writing and speaking are forms of expression with similar goals; they just use different tools to reach them. 

Benefits of Clear Writing and Public Speaking 

Gipson says that taking the time and effort to hone both your writing and public speaking skills can increase your professional success on many levels. This is because your ability to formulate arguments, present data clearly and convey key messages through the right lens—for both writing and speaking—will have a profound impact on how others will view your work. The many benefits of writing and speaking effectively can include improving your likelihood of getting published in a trade journal or mainstream publication, getting a book deal, being interviewed for a news article (print or online), presenting a speech to a live audience, being invited to serve on a panel and serving as a keynote speaker.

Building on the Basics

For writing, Gipson points out that most people have been practicing since they were very young and may feel comfortable crafting grammatically correct sentences. But if you are working in the health care field, you may not have learned the nuances of breaking down more complex topics, such as medical jargon, in a way that will resonate with readers. Therefore, you can still benefit from learning how to explain complex technical information in ways that are easy to understand for your audience. With public speaking, however, most people are much less familiar with the basics; in that case, you may also need to build these skills by putting yourself in situations where you have a chance to practice and improve your confidence in this area. You can start by writing a solid outline for a presentation and practicing with small groups to determine how to deliver your content in the most compelling way, Gipson says. “Public speaking doesn’t come naturally to any of us. It’s not something that you were born knowing, yet it is something you can learn to master,” he stresses.

Tips for Compelling Health Care Writing and Speaking

The most successful health care writers and speakers take skills from both forms of communication and use them strategically. Gipson offers the following tips to help you write and present your messages clearly:

  • Know what you want to say and how you will say it. In writing and presenting, you need to have a purpose that you want to communicate. Maybe you want to share your viewpoint, persuade your audience to do something, or educate them. By defining your goals up front, you can make sure that your writing or talking stays focused on this target and that every detail and anecdote you share connects back to your overall goal.
  • Understand your audience and what they care about. In writing, you need to think about how familiar the audience is with the topic you are focused on and serve up the right tone and amount of detail to meet their needs. In public speaking, you also consider the audience and talk in a style and tone that will resonate with them. Some questions to ask yourself when writing or presenting are: How will the audience perceive my words? Will they accept my viewpoint? Will it resonate with their values? Will they be confused? Once you answer these questions, you can tailor your writing or speech to respond to the answers. 
  • Establish your credibility. Your readers or audience must know right from the first sentence why they should trust you and why you are the expert on the topic you have selected. If you don’t have expertise or a personal connection to your topic, you can bolster your credibility by citing testimony and other evidence from expert sources. While footnotes are often used to cite sources in writing, public speaking requires oral citations. In other words, you have to explain where the information comes from and why the source is credible.
  • Grab your audience’s attention in the first few sentences. “The first 30 seconds is the most important part of any written piece or speech you’ll give. You need to engage the audience, show credibility, capture attention, get them to feel special, and make them want more. This either sets the tone to engage them or bores them” Gipson says.
  • Choose words that bring your descriptions to life. “Reading and speaking are similar in that they’re very vivid and they help people see the setting you are describing if you set the scene properly and include the right details,” he says. Choose words that engage the senses: Think of how things look, taste, smell, and sound to bring the experience to life for your readers or listeners.
  • Be persuasive. Think about what your audience cares about and try to tie your words to fit within their vantage point. Also, always explain where you are coming from if you talk about things that your readers or audience may view differently. For instance, if you want to talk about equity, people may react differently to the word than you intend. This makes it essential to set the stage up front so people will know what you mean and will be more likely to view your information in the right context. Anything you can do to help your audience feel more comfortable engaging with your ideas will benefit your persuasive efforts.
  • Emphasize your main points. In writing, you can do this by using strategic word choices that set the mood and will be well understood by your audience. In presenting, you can use your facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language to supplement your words in a productive way.
  • Know where to end. All too often, writers and speakers don’t know where to end their work. Look at your writing or speech critically and see if there are places where you can cut or shorten your content. For instance, Gipson suggests that if you write a five-page article or a five-minute speech, challenge yourself to take out any fluff and get your work down to three pages, or three minutes, without losing any key information.
The Power of Excellent Writing and Speaking Skills

“Today, many people who enjoy writing and researching will eventually go on to become prolific public speakers,” Gipson says. This is because writers are often interviewed, are asked to film videos, or are invited to speak to groups or to present at conferences, he explains. This means that you need to use your writing ability as a launching pad to build presentation skills so you can go out and accomplish your goals. The combination of being able to write powerfully and to speak impactfully can be essential to establishing yourself as a truly effective communicator.

  • Sources

    Gipson, Terry, MFA, Preceptor in Public Speaking, Harvard College Writing Program. Zoom interview November 2023. https://postgraduateeducation.hms.harvard.edu/faculty-staff/terry-gipson

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