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Hogging the Mic —
To Talk with Confidence, You Need C-O-D

By Karen Cortell Reisman, MS published in Dental Economics (November, 1997)*

You give speeches every day. You sell dentistry to your patients, preside over daily team huddles, and conduct annual staff reviews. You might even give a Rotary lunch speech or report to your local dental society as a committee chair.

Did you know that you're really giving 3 speeches every time you open your mouth? There's the one you prepared, the one you gave, and the perfect one going home in the car! Let's make the monologue to the steering wheel be the same as the dialogue at the office or out in the community.

To talk with confidence and control you need C - O - D. Usually, those letters stand for "Cash on Delivery." And that is exactly what happens when you communicate clearly; because you WILL sell yourself, your treatment plan, and your ideas. However, here, "C" stands for Content--substantive information; "O" means Organization--speaking by design; and, "D" is for Delivery--pizzazz without angst.


Both my parents were born in Europe. However, they met in Dallas, Texas on a blind date. My father had only one relative that lived in the United States, and my mother was really nervous to meet my father's cousin for the first time...especially since this cousin was Albert Einstein. My father, this quiet, European gentleman who spoke six languages, lectured to my loud, outgoing, German version of Lucille Ball mom, "Don't ask too many questions or talk too much. If Einstein gets perturbed, he'll stand up and leave."

One week into matrimonial bliss, they visited with Einstein in Princeton, New Jersey. Ten tumultuous minutes into this first visit, my mother looked like a statue in a straight jacket. Einstein stood up, to my father's dismay. But, instead of walking out of the room, he came over to my mother and whispered this secret, "Anneliese, RELAX! I am a normal human being. As a matter of fact, I like to go to the bathroom every day just like everybody else."

Whether you are a dentist speaking to the Kiwanis club, a hygienist explaining gum care, a supplier attracting business in the exhibit hall, a teacher instructing dental students, or an assistant calming down a stressed-out patient; remember what Einstein shared with my mother that day in 1949. Everyone out there is another "human being." And when you're talking to all those human beings, in the office or out in the community, speak to win with C - O - D.

Say Something Worth Saying

The Customer Factor

Imagine you are the ship and your listener(s) are the harbor. If the ship misses the harbor, it's rarely the harbor's fault! For example, what do you think happened to Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Jesse Helm's "ship" when he introduced Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan on the floor of the Senate in the following manner? "The Foreign Relations Committee has had the honor of welcoming the distinguished prime minister of India." (Newsweek, 12/95) His ship sank.

What does your patient or Rotary club want to hear? First, get their name right! One time I gave the ending keynote for a corporation called Go/Dan Industries. In a fax I almost misspelled the company name as Go/Nad Industries. Fortunately, I caught my mistake, but I would've been the Titanic if I had used this wrong name! Same principle for the practice. The most popular word in the dictionary is your patient's name, spelled and pronounced correctly. There is nothing sweeter than the sound of one's own name.

The second customer factor is to know your patient. In your initial contact get a sense of what type of patient this will be. Ask them what's important to them. Is it cost? Is it the time involved? Do they want all the details or just the big picture? Find out what they want to know about, and then concentrate on that information, along with the BENEFITS of your treatment. People only listen to what they can benefit from.

Your patiens don't care how much you know till they know how much you care. It's important to establish your credibility and confidence via effective content; but it's just as important to shut up and listen! Building rapport and long term relationships is a direct result of being able to truly hear what they are saying to you. And by listening, you will really be able to "know" your patient.

Third, ask yourself "So what?" Think of all the stuff you say to your patients, your team, your colleagues. Do the "so what" test and think about whether all your information is relevant. Do they really need to hear your entire spiel? Try to objectively listen to yourself as you speak, and see what you can cut out. My motto is "Less is More". One time I took my sick child to the pediatrician. I had been up all night and I was distraught. The doctor talked endlessly about journal findings to support his diagnosis. All I wanted were the solutions, quickly.

The Topic Factor

Attitude and knowledge are the keys to the topic factor. Have you ever stopped to think, "I'm really pleased to share this information with my patient?" Your patients need to feel your enthusiasm. The good news is that you don't have to turn into an extroverted cheerleader to convey your passion. The even better news is that you can continue to be you. But, it's critical that your patients really know you want to be there talking with them. Therefore, do not appear distracted (even though you have a million things going on in your mind and in the office)! Be that moment.

Obviously, your knowledge level is key. Take advantage of all the continuing education that is offered within the dental profession. Then, never hesitate to tell your patients the courses you and your team have taken. Make sure your patients know that you are remaining on the cutting edge.

ORGANIZATION Say It in a Way That Your Listener Will Grasp the Information

Ears have lousy memories. Imagine I am holding a sieve and a sponge. Which one best depicts your brain? Are you a sponge? Do you soak up 100% of the information you receive every day, all day long? Probably not.

Yes...we are all sieve-heads. You should visualize that everyone you talk to (in person, over the phone, via email, fax, voicemail, an audience, in a consultation...) is wearing an imaginary sieve. We may hear 100% of what you're saying, but we'll only retain 25% even if you're dynamic and cogent. Seventy-five percent goes right through those sieve holes. For example, how many times have you spent precious minutes telling patients about the treatment only to have them ask a question that says they missed hearing what you said? Your content went through their sieve holes.

Less is More

Therefore, we need to be organized. This means using an outline approach to organize your information, thinking "Less is More" as you put your thoughts together. Use three main points that you can support with anecdotes, humor, and patient examples. Patients and audiences value clear, concise, organized, and anecdotal information.

"Three" is the magic number when getting your point across. For example, the movie "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly", or a sale's pitch, "Quality, experience, and customer service", or this article, "Content, organization, and delivery" use only three main ideas. We are inundated with so much information, that three concepts may be all we can remember!

I am not saying you must omit information to fit this outline. What I am advocating is that you try to categorize or clump your data into units that you can remember to say, and we can retain once we walk out of the door. One of my endodontic clients, Dr. Hedley Rakusin, gave a 2 day workshop in South Africa. He discussed 3 main subjects each morning and afternoon. He felt more focused and the attendees had a clear map of where he was going.

A treatment plan consult could have these 3 components: 1) benefits for the patient, 2) cost and time factors, and 3) risks vs. success (advantages and disadvantages). A morning huddle might be divided into: 1) problem patients and/or new patients, 2) laboratory needs, and 3) positive remarks from the day before. A potential outline on esthetics for a study club could be: 1) diagnosis and treatment planning, 2) tooth preparation, and 3) seating.

DELIVERY Say it With Pizzazz and Without Angst

Tips on Eye Contact

Confident people look at the eye. Put this article down and go have a conversation with someone in your office. Take a mental note of where your eyes focus. Many of my dental clients report that they naturally gaze at the person's mouth and teeth. Try to move up the face and look into their eyes instead.

Also, when you are selling a treatment plan to more than one person (husband/wife, parent/child, etc.) make sure you give equal eye contact to both parties. The silent partner may be the decision maker. I walked out of a car dealership recently when the salesperson only talked and looked at my husband. We bought the car down the street.

Tips on Posture

For better or worse, people view you mentally by the way you look physically. Posture is what we notice FIRST. During treatment, you are bent over, and that's fine. But, before and after the appointment, stand tall or sit tall. Power and presence are subjectively given to those who walk, move, and sit with confidence. Your mother's admonition to put those shoulders back was right on target.

Tips on Voice

Have you ever heard a high pitched, nasal radio personality? Didn't' think so...because they don't exist! Your voice (think about all those phone conversations) helps define your character. Your voice needs to be vibrant, strong, and steady. If it's the end of the day and your energy is low, make your phone calls standing up. Also, add a smile when you talk because this will increase your vitality. I often remind my clients that they are not at a funeral! Take your work seriously; but, remember to crack a grin now and then. It's easier for us to listen and retain your information when your voice is pleasant and assuring.

Tips on Visuals

For all of you, visuals are important selling devices in the office. Intraoral cameras, before and afters, completed cases, imaging computers, x-rays, and models provide instant marketing tools. But try not to overload the patient with too much information and visual stimulus. Use the visual that will have the greatest impact. Remember, we are all sieve heads, so think "less is more" when selling your dentistry.

For those of you who lecture, dental seminars are synonymous with visuals. All too often, the lights go out, the slides go on, and the lecture the DARK. This leaves no time for you to connect with the crowd. Recently, at the Hinman in Atlanta, I observed many clinicians standing in unnecessarily dark rooms speaking to tired audiences. The bottom line, is that YOU, the speaker, are the most important visual. Visuals may enhance the presentation, but you make or break the seminar. Unless you are showing radiographs, the room can stay well lit, which means your audience will stay awake!

A Degree of Nerves

Sometimes it can be uncomfortable or nerve wracking to quote a high fee, give that speech to the Rotary or study club, face an angry patient, provide constructive criticism to a valued member of your team, or call the lab with a problem. In all of these situations, it's ok to have a degree of nervousness. In fact, nervousness begets adrenaline, which begets energy, which begets enthusiasm, and without it, you would be "blah." The trick is to channel your nerves in a positive direction.

Bud Wilkenson, the famous former University of Oklahoma football coach, said, "The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital." Mark Twain commented, "It usually takes me three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech." And Norman Vincent Peale once opined, "Positive thoughts equal positive people, even when mishaps occur".

To have a degree of nervousness you need practice, preparation, and a positive mental attitude. At the very least, think about your message, your agenda, and your hidden agenda before you begin the consult, the Rotary speech, or interact with the agitated patient, or talk with the upset member of your team. Predictable speaking is like predictable dentistry, the easier it looks, the harder it is to come by. To quote the Girl Scout motto: "BE PREPARED".


Kristen Ulmer, a contributing editor to Skiing magazine, wrote an article titled, "Stuck? Try these Ten Strategies For Skiing With More Power And Energy Than You Ever Thought Possible." Ulmer suggested that we visualize our greatness and raise our freak-out ceiling. Her final tip was the "Law of Frogs." It goes as follows: "If you have to eat a frog, you better not look at it for too long. It's no different with an intimidating ski run. The longer you stand up there and worry about how you are going to get down it, the harder it will be to swallow your fear." She goes on to say, "I know it's easier said than done. Try this. Relax. Take a few deep breaths. Concentrate on something familiar -- the snow conditions; a similar run you have skied, how the first turn will feel. Take charge of your destiny. Map out a strategy for skiing the run. Find your line. Trust your ability. Don't look at the frog too long."

All in all, speak to win with C-O-D. Say something worth saying, by knowing your customer factor and your content factor. Say it in a way that your patient or audience can remember the information, by thinking "less is more" as you talk to all those sieve heads. And say it with enthusiasm.

Don't look at the frog for too long. Just leap like a strong, confident frog.

How to speak to "sieve heads"

  • Predictable speaking is like predictable dentistry. It takes time, preparation, experience, energy, and a desire.
  • We are all "sieve heads." 100% of the information we hear goes in, but 75% goes through the "holes." Therefore, we need to keep the adage, "Less is More", in mind when we organize our messages.
  • Effective eye contact, voice, and posture add to your credibility.
  • Ask not, "What do I want to say?" Rather, ask, "What does my patient or audience want to hear?" Think in terms of your audience/patient, and try to meet their needs.
  • It's OK to be nervous when giving a presentation.
  • Use visuals to sell dentistry, but don't overload your patient with too many high tech gadgets. Keep it simple and high impact.
  • You will speak to win with topical "C"--Content; retainable "O"--Organization; and dynamic "D"--Delivery.

***** *Reprinted with permission by Dental Economics

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