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Presentation Portion Control for Global Palates

by Laurie Lindemeier
presenting to a diverse audience

An interview with Melynda Geurts, VP of Operations at DAC

“Slow down! Take it easy. Don’t bolt your food.” How often have you heard phrases like these? In the fast-pasted world of clinical trials, the “slow down” philosophy can be applied and achieve positive results when presenting to a group that does not speak one’s native tongue.

Melynda Geurts, VP of Operations at DAC Patient Recruitment Services, has found that a rapid-fire delivery of a training session on patient recruitment does not  serve her well. In fact, throughout her 15+ years in the clinical research industry, her approach, of “more is not more,” has proven effective again and again in her presentations around the world.

Last fall at an investigator meeting in Warsaw, Geurts presented an arthritis clinical trial training session to a group of study coordinators from Thailand, the Czech Republic, Russia and Poland. After the presentation she chatted with the attendees and experienced this exchange.

Geurts recalled: “A Polish gentleman approached me, shook my hand and said, ‘You are to be congratulated.’ I was a bit taken aback, wondering what I had done to merit this energetic compliment, but replied, ‘Thank you.’ He quickly responded, ‘Well, do you want to know why?’ To which I said, ‘Yes, of course.’

“The gentleman continued: ‘I have been working as an interpreter for more than 20 years. When you spoke, you enunciated all of your words. As an interpreter, that is greatly appreciated and very rarely occurs. It makes our job that much easier, when we are not trying to determine the best translation.’ He went on to ask if I had received professional speaking lessons and how I had developed my speaking style.

“I replied that I had not received formal training, but in my years of presenting, I take to heart comments from the audience on what connected with them and what did not.”

This interchange beautifully demonstrates important and yet simple points that are “food for thought” for speakers who are training a diverse group and/or using interpreters.

1. Mom was right. Chew your food thoroughly or you’ll choke. Speak slowly, and pronounce all the consonants. Slowing down one’s pace will promote easier absorption of dense content for non-English speakers. Haste makes waste in this context. An even, deliberate speech pattern will allow an international audience to savor the content. You don’t want to give them English indigestion!

2. Don’t bite off more than you can chew! Because of the slower pace, plan to reduce your content to fit the allotted time for your presentation. You may need to cut the number of slides from 30 to 15, or cover three topics instead of seven.

3. Do you call a tomato a fruit or a vegetable? Geurts found that many countries had difficulty interpreting American terminology for clinical trials. For instance, “community outreach” was not a familiar term to training attendees. When she explained that for DAC this meant, “working with professional organizations and/or patient advocacy groups,” heads nodded and some said, “Oh, we refer to that as patient associations.”

4. Account for all your ingredients, then spice to taste. Know your audience, their age, education level, clinical trial experience, and especially know the nuances of their language and culture that may be vastly different from your own.

After many years of working in the clinical research services industry and giving countless presentations all over the world, Geurts has learned to know when her content is not palatable to her audience.

She advised, “It’s what your audience doesn’t say that is the most impactful. Take the time to really look around the room and evaluate their body language. Then recalibrate. As with mastering any recipe, tweaks along the way are most always necessary.”

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