Physician Reinvented: The Speaker
After working as an anesthesiologist for 33 years, Lynette Charity, M.D., was terminated. So what career does a recently fired sexagenarian Anesthesiologist transition into? She did not succumb to shame or frustration. She found out that Laughter is the best medicine. So she reinvented herself as a standup comic, a keynote speaker, a speaker coach. This is her story.
Iwas fired after 33 years of working as an anesthesiologist. The year was 2012. I was 60 years old.
My employment termination wasn’t because of medical malpractice (I had gone through the hellfire of a lawsuit twelve years prior and had won, so it was not germane to this issue). It wasn’t due to patient complaints, either. My patients loved me, at least the ones who remembered me after their anesthesia experience. I was fired because I called the department CHIEF an idiot. Who knew you could get fired for that!
Today, I can write these words with humor, but at the time I was embarrassed, ashamed and lost. Until that point, medicine had been the centerpiece of my adult life. As an English-Irish-African American woman (gotta love DNA tests) growing up in the segregated South, I was able to navigate far away from my naysayers and dream smashers to reach the blessed day when I donned that white coat. And now, that white coat persona was ingrained into the very fabric of who I was.
So there I was, at a crossroads and wondering, “Should I stay or should I go?” If I’m no longer a practicing physician, I thought, Who am I?
Well, I’ve since learned that a physician will always be a physician. The skills we learned through so many years of education can never be undone. But I’ve also learned that we can be much, much more than that. Nowadays, I claim several titles. Dr. Lynette Charity, Keynote Speaker. Dr. Lynette Charity, Speaker Coach. And, of course, Lynette Charity, M.D.
Laughter is the best medicine
So what career does a recently fired sexagenarian anesthesiologist transition into? The first thought that popped into my head was, “I’m going to be a standup comic!”
Don’t ask me why. Several people have. All I can say is, after putting people to sleep for so many years, I was ready to wake them - and myself - up!
In all seriousness, learning to laugh at ourselves is the best treatment for chronically stressed-out physicians. Comedy was my first introduction to the public speaking life and I’m thankful everyday for it.
Some key lessons that I learned in comedy:
1. Have a good opening:
Studies say, people form impressions within 17 seconds. On stage, within 17 seconds or less, the audience is deciding whether or not they like the comic, whether or not they will listen to the comic, trust the comic, or whether or not this would be a good time to go to the bathroom. This is also true in speaking. You will be judged as someone to listen to or someone to tune out with the first few words out of your mouth. Please don’t start with a joke you found on the internet!
2. Connect with your audience
Have you watched a comic bomb? I was in Vegas to see the comedian George Wallace... and his opening act bombed. And this guy was a pro. He’d been on a lot of TV shows. But he didn’t have a connection to the audience. Research your audience just as much as you research your topic. I spoke to a dermatological society last year. I’m not a dermatologist, however I reworked my presentation to better relate to their realities. Basically “I got them!” I connected with them and their issues.
3. Diffuse the hecklers
In a comedy club, people say comics have the hardest job because they have hecklers; they have people who shout out “You suck! You’re no good!”
Guess what? Physicians have hecklers, too! Your colleagues and the C-Suite shout, “Your Press-Ganey scores suck! You call yourself a doctor? You ain’t no doctor!”
Comics have a technique for dealing with hecklers.
When someone says something nasty, the first step is to repeat the complaint. “Let me get this straight, you think because that one patient out of so many patients that I have treated gave me a poor customer service score, that I am not a good doctor?”
When we meet with difficult people it’s best to validate what they say even if you don’t agree with it so it doesn’t get to a point where things get nasty. Rather than ignore negativity, it’s really important to “affirm” what you heard. This strategy gives you time to step out of reactivity, while clarifying the point.
From FREE to FEE
Comedy was a great first step, but it wasn’t the end of my journey. The more I fell in love with being in front of the crowd, the more I realized that a key component was missing - the money. Unfortunately, stand up doesn’t pay the bills for most comedians.
So I joined Toastmasters to learn how to speak.
The first day at a Toastmaster club meeting, I timidly entered the room and found a seat close to the door, just in case. A seasoned member entered soon after me and without waiting for me to say yes, he grabbed me by the arm and sat me beside him. There was now no escape.
As the meeting proceeded, he translated all the terminology. I learned a lot. The beginner program was called the Competent Communicator Series and I was volun-told to prepare to give my first speech the following week.
The first speech in the series is called “The Icebreaker.” So the following week I broke the ice by sharing a 5 minute speech about me. There was a lectern in the room to which I held onto for dear life. For this first speech, you were allowed to use notes, but I was too nervous to look at them. When I finished my extemporaneous speech, two members evaluated my speech based on the criterion set down by Toastmasters. I received great feedback and I was finally on my way to becoming a professional speaker.
Taking your first step on stage
My first big crowd was at the Toastmasters’ World Championship of Public Speaking. Nervous doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. I had mastered speaking in front of 10-20 people, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to hold my own in front of hundreds!
Prior to the competition, I wrote and rewrote my speeches. I practiced those speeches at several clubs and revised as needed after valuable feedback. I videotaped my presentations. The more I gave the speeches, the more confident I became.
In 2013, I won the Area and Division contests and moved on to compete for the District Title. There was a BIG crowd in attendance. The speeches were the after-dinner dessert! I couldn’t eat a thing. Poor form to puke while speaking, I thought. When my name was called, I stood, took a deep breath, walked to the stage, looked at the crowd, smiled, another breath and began. Once I began, I was in “the zone,” confident. I won!
I was confident because, I had
- Calmed my willies
- Identified my message
- Personalized my presentation
- Used storytelling effectively
- Created a crisp final product
Speaking has brought so much joy into my life. A joy I never thought was possible as a physician. It’s taken me to Malaysia and Portugal. It’s allowed me to reach thousands, from college students to Tedx listeners. It’s allowed me to find my purpose and tell my story. Now I teach others to do the same.