Doctor’s Weak Communication Skills Hurt His Important Message (video)

Dr. Marc Siegel, clearly a very intelligent and experienced physician, has trouble getting his message across.

In this 3-minute segment with three goofball news anchors, he tries to communicate some points about salt, but quickly loses control of the discussion:

As the only one there with any medical training, or any experience actually treating disease, he should be controlling the frame. Unfortunately for him, he cannot. The segment quickly spirals out of his control.

Even though he is able to get some of his main points across in the end, his poor communication skills mean that his authority is undermined in the viewer’s mind.

This screenshot says it all. While the doctor is trying to make a serious point, everyone else is laughing and either looking away or not taking him seriously:

What should have been an informative segment for the audience to learn the dangers of excessive salt, became a free-for-all resembling an elementary school class led by an overwhelmed teacher.

This is why communication skills matter.

You have an important message to convey. It means something for your company’s profitability, for your own job prospects, or even (as in this case) for someone’s health.

You need to be able to persuade them. And that means capturing and keeping their attention.

Here’s what I think he should have done:

First, get control of the frame immediately

The segment is already working against him with the headline “Study: Too Much Sodium Won’t Kill You” and online: “Everything we’ve been told about salt is wrong.”

Ignore the fact that this is probably NOT what the actual study said. The point is, in the mind of the busy, distracted viewer, the opening message is: “Salt = Good”.

Therefore Dr. Siegel’s main job, right off the bat, is to communicate, as quickly and enthusiastically as possible, that “Salt = BAD!”

It may seem simplistic. But this is absolutely necessary if he is going to capture the conversation and dominate it for the 3 minutes he has.

He could do this by saying something silly but attention-grabbing right at his intro like “This study is TOTALLY off!!” or simply “[Buzzer sound] Wrong!”.

Sounds silly but it’s fitting in this context, and for this audience.

Second, be concise and use simple language

Dr. Siegel does manage to communicate clearly at the beginning when they ask “So I shouldn’t be worried about it?” and he replies, after a pause, “Not exactly.” That was a great, concise answer. It landed perfectly.

But other than that, the anchors ask him several times for specific, practical tips. He is unable to answer these questions directly, instead trying to give drawn-out answers.

He needs to understand that in this Fox News context, the anchors and the viewers are looking for quick, sharp, easy-to-understand solutions.

When at 1:06 an anchor asks:

“Is too little salt a problem?”

Dr. Siegel should just say:

“Yes. Too little is a problem and too much is a problem. We need balance. But most of what we eat has too much salt.”

That’s it. A simple yes/no answer gets a simple response. Very simple and easy to understand.

Instead he tries to contextualize and give background and talk about various minor health points that don’t help the audience understand his main point. Which is that “salt = bad”.

His long-winded answer is then interrupted by another anchor who asks “How do you know [how much is too much]? A lot of people don’t look.” Just by being interrupted by someone with a louder and clearer voice, his authority takes a hit.

Ironically, she tries to help him out by gesturing to the items on the table, encouraging him to use them to his advantage.

But then, again, instead of just saying “Always look at the Nutrition Facts for sodium,” he makes a general point that “This stuff is loaded with salt” which doesn’t satisfy her question, causing her to interrupt and ask again.

Her questions may seem dumb. But the fact is, everyone already knows our diet is unhealthy in America. Our problem is that we don’t know how to fix it, how to spot the bad stuff from the good stuff. The doctor should tell us.

And again, for the sake of maintaining the frame, he needs to directly answer her question quickly. This would have avoided her interrupting him again and ruining his flow.

Shortly after this point (around the 2 minute mark), his control of the frame solidly ruined, the conversation spirals out of his control and descends into a laugh fest, complete with a funny clip from Star Trek. His core message is obscured.

He manages to get some clear tips across at the very end, but only with the anchors’ help in the form of specific prompts:

“Real quick, 5 seconds: How much salt is ok for a daily diet?”

“2-3 grams a day… I’d say 3 grams… of sodium”

It only took him 95% of the segment to get to the point.

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