General Audiences

Here are some of the talks I enjoy presenting to general audiences.  I also present on other topics to business and medical audiences, most of which I am happy to adapt for lay audiences.  So feel free to look there for ideas, too.


Money Talk: Discussing Health Care Costs in the Doctor’s Office

In the US, healthcare consumers (okay: Patients!) are being required to pay out of pocket for an increasing percentage of their medical care. But does this “skin in the game” promote savvy decision making? In this talk, I explore the challenges clinicians and patients face trying to factor the cost of care into medical decisions.


Critical Decisions: How You and Your Doctor can Make the Right Medical Choices Together

Health care has come a long way since the days when doctors withheld bad news and made every treatment decision without regard to patients’ preferences. In today’s world of “patient empowerment,” patients are told the final decision is theirs to make, but how are they supposed to go about making such difficult choices?

In this talk, I reveal how hidden dynamics in the doctor/patient relationship keep us, and our loved ones, from making the best medical choices. From doctors who struggle to explain, to patients who fail to properly listen, countless factors alter the course of our care, too often causing things to go seriously awry.

Weaving stories from my own experience in the field, with my research on medical decision making, I show how we can change the way doctors and patients communicate inside hospitals and medical offices, where thoughtful decision making matters the most. I show how patients and doctors can learn to become partners, and work together to make the right choices. From whether to get surgery to weighing the side effects of a blood pressure medication against its promised benefits, we can finally discover the tools to improve communication, understand the issues, and make confident decisions for our future health and happiness.


Free to be Obese: Market Forces and Consumer Appetites

We are in the middle of an obesity epidemic. Some leading economists a have concluded that this is a fine state of affairs — that people are simply rationally choosing how much to eat, exercise, watch TV, drive their cars and all the other behaviors that have led them to become the largest generation in history.

In this talk, based on my book Free Market Madness, I show why this view is wrong, highlighting what behavioral science has taught us about the unconscious and irrational forces that are making us fat. I then discuss the policy implications of these findings — that we can’t expect the free market, alone, to solve the obesity epidemic. We need to think carefully about appropriate government interventions to improve the health of our population


Illness, disability and emotional resilience: lessons about life from the science of happiness

People often believe that happiness is a matter of circumstance. That they would be miserable if they became seriously ill or disabled. In this talk, based on my book You’re Stronger Than You Think, I discuss people who have faced serious adversity and managed to thrive. I weave their stories together with explanation of the science of emotional resilience, with the hope that I can give people useful insights to help them understand what people do when faced with adversity.


Of Two Minds: Emotion and Reason in Health Care Decision Making

Some medical decisions have been labeled as being “patient sensitive”: the right decision, in such cases depends on patient preferences. One patient will prefer X and another Y, because the two patients have different attitudes toward the goodness and badness of the outcomes associated with X and Y. Ideally, when making such decisions, patients will be informed about their alternatives and (with the help of a medical professional) integrate that information with their preferences to make the “right” choice.

In this talk, based on my book Critical Decisions, I show why people are often not up to this task. They mispredict how health outcomes will affect their lives. They make decisions unaware of how their thoughts and feelings are being influenced by unconscious biases. What can we do to help patients make better decisions? And how should these decisional biases inform our ideas about what it truly means for patients to make free and informed decisions?