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Giving a presentation

Tuesday August 5, 2014
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Your hands are clammy. Your tongue is dry. You have a sudden urge to make a dash for the door. But first you have to speak. Now, step on that stage with confidence.

Most people dread speaking in public. However, those who have mastered the art of public speaking, or at least made a concerted effort to improve their skills, will experience a greater sense of self-assuredness, and become more visible within their place of employment, their profession and their community. They will also be able to demonstrate a very powerful form of self-expression.

Why is this important for nurses?

The ability to speak well in public is a highly sought after skill in our society. Mastering the art of public speaking will boost your confidence and give you a competitive edge. Those who speak well are perceived as leaders and often get the choice opportunities.

Nursing needs more articulate spokespeople to address the media, the public and other healthcare professionals. It’s a great way to showcase our knowledge and expertise and give a voice to who we are and what we do.

Speaking is a form of teaching, and nurses are natural teachers. We teach all the time in our nursing practice. We have an incredible knack for explaining things.

Years ago, I had to do my first formal presentation for a group of physicians, of all people, about reimbursement issues. After the presentation, one of the physicians complimented me, saying, “You took a lot of complex material and presented it in an easy-to-understand format.” Although I was initially shocked by his positive comment, when I had time to think about it, I realized that we do that all the time in nursing.

You don’t have to be the world’s authority on a subject to impart some useful knowledge. You might think, “Well anyone can go on the Internet or read the latest journals to find out what’s happening on a certain subject.” That may be true, but most people don’t have the time or patience to do so. So they appreciate it when someone does it for them and then presents the information in summary format. Combine that with a handout of resources and interesting facts and figures and your audience will walk away enlightened, enriched and happy.

Do your research

Fortunately, the Internet has made up-to-the-minute research a snap. Whether you’re looking for journal articles, the latest breaking news or historical documents, almost anything you could want is at your fingertips in cyberspace. I also put the word out to my friends, family and colleagues when I am looking for material on a particular topic. I’ll tell them, “If you read anything about osteoporosis, anywhere, send it to me.”

You can access industry journals, as well as mainstream publications, at most college libraries. Be sure to speak with others in the know, too. Conducting even a brief interview with someone with expertise on your topic can yield some valuable information and resources.

Make it interesting

No one wants to hear another person drone on with a laundry list of facts and statistics. Give some facts, but use personal stories and anecdotes as they relate to the subject matter. There is a formula used by many speakers: make a point, give an example, and then tell a story to support that point. Examples and stories bring the material to life. Take these from your own personal experiences and from talking with others.

It is said that your audience will forget much of what you said after the presentation is over, but they will long remember the stories that you told. Develop your own stories; don’t use those of other speakers.

Be sure to rehearse

Draft a copy of your presentation. Speak it out loud, while alone, and revise it as necessary. Then speak your presentation into a voice recorder and play it back. This will allow you to time the program and listen to the content as well as your delivery style. Edit and revise the program as necessary and then re-record. This redone version of the audiotape can serve as a learning tool. You can listen to the tape over and over again while riding in the car, exercising, etc. This will help to give you “ownership” of the material and make it more familiar.

You may consider having someone else listen to it, too, for feedback during the revision phase. Make notes for yourself in outline form on large white index cards for the actual presentation.

Inspire confidence

Although the message is important in public speaking, the messenger is important, too. Dress your professional best when you get in front of an audience. It will make you feel more confident and will give the impression of someone who is credible and in control.

Make good eye contact with your audience from the moment you step behind the podium and throughout your presentation. It gives the impression that you are confident and that you care about the audience. Be aware of your body language. Walk and stand tall with your shoulders back and your head upright. You will feel more confident and you will convey an air of authority.

Use audiovisuals appropriately

Audiovisuals and other technology should support your presentation, not be your presentation. With the availability of technology, some speakers have crossed the line into techno-babble using gimmicks instead of substance.

I recently attended a keynote presentation by a well-known speaker at a big convention. Her PowerPoint presentation was loaded with graphics, animation and words that I couldn’t read from where I was sitting, and cartoons and caricatures that I didn’t understand. Unfortunately in this case, the visuals actually distracted from the speaker. Just because the technology exists doesn’t mean you have to use it to its full capability. Sometimes less is more. Keep the information simple and relevant and use the appropriate type of visuals for the size of audience you have.

How can you learn more?

Experience alone is not always the best teacher. Take some time to study the art and the science of public speaking. Consider joining Toastmasters International or taking a course on the subject at a local community college. Go to the public library or your neighborhood bookstore. There are loads of books on the shelves about how to be a better speaker.

With a little practice and some concentrated study of the finer points of public speaking, you’ll be able to dramatically improve your style and presentation content, not to mention your confidence and poise behind the podium.

For personalized career advice

If you have specific career-related questions, send them to Dear Donna at www.Nurse.com/AsktheExperts/DearDonna for a personalized response.


Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, is Nurse.com’s career advice columnist and president of DonnaCardillo.com.