For me, public speaking has been one of the most challenging aspects of my nursing career. I can remember absolutely dreading delivering the nursing handover at the end of the shift, and feeling as though I was fumbling my way through, feeling myself tense, and often red faced with nerves. Because of this fear of public speaking, I have spent many many years studying and learning from others, the most effective strategies to speak in public.
Over the years, I have taken comfort in knowing that most human beings fear public speaking and some people fear it so much that they would do anything to avoid it. For us as nurses, we can’t avoid it because it is a key part of our role, be it through speaking in handover, patient education, delivering hospital or community staff education sessions, formal presentations, meetings, conference presentations, lectures…the list goes on and on. Below I offer you some inspiration on how to deliver an effective presentation no matter what the occassion.
Firstly, I would like to acknowledge that a great deal of what I have learned and now use is inspired and learned from a professional voice coach called Dr Louise Mahler. Having retired from a career as an Opera singer, Louise studied a PhD in the mind-voice connection and developed a training pathway for speaking in public. Louise offers a number of services for people seeking to master the craft of public speaking and these include, amongst other things, weekend retreats and coaching sessions, and she also recently released a book. There are a number of youtube videos that Louise has developed on specific aspects of public speaking. For more information, visit Louise’s website at: https://louisemahler.com.au
So, now for my tips on delivering a presentation.
Background points to consider:
1. Presenting isn’t easy and delivering a presentation is not a time to be relaxed, so don’t expect to feel relaxed when you are doing it. Infact, you need to keep your wits about you in order to respond effectively to questions and to feel the vibe of the audience and alter you pitch or tone or content accordingly.
2. The key to success is planning and preparation. As part of your planning consider the following:
a. who is the audience that you are presenting to and what do you think they want to know?
b. how much time have you got?
c. who are the other speakers either side of your presentation and how can you link your presentation to theirs?
d. what are the three key points you wish to get over in your presentation?
e. what is the main objective of your presentation? This question is critical, particularly for the aftermath of your presentation, when you will be reflecting on how it went. Often, we judge our performance of public speaking based on how it felt and this is a very subjective metric to use. Instead of how it felt, consider whether you met your objective in terms of getting your key points across to your audience – if you achieved your objective then you are a winner!
3. Prior to delivering your presentation practice the whole thing. I regularly speak my whole presentation out loud and record myself doing so on my computer. I then play it back and see what needs to change.
4. You are the instrument of the presentation, so it is very important how you come across and what you do with your body during the presentation. Your instinct might be to try to hide yourself by crossing your legs, arms, reading from your notes and not making eye contact, but actually that will reduce the flow and interaction between you and your audience. No matter how you are feeling, it is important to stand openly infront of your audience, ideally not behind a lectern, smile and do your best to keep breathing. I tend to move around quite a lot when I speak in public and this helps me feel more relaxed. Louise Mahler taught me, when in doubt or feeling lost, simply ‘smile like a lunatic’ – I do that a lot these days!
5. If you are using powerpoint then keep the written information on it to no more than 6 lines, preferably three lines. People learn by different means, visual, auditory and kinaesthetic (feeling/sensing) and so I like to use powerpoint for the visual learners and the kinaesthetic learners who might see and feel something from the words or images displayed.
So, how to deliver a strong presentation….
6. Start your presentation by introducing yourself briefly and as soon as you can tell the audience for how long you will be speaking and on which topic. For example you might say ‘My name is Jane Currie, I am a nurse practitioner and academic with a background in emergency and military nursing. For the next 15 minutes I am going to share with you the findings of a study focused on privately practising nurse practitioners in Australia. I aim to do this by discussing, three key aspects, 1) the development of nurse practitioners in Australia 2) the impact of nurse practitioners on patient access to care and 3) the challenges facing nurse practitioners in Australia.’
7. If you can, you might consider relating your topic area to a short story that might hit home to the audience. So for my talk on privately practising nurse practitioners I might tell a short story about a patient that I had cared for in private practice and how the establishment of the NP service had increased access to care for that patient.
8. In the main body of the presentation talk through each of your three main points. If you wish to you can move your body across the ‘stage’ area when you discuss each of the three topics. Topic one could be that you take a step to the left. When you get to topic two you might take a step to the right, topic three a further step to the right. For the visual learners this will be quite effective because as you move your body, they will instantly know that you are moving onto the next topic.
9. The rule of three! Most things in life work well in three’s….three blind mice, three kings, start middle end! So when talking through your three topics, have three main points about each of them. As you go through each point, you could count them off using the fingers on your hand, one, two, three.
10. At the conclusion of your presentation remind the audience of the three topics you discussed. Before you close your presentation, return the audience to your story at the start of the presentation to remind them of the significance of your presentation.
11. Thank the audience for their attention, smile like a lunatic!
So, in summary, breathe as much as possible, smile as much as possible, move around the stage and use your body language to signal to certain aspects of your talk, open body language and prepare, prepare, prepare! Good luck,