By Lucy Osborn MACN (ENL)
This column, The Scrubs that Fit, is all about the highs and lows of being a junior nurse, from the perspective of an ACN Emerging Nurse Leader. The aim of these blog posts is to help ease the transition from university to grad years and beyond. Find Lucy on ACN’s neo and on Instagram @aussie_nurses.
This article is for those who are looking for a few tips and tricks for public speaking — whether it be improving confidence to voice yourself at work, getting through that oral presentation at uni or presenting in front of a large crowd. My nursing specific presenting experience starting whilst I was a third year nursing student when I was lucky enough to fly to The Solomon Islands to present at the 2016 South Pacific Nurses Forum. Since then I have presented at the very same conference in The Cook Islands, ACN’s National Nursing Forum, numerous times at universities across Australia speaking about my personal journey and most recently within my own work place for in-services. I try and present formally at least three to four times a year.
I have always loved public speaking and it is something I have ensured is part of my job. But loving it and learning how to do it are very different. I still get nervous for presentations, talking to groups of all sizes and even sometimes doing simple things like ward rounds. It’s important to have some backup strategies if you find yourself getting caught up with your words. Here are some of my personal tips.
I used to be one of those presenters that would wing it. More than often I was so well versed in my presentations that I could just speak without a script, so sometimes I would run off tangents, and though I am still well versed, my projects have important detail and information that I don’t want to forget. Recently, whilst presenting at the South Pacific Nurses forum in The Cook Islands, I tried a new technique. I knew the crowd would be quite large and there were plenty of important people there to impress. Instead of winging it, my co-presenter and I spent a few hours practicing to near perfection and surprisingly it worked a treat for me. I was able to slow my speech to a good pace without losing my spot in my script. When winging it I would nearly always get over excited and speak waaaay too quickly.
- Speak with passion
It is so important to speak with passion when you trying to capture an audience. If you are engaged and invested in what you are sharing, others will be too. Use changes in tone, positive body language and engage with your audience. Your topic is one you are proud of so let the audience see that it is a win. Some of the most interesting presentations I have been too are ones on topics I never cared about until I was enthralled by the passion of the speaker.
- Understand your audience
Before speaking assess what type of audience you’ll be presenting to. See if you can gage what sort of interaction they will respond best to and see if you can make your presentation relatable to the majority of your audience. This also includes researching the local history to ensure your welcome sentence correctly acknowledges the traditional owners of the land.
- Use direct eye contact
I find I get a great response and concentration from the audience when I look at them. I make direct eye contact with as many people as I can to draw them in, make them feel like it just them and I in the room. I especially do this with special guest or people who I want to really notice me. It’s important not to stare at one person the entire time, draw them in with eye contact and then move to another person, chose a few to flow between and include the rest of the audience by skimming across the floor. This is a move I use to show my command over a topic.This is a really tricky skill to have and don’t be discouraged if you find this difficult or impossible, keep practicing! If you find yourself becoming distracted by eye contact and lose your place, try looking at the top of someone’s head in the back row, this will give the appearance of looking directly at the audience. I started this skill by looking at someone familiar in the audience that I knew would meet my eyes with a friendly smile and support. This tip helps me feel calm and encouraged whilst I talk.
- Prepare in advance for questions from the audience
Some forums will give you the option to have some questions from the audience, so make sure you have some likely questions with answers ready. This will help you swiftly answer questions which is an easy way to show your audience you know your topic well. If you are anxious about question time, try asking a friend or colleague in the audience to ask the first question to get the ball rolling. If you are planning to present this topic elsewhere it is also a good practice to write the questions down and if relevant add the answer into you presentation for next time.
- Look the part, feel the part
I always try to dress to impress when I speak. Business attire does not come naturally to most clinical nurses, but I’ve enjoyed going on a brief shopping trip to get some stage worthy and conference worthy outfits. I usually stick to covered shoulders and knees, modest but fun. Stay true to your own style but keep in mind professionalism. I’m someone who rarely wears makeup, so I tend to stick to a fresh face, with some light mascara and a natural shadow.As a society we are moving away from judging from appearance (YAYY! finally) and you get to choose what feels right for you. I find that body energy is more important than physical appearance so be happy, bright, caring and passionate, like all us nurses are anyway.
- Nerves are good, but don’t let them win
Everyone gets nervous, especially when you are speaking with passion and enthusiasm. Being nervous shows that you care and will also help stimulate your body to perform at its peak. Just do not let these nerves get so overbearing you change your behavior to accommodate them. My routine before stepping on stage is a quick run through of my script and important parts, a sip of water and five deep breaths which helps slow my heart rate. If you aren’t confident, ‘fake it until you make it’ works a treat for me. Stay within your own head space and don’t start questioning what the audience is thinking or feeling whilst speaking.
Public speaking isn’t for everyone but I would encourage everyone to give it a try, who knows when the skills may come in handy. And remember, these are just my suggestions, I would love to hear some of your tips in the comments below!