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Ease nurses’ public speaking jitters

Professional development

Ease nurses’ public speaking jitters

After reading this article, you will be able to:

  • Discuss how NurseSPEAKSM helps nurses become comfortable speaking in public
  • Explain how public speaking benefits nurses’ professional development

Many staff nurses at The Methodist Hospital System in Houston have experienced the racing heart, the sweaty palms, and the shaky voice that often accompany speaking in public. But those moments of apprehension and fear are coming to an end thanks to one program: NurseSPEAK.

“Overcomingfear of public speaking is a great challenge for many people,” says LaDia Sumlin, RN, BSN, staff nurse at Methodist. “ButNurseSPEAK provides a comfortable, warm, and friendly atmosphere toaccommodate all.”

The NurseSpeak program was developed by Terry Leydon, RN, MSHCM, CPHQ, an ANCC Magnet Recognition Program® coordinator at Methodist, and colleague Debra Belgard, MS, RN, CNOR.

Leydon and Belgard became involved in an outside organization that helps people become comfortable and competent when speaking in public and discovered the benefits a similar program could have with Methodist nurses.

“We developed NurseSPEAK to help nurses improve speaking skills, build confidence, and grow professionally,” says Belgard.

Start speaking

NurseSPEAK, a monthly hour-long class, is open to nursing and nonnursing staff members. Belgard and Leydon mentor the attendees, which have ranged in number from five to 18, and provide light refreshments and door prizes.

To publicize the program, Belgard and Leydon initially promoted NurseSPEAK in the hospital’s nursing newsletter, in flyers that were handed out during nursing meetings, and in the CEO’s weekly e-mails that are sent to staff members organizationwide.

“Now, the program has its own standing corner in the nursing newsletter that details when the next meeting is and other updates, which helps us draw nurses and nonnurses to the meetings,” says Leydon.

As part of NurseSPEAK, nurses are expected to present six speeches. The first speech, called “Get to know you,” has nurses tell a story from their life. The speech must have a beginning, middle, body, and conclusion, says Leydon. Attendees are also called on randomly throughout the program to answer impromptu questions as a way of encouraging them to speak up.

“We have some nurses who come into a meeting and they literally don’t want to talk at first—they just want to listen,” says Leydon. “With speaking, you have to practice, practice, practice, and relax, relax, relax! Once you’ve practiced, you’re going to have confidence and deliver the material in a positive way.”

The second speech is a prepared speech on a research topic (e.g., prescription drug abuse), which must be three minutes long. The remaining speeches continue to focus on the research topic, increasing in length and developing into PowerPoint presentations. Attendees are given a Flash drive on which to upload their PowerPoint presentations.

“This way, they are completely prepared to take their presentation to a conference or wherever they may be presenting,” says Belgard.

After each speech, feedback from all attendees is presented verbally to the nurse by using the commonly known “sandwich technique.”

“We always open with positive feedback, provide something that requires improvement, and then close with positive feedback,” says Leydon.

Tie into professional development

NurseSPEAK is tied into Methodist’s clinical ladder program. When a nurse climbs the clinical ladder, he or she is encouraged and expected to give presentations in and outside of the organization. This can be traumatic for a nurse who is not comfortable with public speaking, says Leydon. “We want to make sure our nurses are [professionally] developed enough to represent the hospital in a positive way,” she says.

NurseSPEAK is also tied into the clinical ladder program by allowing nurses who attend the program to take on the facilitator role. Belgard and Leydon are happy to occasionally hand over the reins of the meeting to staff nurses.

“As a staff nurse climbing the clinical ladder program, you are going to be in meetings and be in a position where you need to know how to run a meeting,” explains Belgard. “Giving nurses the opportunity to become a facilitator is another positive aspect to growing them professionally.”

Polish your speaking skills

Another benefit of the NurseSPEAK program is how it ties into nursing research. Often, the successful outcomes of the research project lead to staff nurses submitting an abstract to a conference. If the abstract is accepted, the nurse will speak on his or her research topic in front of a large audience—a frightful experience for many.

But Belgard and Leydon also educate nurses during NurseSPEAK on how to develop certain skills that will enable them to ease those speaking jitters and interact with the audience. These skills include how to use stage space, maintain eye contact, show excitement, and make efficient use of body movement.

“I really try to help nurses form that relationship with the audience by interacting with them,” says Leydon. “[We work on many skills], such as don’t stand with your arms crossed, don’t stay focused in one direction, and make sure eye contact is spread throughout the room.”

Attendees are also taught how to become aware of their sentence structure. Belgard and Leydon focus on making sure nurses string their sentences together and do not use filler words during presentations such as “you know,” “um,” or “though.”

NurseSPEAK has helpedstrengthen my self-confidence in communication skills within my profession as an RN,” says Sumlin. “The program has given me the opportunity to share my thoughts and feelings on many topics from healthcare issues to common day-to-day concerns people may have.”



Adapted from HCPro’s Advisor to the ANCC Magnet Recognition Program®, June 2009, HCPro, Inc.