Prepping presenters: Helping nurses develop poster presentations

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Nurse development

Prepping presenters: Helping nurses develop poster presentations

After reading this article, you will be able to:

  • Identify the benefits of developing poster presentations
  • Discuss the benefits of attending a conference

When Cheryl Burnette, MEd, BS, RN, CPLP, nurse retention coordinator at Centra in Lynchburg, VA, began to develop her program for helping nurses with poster presentations, the spark came from one source: Nurses had plenty of impressive things to talk about. 

“As the nurse retention coordinator, it’s important for me to highlight staff at the bedside and their professional practice,” says Burnette. “They’re the ones who achieve those outcomes.” 

Burnette wanted to find a way to give Centra’s nurses an opportunity to present on those great outcomes. Finding the outcomes wasn’t the problem, as Burnette challenges the staff to take their outcomes to the next level and talk about them in a conference setting. 

However, Burnette wanted a way to enhance opportunities for nurses to present and to coach nurses at the bedside. “When I see a professional colleague presenting for the first time at a national conference and really having an ‘ah-ha’ moment, it’s very gratifying,” she says.  

As Burnette travels from unit to unit talking with staff nurses, meeting with staff in various forums (she is on the nursing leadership team as well), she will hear about an outcome that might make for a good presentation. 

“I’ll say to them, ‘What about writing this up? Presenting? Let’s find a conference. I’m searching for outcomes. We need to tell people about this,’ ” says Burnette. 

Code of ethics 

“Part of American Nurses Association Code of Ethics for Nurses states that we participate in promoting and advancing our professional practice,” says Burnette. “We need to communicate best practices not only to our professional colleagues, but also to the public.”

When Burnette learns of a best practice, she works with leadership to determine who the point person was on a given project. Leadership puts them in contact with each other, and Burnette starts the process of finding a way to share the best practice outside the organization. 

“We find a conference that is appropriate,” Burnette says. Her goal is always to start with a national conference, which might sound intimidating, but there is logic behind this goal. 

“Often they may want to start off at the local or state level, but I want us to start with national. The worst that can happen is you don’t get accepted,” she says. 

If nurses have never prepared an abstract, Burnette will help them through the process to submit it to the conference.  

Once they’ve been accepted to present at a conference, Burnette works with nurses on the design and creation of the poster. Using available internal and external resources helps ensure that the posters are professional and visually appealing. 

Comfort level

The next step is to work on the presentation. Burnette confers with soon-to-be presenters to assess their comfort level and then tailors her coaching to help them prepare for a live audience.  

It isn’t all about the presentation, though—this coaching extends to include talking with people one-on-one about the poster. 

When Burnette coaches presenters, it’s not a formal class. They may practice how they stand at the poster. For some, it’s a very natural process, but others require more help getting comfortable, be it role-play, discussing body language, tone of voice, sometimes even their handshake. They also look for ways to actively engage passersby. 

“I have noticed that if nurses are in fact present at the posters that they may not reach out to the participants,” says Burnette. “Actively reaching out is an opportunity to shine and to present your outcomes.” 

It’s often not about confidence, but more the facilitation of conversation. Most of the nurses representing these best practices are extremely willing and excited to talk about their projects when approached, but once they have some help from a facilitator, they’re on fire. 

Centra staff have presented at the Nurse Management Congress and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, among others, and Burnette has noticed a change in nurses after their first presentation.  

“When they have presented, it is very gratifying,” she says. “It really hits home—we’re doing amazing things here. We’re proud of our organization and our nurses.” 

Highlights of recent presentations include: 

  • Innovative ways to sustain closed staffing
  • Bedside reporting and how it links best practice and patient satisfaction
  • Nurse satisfaction with telemetry monitoring process

It’s all about looking to get the most out of the conference, Burnette says. “When I go to a conference, at the very minimum, I’m going to apply to present,” she says. “That’s the mind-set I want staff to have.” 

This attitude has led to a very high success rate. When representatives from Centra attended the Nurse Management Congress in Chicago, they had four poster presentations out of the approximately 40 presentations made. 

“It is so gratifying to see colleagues present,” Burnette says. “They are rock stars when they do it. When you have a colleague who can articulate about their outcomes and answer questions in real time, it’s a real opportunity for growth in their professional practice.”

Although the program isn’t limited to any one part of the nursing staff, the real focus has been on getting the bedside nurses more exposure, says Burnette. These are the professional nurses practicing and influencing quality patient care, and she wants to promote and support nurses in presenting these outcomes.

Next step

Attending conferences gives experienced nurses a good sense of what it’s like to be a new nurse in 2010. They can also be confidence boosters for newer nurses. “With pub and presenting, they think it’s something they think they can never do,” Burnette says. “If we start at the national level … they talk it up with their colleagues. Communicating our work is part of our professional practice.” 

Once staff nurses have presented, the next step is to become teachers themselves—Burnette calls it a “do one, teach one” process. 

“I want professional staff to also look at their outcomes and think, ‘How can we present this material either at poster, podium, or publication?’ ” she says.

These staff members are acknowledged in front of their peers, from nurse retention to nursing leadership. 

“I’ve been a nurse for almost 30 years, and it’s so gratifying to see colleagues discuss their professional practice and outcomes in a national forum,” says Burnette. 

Centra’s success placing nurses in key positions has expanded beyond poster presentations. The Virginia Nurses Association has a director-at-large position intended for a nurse who has been in practice three years or less. The role was filled previously by a Centra nurse, and as her term neared completion, the organization wanted to make sure one of its nurses was again selected as a candidate for the role. Centra put forth a new graduate with a lot to offer, and she was voted in successfully for the latest term. 

“It doesn’t cost any money to identify the outcomes and to coach the staff,” Burnette says. Costs for poster materials are minimal—she considers them “marketing costs.” And the mileage the facility can get out of a successful poster (e.g., winning an award at a national conference) is immeasurable. 

In Burnette’s experience, a successful poster or podium presentation has led to publishing articles on the same topic, additional speaking engagements, and showing  other nurses that they too can find success within their own programs.


Adapted from HCPro’s Advisor to the ANCC Magnet Recognition Program®, May 2010, HCPro, Inc.