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Professional development: Ease nurses’ public speaking jitters


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

“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—a redesignated facility in 2006—and colleague Debra Belgard, MS, RN, CNOR.

“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, by handing out flyers during nursing meetings, and through 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 in length. 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, which applies to Force of Magnetism 14: Professional development under Component II: Structural empowerment. When a nurse climbs the clinical ladder, he or she is encouraged and expected to give presentations in and outside 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,” says 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.

Organizations pursuing MRP designation or redesignation are expected to conduct research projects under Component IV: New knowledge, innovations, and improvements. Often, the successful outcomes of a research project lead to staff nurses submitting an abstract to a conference. If the abstract is accepted, the nurse will speak on their research topic in front of a large audience—a frightful experience for many.

Belgard and Leydon educate nurses during NurseSPEAK on how to develop 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 effective 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.”