Does Speaking Before a Group Terrify You? Two RTs Explain How to Conquer Your Fears!

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Keith Siegel, MBA, RRT, CPFT, FAARC, and Emilee Lamorena, MS, RRT, RRT-NPS, can’t remember how many times they’ve gotten up before a group of people to talk about some aspect of respiratory care, but they both estimate it’s in the hundreds.

As the owner of a respiratory consulting firm and a former speaker of the AARC House of Delegates, Siegel has spoken before groups big and small and says it’s something that has just become ingrained in his 40-year career in the profession.

Lamorena, who serves as clinical manager at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, has given 15 CRCE-credit presentations at regional and national conferences, webcasts, and smaller CRCE events. Plus, she has racked up a lot more experience in this area through in-services and continuing education activities for clinicians at Lurie and by teaching classes for respiratory care students at local colleges.

She also built the curriculum for the RT New Graduate Residency at her facility, and that has required public speaking on her part as well.

How do they do it? We asked them to share their experiences in this Q&A.

Many people hate the idea of getting up to give a presentation. So what would you say to them about why they should go ahead and take the plunge?

Siegel: Presenting to a group can definitely help to boost a person’s career. Giving presentations allows a person to become better known, and it allows them to be seen as an expert in their field.

It also allows the individual to be seen as a leader because he or she is out there helping others grow as professionals. And while they are helping others grow as professionals, they are growing as well. Giving presentations requires a person to remain up-to-date, and each time they speak, they gain experience and confidence.

Lamorena: For me, teaching — including formal presentations and informally at the bedside — was the first and most influential activity that opened up many opportunities for me and launched my career. Early on in my career, people would hear me precepting at the bedside. I would suddenly look up and realize I had an entire crowd in front of me because other clinicians on the unit — RTs, nurses, and MDs — loved the way I explained different modes of ventilation. This soon led to me being invited and asked to teach formal classes for RT, nursing, and physician programs.

Giving presentations helped me improve and refine my clinical communication. When you’re educating others, you must find the best way to explain complex ideas and concepts. You also need to find “your voice” and “confidence.” When you do that, you become much more confident speaking at the bedside to the multidisciplinary team to advocate for care or management strategies you have, educating families, or communicating with patients.

And the best part? Presenting actually makes me smarter. If I am preparing to teach or presenting to a group of people — I make sure I know everything. I always want to sound like a confident expert.

Have you ever suffered from stage fright at the idea of making a presentation? If so, how did you get over it, and how did you feel once you’d finished the talk?

Siegel: I used to get really nervous about giving presentations, but as I gained more experience, my fear of speaking diminished. One technique I would use to get past the nerves was to remind myself that the people you are addressing are most likely there because they want to learn.

I also would only agree to speak about topics that I felt comfortable with, so I didn’t need to worry about looking like I didn’t know what I was talking about. Being very comfortable with the topic is probably the best way not to feel stage fright. Receiving positive feedback after giving a talk goes a long way toward making you more comfortable with the idea of giving presentations.

Lamorena: To be completely honest — no. Of course, I might get pre-show jitters for a moment, but they are usually gone by the time I introduce myself. I’m a performer at heart — dancing, and music — so “being on stage” is a safe and happy place for me. I’m also incredibly passionate — and slightly obsessed — with respiratory care, so giving presentations about topics I am passionate about excites me.

What are your top 3-4 bits of advice for getting over the fear of public speaking, and how do you think each one can help?

Keith Siegel

  • As noted earlier, know the subject you are presenting, and just as importantly, know your audience. You will need to adjust your teaching based on who you are lecturing. You don’t want to be speaking above their level of understanding, nor do you want to waste their time teaching them at a level that is too basic. For example, you probably don’t want to teach a basic blood gas interpretation class to a room full of experienced critical care RTs, but it would be a very appropriate topic for nursing or paramedic students.
  • Be willing to admit that you don’t know the answer to a question. Showing a willingness to say when you don’t know gives you a great deal of credibility. The audience will know that they can trust what you are telling them is accurate.
  • Think about the lectures you have attended that you enjoyed and the ones that you thought were horrible. What did you enjoy about the good ones, and what did you dislike about the bad ones? Emulating the good and avoiding the bad will make you a good presenter, and you will quickly become more comfortable with the idea of public speaking.
  • Finally, to quote the world-famous pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock when he was addressing new mothers in his classic book, Baby and Child Care, ”Trust yourself . . . you know more than you think.” Remind yourself that you know what you are teaching, and the audience wants to hear what you have to say. They are on your side and will appreciate what you teach them.

Emilee Laromena

  • Take a deep breath. You are the expert here. Practice your presentation — a lot. The more you refine your talking points, think about transitions, and rehearse how you’ll engage and move throughout the crowd, the more comfortable you’ll be. Once you see an audience is “getting it” or excited about what you are presenting, it’ll re-energize you.
  • As with everything: Do it more! Practice makes perfect. I’m a big fan of presenting the same talk/topic a few times to get more comfortable with it. The first run is usually a little bumpy. You can adjust your slides or think of better ways to explain topics. Don’t be afraid to give the same talk to different audiences to get more comfortable with the material.
  • Have fun! Remember, even though you’re teaching, you need to keep your audience engaged. It still needs to be a bit of a “performance” — watch the tone in your voice and your energy. Be passionate and excited! Your audience will feed off your energy. They can’t learn if they become bored.
  • Engage your audience. Be creative. Ask questions, tell funny stories, or make jokes. Your audience can be a big source of energy and confidence during the presentation. It also takes the light off you for a moment and gives you a little break.
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