Me, Make a Presentation?


If you’re like many people, the thought of getting up and speaking in front of a group of your colleagues is enough to elicit a good case of the jitters. But RTs who can move past those initial fears often find that making presentations is not only rewarding but can also boost their career potential. Four respiratory care managers explain why.

Demonstrate your leadership qualities

David Rodriguez, BA, RRT, believes therapists who step up and volunteer to present are viewed by their supervisors as people who not only demonstrate leadership qualities but also show they are willing to go above and beyond their comfort zone to help the department.

“Taking risks such as these do not go unnoticed by the leadership team,” said the director of cardiopulmonary services at Hamilton General Hospital in Hamilton, TX. When it comes time to fill a management position, the team will remember who volunteered and their names will go to the top of the list.

Rodriguez offers these bits of advice when planning a first presentation —

  • Know your audience and the who, what, when, and where of the topic.
  • Keep PowerPoint slides to a minimum and use them only to keep you on track; avoid graphs if at all possible.
  • Practice, practice, practice! Video yourself and make changes to your presentation, paying attention to your body language and idiosyncrasies.
  • Keep the talk concise and allow for questions.

Identify new directions

“A good presentation will often lead to other opportunities, and often help in ways you can’t predict,” said Mike Hess, MPH, RRT, RPFT. “First off, it’s a learned skill; the more you do it, usually the better you get. The better you get, the more people want to hear from you, and that may even lead to travel opportunities.”

For example, therapists who have proven themselves on the small stage in their hospitals may be targeted to present at the state RT conference or even the AARC Congress.

“Those are tremendous networking opportunities, plus chances to see how colleagues in other areas practice,” Hess said.

He also believes presenting on a topic of interest can point you in new directions for your own career path.

“I’m a living example of this,” he said. “I did a presentation on best practices for patient education in COPD about seven years ago, and completely changed the course of my career because of what I learned.” Today Hess is the chronic lung disease coordinator at the Western Michigan University Homer Stryker MD School of Medicine in Kalamazoo, MI, and a leader in the field. “Experience with presentations has given me more confidence in dealing with policy groups, legislators, and other forms of speaking engagements.”

Here are Mike Hess’s words of wisdom for novice presenters —

  • Practice is key to your first presentation. Accept that you’re going to be nervous being up there and focus on knowing your material so that there’s one less thing to worry about.
  • Practice also gives you a chance to start developing your style. It’s the presentations where the speaker is personable, relatable, and engaging that are the most memorable.
  • Tell a story, ask questions of the audience, run through a scenario with decision making — whatever it is, be more than the PowerPoint. You can always give the audience a copy of your slides or another handout with the hard data they aren’t going to remember anyway.

Share your expertise

A willingness to present on a topic demonstrates professionalism, confidence, and expertise, says Kim Bennion, MsHS, RRT, CHC, administrative director of respiratory care at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, UT. “Leaders engage others,” she said. To be seen as a leader, you have to be a leader by example, innovation, and by sharing your expertise with others.”

She believes therapists who volunteer to take on additional assignments such as presentations show themselves as people who can take a calculated risk and make the most of it. “Every good leader knows innovation and calculated risks are what move us forward individually and as a profession,” she said.

Bennion offers this advice to anyone interested in taking on the role of presenter —

  • First, identify your topic and seek clarification on the goals of the group you will be addressing. Clarify the allotted time so you can stay within the time defined.
  • Second, identify your objectives so they know what you’ll be telling them. Keep objectives to generally no more than three.
  • Third, use slides or a concise handout to explain or support each objective. Remember you only have about one minute per slide, so keep them uncluttered with a high volume of words.
  • Fourth, remember they came to you because they feel you were the best expert to present the topic. Try not to use notes but rather your slides as your “script.” However, use bulleted points to trigger your script versus reading the slide or handout to them. They can read the information themselves and don’t need you to do that for them.
  • Fifth, add pictures to slides or handouts. Make slides interactive such as having bulleted points slide in. Use examples to support what you are telling them.
  • Finally, be animated. Move around the presentation area rather than stand strictly behind the podium. Ask thought-provoking questions rather than just spew out information; even if all you want is a show of hands, a head bob, etc. As you complete your presentation, end with a statement that reinforces what you just told them. It can be a quote, a summary statement, or even a picture.

One great example

Robert B. Johnson, MS, RRT, is manager of respiratory care at UAB Hospital in Birmingham, AL. He has a great story to share about one of his therapists who was invited to give a CEU Talk at his hospital’s free CEU Day, a biannual event that attracts between 100-250 RTs each session.

In his own words —

One year I asked one of our lead RTs if she would give a CEU Talk. She said, “I have never spoken in front of a large gathering, but I feel like I need to so I can get over that fear. What should I speak about?”

When asked this I always say: “Speak about what you are passionate about at work, what you know a lot about.”

The lead RT had recently seen a patient’s x-ray with whited out lungs and got an order for IPV. By the end of the day there was major improvement on the x-ray. So, she wanted to give a talk on IPV. She received permission to use the before and after x-rays in her presentation, and we got a set of pig lungs for her to use during the talk.

Everything went great and she received the highest reviews from the RTs attending the CEU Day. Everything went so well that she went on to give her talk at the Alabama State Conference. 

Worth a try

Presenting in front of a group of colleagues may not be for everyone, but for those who take on the challenge, it can open new doors to professional advancement. The next time the opportunity arises, consider giving it a try.