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Public Speaking: An often over-looked skill for diabetes educators

May 26, 2015

I am nearing completion of the doctoral program and have begun preparing for the final dissemination of my project. The anticipation has been nerve-wrecking, and I had a dream where everything that could go wrong went wrong. The problem? Presenting to a group of other healthcare professionals. 

I do well when talking to a group of patients and feel at ease and confident...however, when I have to speak to a group of my peers, I start to fall apart. I prepare well for the presentations, and I am confident in the content I present, but I always get nervous. I experience anxiety and palpitations, and I tend to talk too fast. My daughter had an interesting take on the issue. She said that with patients, I am the expert and they don’t challenge the content I present. With peers, I am expected to be professionally challenged because that is how the profession grows.

I am amazed to see speakers who are so eloquent. I used to wonder if speaking to a group of individuals was a gift people are born with or if it is a skill which can be learned. I think it is a little bit of both. In the last three years, I have learned some speaking skills. In class, we had to critique each other’s presentations to learn some of the things we could improve upon. My dilemma is that I am not looking forward to speaking in front of large groups of individuals, yet there is an expectation that I will be doing such presentations in the future.

Public speaking is a necessary skill for diabetes educators, and it's not an easy one. We are expected to talk to a wide range of audiences with very different experiences and expertise. But how do you overcome the fear of speaking and become an eloquent presenter?

How do you deal with "stage fright?" Can you share any tips for presenting to large groups of individuals and different audiences? Please share!


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  1. May 20, 2010

    I believe many diabetes educators struggle in the same way as you because we are so used to speaking to patients. I think we must PLAN to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations (like presenting to peers) regularly to cultivate competence in public-speaking. I believe fluency and "comfort in the skin" comes after that... I love public speaking, but I've been doing it long before I became a diabetes educator. I was a member of the debate team in high school, which required a lot of extemporaneous speaking. We were also exposed to rapid-fire questions, which can happen when fielding questions from peers or other healthcare professionals. As educators who desire to be poised for whatever the future brings, I think cultivating the gift of (professional) gab is an invaluable and marketable skill.
  2. May 12, 2010

    Much comes from confidence in the subject, ability to convince experts there is more to managing diabetes than titrating insulin and the correct mix of medications. I KNOW I can manage diabetes, but am I able to support my teaching stategies? professional want "numbers" outcomes, adherence, Little changes are sometimes the best the patient is able to do at that time. How do you present that to a panel of experts who deal in numbers?
  3. May 10, 2010

    Maria, thank you for the advice. Since I posted this blog, I have presented my scholarly project and did great. I spoke with passion and knew the material well. I realized no one in the audience knew my project better than I did. I had notes prepared and completely forgot to use them because I did not need them. I have now graduated and am proud to announce I am now Dr. Iris Sanchez.
  4. May 08, 2010

    In March of 2010, I was invited to present on the Healthy People 2010 held in Loma Linda. I was going into a panic as the conference got near. I called a friend for advice. He is a lawyer and writer as well as a very eloquent speaker. He suggested the following: 1) know your audience well, 2) now your facts very well, 3) keep your speech short, simple and interesting, and most important, 4) speak from the heart because audiences love genuine, honest and passionate presentations. Just be yourself! because being yourself is natural. I hope this helps. It helped me and continues to help me until now. Maria Blanca Tyson, RN..
  5. May 05, 2010

    This morning I heard a former student, now a PhD candidate, give a presentation in her field of transitions in geriatric oncology, in "Shared Care Model." She told me that my e-mail of yesterday was helpful & meaningful. She and I had talked and she said she was anxious about her presentation today. I had written: "Always remember that absolutely no one in any audience has given your topic as much attention as you have, at least not in last period of time in way you have. That's my mantra for presenting. And, presenting always gives you a lift; it's satisfying." True in any field. Ellen
  6. May 04, 2010

    Jeanette, I will keep the brisk walk idea in mind. You made me wonder why opportunities became more sporadic. Do you make attempts to seek speaking opportunities or are there certain barriers you have encountered? Please share
  7. May 04, 2010

    I can completely relate to your dilemma. My experience at graduate school certainly helped at giving me the opportunity to speak to my peers, as your experience did. Unfortunately, as time went by I found the opportunities came sporadically and my stage fright returned. Regardless of experiences, I found the single biggest factor that helped was taking a brisk walk prior to speaking. It seemed to take the edge off the nerves. Hope this helps.
  8. May 03, 2010

    John, thank you for your advice. I had not thought about TOASTMASTERS. You are correct about practicing with your loved ones. I have found it extremely helpful to practice with my friend who is also a CDE. She usually tears my presentations apart asking me every imaginable question.... by the time I show up for a presentation, I usually have every angle covered.
  9. May 03, 2010

    Linda, what a great idea! Do you have a lot of experience speaking? Do you feel passion is a crucial element of speaking? I know I love to hear passionate speakers.
  10. May 03, 2010

    Initially practice with your spouse or significant other. They are the ones who will most likely be most critical of your presentation. Once you can satisfy them, you are well on your way to increasing your comfort level with an outside audience. Organizations such as TOASTMASTERS are helpful. Being a member of a non-scientific club ( Rotary, Exchange) is also helpful in building confidence and communication skills.
  11. May 01, 2010

    I was told by one of my instructors in nursing school, many moons ago, that when faced with a particularly uncomfortable situation with a patient, to "see" that patient as my own mother. Then, I would be able to deliver the best care possible, in spite of the job to be done. It worked! I, too, had difficulty speaking to my peers. But I developed a little trick that has worked over the years. I view the audience the same as a new one-on-one patient encounter. You know, the one who didn't want to be there or who thinks the doctor has made a mistake in sending them to you. I am confident that my presentation has information that will challenge at least a few in the audience, but I concentrate on personalizing their reason for being there. Which is to take home a message that will help them better educate their patients, or family members, or even themselves on some aspect of living with diabetes. My reward and excitement comes from the questions at the end, validating my goal that someone was challenged.
  12. Apr 30, 2010

    I am interested in attending the AADE convention in San Antonio, TX and looking to share expenses (hotel mostly). Planning to be there Aug 4th, 5th and 6th. geetha krishnan,rd,cde
  13. Apr 29, 2010

    I understand this concern! I always try to focus on the things I have a better understanding of than my audience. Of course, I wouldn't sign up to give a talk on something I know less about than they do! Through practice, I have gotten a lot better at handling situations where I am asked something I don't know. One great suggestion from a professor years ago was, "That's a great question, I haven't really given that much thought, " or "I'll have to think about that one." I also ask if anyone in the audience knows the answer, and if not I always promise to look it up/ask someone and get back to them. I always think the best speakers are the ones who freely give out their contact information and actually get back to you if you contact them! Also, whenever possible, use humor in your presentations!

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