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Overcoming Fear & Embracing the Podium

If you had told me a year ago that I'd be presenting at the AORN Global Surgical Conference & Expo, I wouldn't have believed you. Like so many others, I have a fear of public speaking. I love personal conversations with my patients and their families, but I hate talking to a group - even if it's just my coworkers at a staff meeting!

So what motivated me to submit an abstract and willingly decide to give a presentation at perioperative nursing's largest event of the year?

Let me give you a little background first. My presentation was entitled “Organ Procurement and the OR Nurse: The Relationship the OR Needs”. I’ve done many organ procurements over the years in the OR, and while it's a sad situation for one family, it can be a day of joy for another. Many times I have heard a family yelling through their tears, “Go get'em buddy!” or, “It’s a great day to save lives!” In the midst of grief, these patients have had their wish to be an organ donor honored by their families, and they are heroes - to us, to their families, and to those receiving their organs.

It may sound odd, but I enjoy doing procurement procedures. Not everyone does, though, and I understand that. I’ve always had positive experiences with the organ procurement team, so it never occurred to me that someone might have a bad experience with them. It was only after I saw a post on social media where a nurse shared their negative experience with an organ procurement team, and then others commented sharing similar experiences, that I realized the relationship wasn't always positive. Honestly, it made me very sad. We should be working together, not against each other.

How many nurses had bad experiences and felt this way about organ procurement teams?

Many nurses I work with do not like doing procurements because they see it as “morbid” or “disrespectful”. Someone even told me, "It’s not normal to like those procedures." These comments, along with the posts I saw on social media, motivated me to be an advocate for positive relationships between the OR and organ procurement teams. I also realized that a mindset change was needed, and this could be possible if I worked to debunk false beliefs and misinformation.

Conveniently, this occurred while AORN was accepting abstracts for the 2024 conference. So, I put my thoughts on paper and decided to submit an abstract. My goal was to help the audience understand:

  • Who the procurement team was and to understand their roles.

  • Exactly what the OR nurse's responsibilities are in a procurement.

  • Statistics on organ donation and to grasp the magnitude of the need based on how many people are waiting for an organ.

I had a personal connection, too.

I teach at a university, and one of the nurses I work with had a daughter who became an organ donor at a young age. This nurse spends a lot of her time sharing her daughter's story locally, and, with her permission, I chose to highlight her daughter's gift of organ donation and used her story to frame my presentation.

I wrote my abstract, ran it by a few friends, and in June of 2023 I hit the submit button! And then I waited. And I waited. And I waited. I remember finally seeing an email notification from AORN after a Halloween event. I immediately opened the email and it started off with the best word: Congratulations!

As I read the email, I was informed that my presentation had been chosen for the virtual conference that occurs after the in-person conference and expo. I was THRILLED!

I was going to be able to get my message out to so many people, so I began working on my presentation material immediately.

Time flew as the holidays approached, and I continued working on my presentation. One night while I was on call, I was working on my upcoming spring course at the university when an email from AORN came across my screen. As I read, I discovered that, due to other speaker's cancellations, my presentation had been selected to be an in-person presentation! I froze. I had to re-read the email several times before I started celebrating and letting my parents and a few close friends know the good news! I was going to be presenting at the AORN Global Surgical Conference and Expo in Nashville!

Over the next couple weeks I kept working on my presentation and editing and re-editing notes when it dawned on me, “Oh my….I've got to get up and talk in front of people.... and like, a WHOLE LOT of people!" We've already established that I don’t like to do that.

What was I going to do? I was so afraid that I would get up there and flub it all, mess up my words, get all flustered, and then make myself look like an idiot. But I was heading to Houston to see a friend at the end of January and I decided to practice in front of her! She’s a good friend and if I messed up in front of her, it was no big deal. She does public speaking for a living which made her the perfect critic, and it worked!

She had some great tips and it felt good to speak the words of my presentation out loud. From then until March, I practiced once a week. Sometimes just in front of the computer, sometimes I set up a makeshift audience with some stuffed animals from around the house, and several times I practiced in front of close friends.

Conquering my fear

Weekly practice helped me conquer my fear. And when it came time to present, I confidently walked up to that podium at 9am on Monday, March 11, 2024. I was surprised to discover that I had no fear or butterflies. There was no shakiness in my speech or in my hands. I had friends in the audience and the familiar faces were comforting amongst the 100 or so people in the room.

I was dreading the Q&A, and I was worried about not hitting the time limit. But, time was on my side and the Q&A turned into a lively discussion between everyone. It was humbling to hear the audience's gratitude for discussing this topic in a positive way and for tackling what many considered a taboo topic in the OR setting.

So what’s the moral of this tale?

If there’s a topic you’re passionate about, get it out there! I promise you there are others out there that feel the way you do. I did not expect that many people to show up to my presentation, but they all showed up to learn. I also found out that many of them shared my passion for organ donation and procurement.

Practice was key, supportive friends were crucial, but there were also some words that I clung to that helped me get through my presentation. In January 2024 at a comedy club in St. Charles, MO, my friend Ryan Beck was performing. We were catching up after the show and I confided my fear of getting up and talking in front of everyone. “You’ll be fine.” He said. I thought, "Some advice from someone who gets up and talks in front of people every night for a living!!" When I scoffed at him he said to me, “Just remember this: everyone in that room is rooting for you."

Those words stuck with me and helped me get through my presentation. So I want to pass them on to you as well. If you're nervous about speaking, hang on to these words: "Everyone in the room is rooting for you." The audience wants you to succeed. They want to hear what you have to say, and they're ready to learn from you. So embrace the podium and share your passion with the world.


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