What Are You “Saying”

While getting my nails done a few weeks ago my manicurist had CNN on the television, Donald Rumsfeld was talking about the United States response to one of the many violent events occurring in the world today. It struck me how eloquent this man was under pressure. I wondered how could this translate into my own deportment and why don’t EMS providers sound like this?

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Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines eloquence as: discourse marked by force and persuasiveness; the art or power of using such discourse, or the quality of forceful or persuasive expressiveness. These are all requisite to be even moderately successful health care providers and advocates for our patients. How can we convince a truly sick patient that they NEED to be in the hospital to curtail serious or deadly consequences if we don’t have the method to communicate this to them? How do we demonstrate our professionalism and passion to other related professions, healthcare providers, and politicians that also play a hand in advancing or restraining the future of EMS if we are not able to communicate well? Presentation is as important in EMS as it is in the business or entertainment setting. Good presentation is not just about tucking your shirt in and wearing new boots if you open your mouth ruin the illusion.

 Public Speaking

It’s not as difficult as it seems to “sound smart.” There are a few ways we can all start to improve our vocabulary.

  1. Stop using profanity. Cursing does not illustrate your point, shock, make you seem important, or benefit you in any way. It really just agitates people and that doesn’t really work positively most times.
  2. Be aware of your tone and volume. How you speak may be more important than what you are actually saying. I used to work in an area with an excellent provider, but the care he gave was often missed by everyone on scene because his tone was harsh and the volume of his voice was much too loud. Many patients were disturbed and several asked for him to “stop yelling at me.” It doesn’t matter if you are the best provider in the department if your care is marred by your tongue.
  3. Use appropriate (and correct) terminology. If you want to be treated like a medical professional, you should sound like one. Honestly, you should also write your documentation like one. If you don’t remember medical terms from your days of EMT school, bust out your book and study or take a course on medical terminology. This small investment of time and money will go a long way in increasing your stature with other medical providers.
  4. Think before you speak. Many times our vocabulary faux pas is not related to the words we misuse, but because we don’t police our tongues and end up offending people. This can lead to more than disciplinary action, inciting violence on scene and placing you and your partner in danger.
  5. Listen to understand, not to respond. When you are speaking with patients or their families listen to what they have to say so you can understand what the true problem is, not just your perception. Then you can respond appropriately and sound professional. Sometimes people speak to us because we are the only ones they trust to listen without passing judgment. We in turn are often entrusted with their life experiences and they end up imparting a gift to us.
  6. Read. Reading might seem incongruous with improving your speaking abilities yet how do you learn new words and ideas without reading? Read things you wouldn’t normally read. Read from all topics, not just related to EMS although you should try to keep up with current events within our field.
  7. Look the part. I attended a seminar at a prestigious university where a speaking coach was discussing how to have your message heard. The very first thing she talked about was visual presentation. People make their decision about whether or not you are worth listening to within milliseconds. That may not seem “fair”, but it is what we have to work with when attempting to deliver our message and treat our patients.

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The list above is not exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start. It won’t be easy, but changing your vocabulary and way of speaking is possible with mindfulness and persistence. Don’t give up if it feels like the change is long in coming, it takes 3 weeks to make a habit. Changing how you speak won’t only improve your professional life, but can transform your entire life for the better.

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The Pit of Fear

The true terror began when I saw the room.

A friend sent me a photo of the room I was to be speaking in at my first national EMS conference just a few days before the event. As soon as I saw it the pit of mindless fear opened in my belly. Until that point, I almost felt as if I was preparing a program for someone else to present. That made it easier to quell the relentless voice in my head asking, “What if you mess up?” If you thought the world of EMS was small, I would call the circle of speakers at EMS conferences miniscule. Everyone truly knows everyone. If I blew it, this was the only chance I would ever get.

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Previously, I had been encouraged to submit to other conferences, but I was not ready. Trepidation and doubt nailed my feet to the floor. Submission dates passed and the encouraging voices waned. I had no intention of applying to this conference either, but someone reminded me about the deadline the afternoon it was due: New Years Eve. I heard somewhere that what you do on New Years Eve is what you will do all year. I submitted, not thinking I would ever get accepted. Imagine my surprise when I received an acceptance letter.

Now was the time to put up or shut up. My chosen topic was The Silent Killer: EMS Suicide. I wondered why on earth I picked such a sensitive topic to talk about at my first event. I had previously had mixed reactions from different providers during discussions including quite a loud, angry discussion at what had originated as a fun outing.

painOf course, I had writer’s block for weeks while I was supposed to be updating my presentation. Intermittently, when I thought of me in front of the audience, all I could imagine was disaster. A good friend encouraged me to close my eyes and imagine every detail to the perfect performance: what I would wear, how my hair was styled, what the Power Point would look like behind me, how full the room was, and most importantly: the positive audience reaction. Thankfully, I also had an honest mentor that when I thought I was done (YES!), returned my slides back to me with more comments. His suggestions improved my presentation exponentially. If you intend on moving up in this business, clinical or otherwise, you need to find a mentor in the area you wish to excel in.

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The day to present finally came. I woke up with my stomach tight and my attempt at breakfast was poorly received. I didn’t go on for another 6 hours! It was going to be a very long day indeed. I watched some other classes and found my mind wandering back to my subject matter while I wondered aimlessly around the host hotel and eventually decided to review one more time. It comforted me to run through the slides and make notes like someone with OCD arranges their desk over and over.

998572_10151784552212290_476214675_nAbout 20 minutes before I was scheduled to start, I went to find my assigned room and attempt to mentally prepare and put on the business face. I felt like an imposter when I walked to the front of the room to load my presentation. Everyone’s eyes felt like an accusation, “You don’t belong up there!”

The room started to get a little fuller and it was time to begin. I opened my mouth to introduce myself and the fear that had plagued me for weeks dissipated with every returned smile from the audience. I spoke and spoke, people nodding in agreement, smiling at anecdotes, silent when convicted. I shared secrets I only realized I had days before, the vulnerability uniting us, members of a secret club, no longer alone. I concluded and people came up to hug me and shake my hand. One young woman came up to me, speechless only able to utter, “ I just wanted to say thank you.” My friends surrounded me as I surrendered the lectern to the next speaker, the terror of just an hour ago growing into an indescribable high. And as I walked out of the room the joy and excitement bubbling from my heart I wondered, “When can I do it again?!?”

The Author Speaking

Maybe this is how you feel about public speaking. Maybe you think, “ I could NEVER do that.” Is there a topic you are passionate about? If you don’t talk about it, who will? I’m just a provider with an interest that stood up and said something.

What do you have to say?