Advice and development

Your first presentation: a nursing student’s guide to speaking at conferences

How presenting can help you develop critical thinking skills, plus tips for preparing

How presenting can help you develop critical thinking skills, plus tips for preparing

Picture: iStock

While completing the final year of my children’s nursing degree, I presented some of my research, educational developments and innovations at conferences.

After a leading clinical academic children’s nurse at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust introduced me to the idea of presenting, I started thinking about which pieces of work would be be suitable.

I thought that disseminating my work would be a fantastic opportunity to develop professionally, while also increasing my confidence and providing me with transferable skills for my nursing career.

Choosing the right starting point

One piece of work I was eager to share was the extended literature review I had undertaken for my third-year dissertation. This explored the barriers and facilitators to adherence with nebulised antibiotics among adolescents with cystic fibrosis in the community.

I also felt passionate about sharing an educational innovation, developed with staff and students at my university, which aims to reduce nursing students’ anxiety when conducting patient handover in clinical settings.

After deciding to present these pieces of work, I searched the internet, including the RCN website, to find out about upcoming conferences where I could present my work. I also spoke to academics at my university to find out about local conferences I could apply for.

‘Patients and professionals alike had questions about my research findings. Responding allowed me to think more critically about my work, and how I could implement my research findings in practice’

As I was new to presenting, I chose two local events for my first attempts – the Nottingham Paediatric Research Showcase, led by Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, and a research, education and practice development conference called Engage, Enthuse, Empower, both of which took place in June.

These conferences had smaller audiences, so were a great starting point. I gained valuable experience of presenting, which meant it wouldn’t be so daunting when I presented at larger, international conferences.

Next was the Researching, Advancing and Inspiring Student Engagement (RAISE) conference in Newcastle, and then the opportunity to share my work on a larger scale came in September, when I presented a poster at the 25th International Mental Health Nursing Research conference in London, organised by the RCN.

Expect questions from a multidisciplinary audience

During these events, I interacted with nurses, physiotherapists, doctors, occupational therapists, service users and research fellows from across the UK, who were really encouraging about my work.

Patients and professionals alike had interesting questions about my research findings. Listening to their thoughts and responding to their queries and recommendations allowed me to think more critically about my work, and how I could implement my research findings in practice.

I was also asked some rather complex questions that were challenging to answer. But this encouraged me to think critically on the spot, a crucial skill for effective nursing practice, and prompted me to think about questions other professionals may ask at future conferences.

My tips for preparing a presentation

  • Be prepared Knowing your subject matter inside out will help calm your nerves
  • Seek support Ask your university lecturers for advice on preparing and delivering your presentation
  • Practice, practice, practice Delivering your presentation to friends, family members or colleagues will improve your confidence and provide you with feedback on what you are doing well and how you could improve
  • Consider possible questions This will help ensure you have a sound knowledge base of your subject area and mean you’re less likely to struggle with a difficult question
  • Make your presentation attractive and engaging Visual aids will help to keep your audience engaged
  • Know your audience This will help you pitch your presentation at the right level
  • Encourage feedback Comments and constructive criticism will enable you to improve your presentation for next time 


Network, communicate and improve your skills

My university lecturers had provided me with invaluable support and advice in preparing for my presentations, so I went back to them to discuss the questions they might ask about my work if they were at a conference. This helped me to consider how I could answer potential questions at future events.

Presenting my work at conferences has been a great learning experience, improving my communication skills and increasing my confidence in public speaking. Hearing what people think about my work, and any recommendations they have, has been particularly useful in helping me expand my educational development project on patient handovers.

For any nursing student, it’s a chance to improve your confidence and develop critical thinking, problem-solving and leadership skills.

More than that, it’s a chance for the future nursing workforce to network with professionals in a variety of roles, sharing best practice and ideas to help improve patient care.

    Rachel Dakin, third-year children's nursing studentRachel Dakin is a third-year children’s nursing student at the University of Nottingham and the RCNi editorial advisory board student representative

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