AAMI News August 2018

Career Center: Sterile Processing Expert Overcomes Fear to Find Success as Public Speaker

Jo M. Wood
Jo M. Wood is the sterile processing training and staff development manager at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. She also is the vice president of the Massachusetts Chapter for Central Service Professionals, an executive board member for the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management, and a member of several AAMI standards committees.

A few years ago, you would not have been able to convince me that standing up and speaking to a room full of people I did not know was a good idea or that one day I would actually enjoy it. It was not until my passion for sterile processing pushed me to overcome my fears that I was able share my experiences with others.

My first public presentation originated from the first article I ever published, which detailed my experiences responding to the Boston Marathon bombing as a technician. My passion for the topic drove me to immediately accept the invitation even though I was just as quickly overrun with fear. I reached out to my professional network, mainly board members of the Massachusetts Chapter for Central Service Professionals, for advice, and they gave me some great pointers: make sure you do not put too much text on your slides, speak slowly, and be confident because you know the material inside and out.

All of that and more was true, and helped me get through that first attempt at public speaking. After a little while, I realized that the more I shared my knowledge and passion with groups of people I didn’t know, the easier giving these presentations became—to the point where I now often serve as a subject matter expert and travel to speak at conferences.

So, what made that change possible? Here are a few other tips I have picked up since that first presentation.

Have People in Your Corner

Along with the amazing people in my professional network who have coached and mentored me, I also have an amazing husband who has been supportive and always lends an ear when I need to run my presentation by someone. He is not in the sterile processing industry (although he can tell you all about ST79!), but he still provides some of the most valuable feedback, ensuring that the order of the information makes sense and that I am telling a story.

Engage with Your Audience

I often add personal stories to my presentations to build a deeper connection with my audience. I also have found that asking questions of everyone in the room is a great way to get to know the group. Additionally, asking questions recaptures their attention if it has started to wander and helps break up the routine of taking notes.

Practice, Practice, and Practice Some More

Running through my slides dozens of times has become part of my preparation routine. I have found that audio taping myself practicing a presentation is a phenomenal way to correct things I have a habit of missaying and that videotaping allows me to ensure my body language supports my message.

Don’t Try to Memorize Every Word

There is something to be said for people who are able to memorize word for word an entire hour-long presentation. I learned very quickly that I am not one of those people, and when I try to be, it does more harm than good. Memorizing information to that level of detail brings an immense amount of stress that only adds to my nervousness on the day of the presentation. My presentations are always extemporaneous, which allows me to tailor my message to the audience and their reactions. This saves me from losing people’s attention and having them fall asleep while I am speaking.

Along with connecting me to amazing people from across the country, public speaking has given me so much more confidence in my career, helped improve my communication skills in my daily work, and helped grow my career. I believe it also supports my personal “mission statement” to be in a position where I can help effect the most positive change. In the short amount of time that I have been presenting, I have come to realize the potential positive impact that I can have on others’ careers, and this is something I hope to be able to continue for years to come.