How I Overcame My Nerves to Represent ISMP at an International Pharmaceutical Science Conference
"Unfortunately, I will not be able to present at the 78th FIP World Congress of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, but my student can present on my behalf."
My mind started racing. Which student did my mentor mean? Surely not me! I am the international fellow, but I can't give a presentation on behalf of the famous Michael Cohen. This guy is a legend in the field of Medication Safety.
Two days later, Mike Cohen called me to his office. "The International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) wants us to do a presentation and you will be representing the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP)", he said.
I froze for a second. Then, with a trembling voice, I managed an “Okay.”
I realized my mentor believe I could do this. If so, why should I doubt myself?
And that’s when I began preparing for my presentation: Tools for Pharmacists.
I was scheduled to present on September 3, 2018 during a session for FIP and World Health Organization titled Patient and Medication Safety: Meeting the Challenge. For reviews and edits of my slides, I consulted a couple of my preceptors at ISMP. Then I scheduled daily rehearsals.
On Wednesday evening, August 29th, I took my last breath of faith and boarded a plane bound for Europe.
First Stop: World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva
WHO headquarters, with its pharmacovigilance center, was eye-opening and informative. I toured the WHO campus, got a lot of free books on patient safety and bought some stuffed viruses—plush toys, that is, from the gift shop.
But Geneva wasn’t the only stop on the way to Glasgow. I decided to spend the weekend with nephews Noa and Aeden in Belgium. They served as a distraction from my nagging worries.
I had never done an international presentation or attended a FIP Congress before.
International Collaboration to Advance Safety in Medicine
The Congress brings together pharmacy practitioners and pharmaceutical scientists from all over the world. There, we would collaborate to extend the assistance of pharmacists to patients and health systems, so they can optimize the benefits of medications.
And for me, this was also a time to network.
I worried that I would be forgettable, given all the big names in the room. Yet I resolved to make connections with medication safety experts from around the globe. I planned to attend most of the safe medication practice sessions.
"Where Are You From?"
Did I have the courage to approach experts and initiate conversations? I did, but only because ISMP is a globally known leader in the field of medication safety. I introduced myself as an ISMP fellow. I used information on our website to start conversations. Then, I found yet another reason to be nervous. Hands up if you are an immigrant – you get it. I hoped my presentation would come through clearly despite my accent.
Then again, Congress participants came from many countries. And with my presentation scheduled for the evening, I had the opportunity to watch others present.
I noticed that the speakers of memorable presentations spoke concisely, slowly. “Bingo!” I thought. “I will do the same.”
“Now presenting Tools for Pharmacists is Barbra Fobi from ISMP USA,” the moderator announced. This is it, guys; I’m going to faint! I climbed up on the stage smilingly blushingly, and made an invisible sign of the cross.
At the podium, I quickly looked at the audience and realized they were eager to listen to me. What a boost of confidence! Not long after I started, the presentation ended with a round of ovation. I was so "in the moment" that 30 minutes flew by without me noticing.
Smiling from cheek to cheek, I answered questions and got a lot of compliments from the audience.
Tips for My Fellow Presenters
I had a delightful experience. For others who might experience an initial lack of confidence, as I did, let me offer these tips. Each helped me overcome my anxiety.
Follow cues. Our ISMP mentors are here to guide and direct us. They see our strengths and weaknesses and assign tasks to us accordingly. I could have let my anxiety guide my decision to present or not. I followed the cue of my mentor's faith in me.
Plan in advance. Develop your slides and review them ahead of time, to master the content. Also, read about the event, scheduled meetings, and networking sessions.
Practice. Rehearse your presentation many times and write out important points. It will make your presentation seamless.
Attend other speeches, and network. Attending other sessions gives you the chance to learn and serves as a sign of respect to your fellow presenters. Familiarize yourself with the audience to boost your confidence during your presentation.
I hope my experience encourages you to take the leap of faith. Relax and take a deep breath. You got this!
Photos: Barbra Fobi (Institute for Safe Medication Practices – ISMP, USA) presents at the Glasgow D24 Session, FIP-WHO Patient and Medication Safety: Meeting the Challenge (2018).