Every book presentation that I give is different. There are some presentations that are given to an audience who remains in a dead silence throughout the talk. They seem to feel it is undignified to show much emotion. I can usually loosen them up. There are other presentations that take on a life of their own where I’ve lost all continuity, and my preparation went out the window because the audience participated so actively that they took on the talk themselves. But every now and then, you get an audience that is totally engaged in what you are saying and it all flows in the same direction. We feel as if we are one in the discovery of the journey. I experienced this when I spoke to the nurses of the Intravenous Therapy Association last year. Being the last speaker of a long day of lecturing, I was convinced that people would quietly sneak out to beat the traffic, but I was wrong. No one moved. They laughed at all the right jokes and silently acknowledged the places that required reverence.
I hadn’t experienced that again until I gave the presentation on April 2 at the Boston University Nursing History Archives. I worked hard to make this talk specific to this audience, although they varied in age and experience. There were 17 senior nursing students from Salem State and many seasoned nurses who were seeped in the knowledge of nursing history, who had since retired. There were also nursing school professors, some of whom were Executive Directors. I noticed that three intravenous therapy nurses came back to hear this presentation the second time. (If they sit through one more, I’ll have them come up and help me give the talk.) Another nurse told me she drove down from Maine. I recognized many of them from previous nursing and management experiences over the years. They numbered about 115.
But I could tell from their immediate responses that they got it! They understood everything I said and felt the emotions that went with it. They gasped, laughed, fell silent, and “ah’d” in the right places. It was a wonderful experience, but I didn’t expect what happened at the end. When I stopped talking and asked for questions, they all stood to their feet and gave me a standing ovation! That was a surprise! In the two years I have given this presentation, I’ve had people clap and thank me for a job well done; but never a standing ovation. I couldn’t have been more stunned and pleased but best of all I went away knowing this audience would never forget Edith Cavell and all that she had sacrificed. They understood that she represented everything that was good about nursing. A spark had been set in all 115 of those people. I am often asked why I spent six years researching and writing this book. “What made you so committed?” they ask. “For moments like this,” I answer.