Inservices: Pathway to Success

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By Dale Berry, CP, CP(c)

Hosting an inservice is one of the most fundamental and successful ways to educate existing and potential referral sources. Whether it's a daylong presentation series to hundreds of attendees or simply a small lunchtime gathering with several therapists, an inservice provides a unique opportunity to establish one's self as an industry expert and trusted practitioner.

A common obstacle for P&O practitioners is gaining the trust of physicians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and other potential referral sources. Referral sources obviously need to trust your work before they put their patients' well-being in your hands; however, that trust is hard to establish without first caring for one of their patients. It is a difficult cycle to break in to.

This is where an informative, focused, and well-presented inservice can make all the difference. It gives you the opportunity to establish trust among potential referrals in a non-threatening, educational environment that does not require referrals to blindly put their patients' well-being on the line.

In a situation where your objective is to build trust and instill confidence, appropriate preparation is crucial to success. Without it, you run the risk of doing more damage than good. To help, here are nine points to consider when preparing and presenting an I.N.S.E.R.V.I.C.E.:

Interact with Your Referrals

An inservice should not be viewed as an opportunity to talk to referral sources, but rather as an opportunity to talk with referral sources. Communication must flow among all participants.

Photo courtesy of Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics, Inc.
Photo courtesy of Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics, Inc.

Too often, first-time presenters make the mistake of thinking, "I am going to teach the group about something they don't know." This is understandable considering the years spent in a school environment; however, when employed in an inservice atmosphere among educated colleagues, this approach can be damaging.

Your inservice should educate through interaction. Share information about your skills, services, clinical techniques, and products, but more importantly, listen to and learn from the opinions and thoughts presented by the group. This is one of the rare instances where you hear direct feedback and address specific concerns of your most profitable audience.

Natural Style

Sweaty palms, red blotchy skin, upset stomach-just a few of the symptoms often experienced by many of us when faced with a public speaking engagement. The fear and the symptoms often stem from the concern: What will people think of me? The irony of this fear, relative to the purpose of an inservice, is that what you fear is exactly the reason for hosting the inservice. You want the referral sources to leave your gathering knowing as much about you and your personal clinical style as possible. Act natural.

If you are not the type of person who tells jokes on a regular basis, an inservice is not the place to start. It is important to develop your own presentation, and not try to copy other presenters' styles. You have your own clinical style, thus you should have your own presentation style.

Single InService, Single Theme

A common presentation mistake is trying to pack too much information into one inservice. Identify a single theme you would like to get across in your presentation and then stay on topic. Do not clutter the message with a lot of facts and figures; use anecdotes instead. Your goal is to share a message that is clearly understood and is pertinent to your audience. The facts and figures gathered to support your presentation are just that - support information to be used only upon audience request.


The ultimate goal of any inservice is to provide quality information that is relevant to and useful for your audience. Ask yourself, "Will my audience be able to immediately apply the information I present?" If the answer is no, then rethink your presentation. Education for the mere sake of learning something interesting is, by some definitions, trivia. The goal of a quality inservice is to provide value and a return on the audience's time investment. If they learn something of value, then the audience will value the presenter, hopefully initiating a trusting relationship.


Taking time to research the needs of the audience provides significant returns. Briefly interview one participant of an upcoming inservice. Ask about his or her current topics of interest and issues of concern, and then construct your presentation to accommodate the expressed needs. Just because a particular topic was received well by one group of referral sources doesn't mean it will resonate well with another. Issues, interests, and concerns change with the industry - be sure to stay on top of current trends.

Visual Aids

Visual aids can be the most valuable addition to any successful presentation, provided they are the right visual aids. The wrong visual aid can detract from even the best presentation.

Many clinicians use samples such as a knee unit or prosthesis during an inservice. This type of aid can be counterproductive, as it does not truly represent the value of an orthotist or prosthetist and the unique contribution of our profession.

While a certified prosthetist or orthotist appreciates the intricacies and unique advantages of a specific knee unit, referral sources not trained in O&P may simply see a piece of metal with moving parts and not understand how it can provide a smooth gait or increased stability.

The magic of the O&P profession is what our patients are able to accomplish while wearing the products we design and fit. The best visual aids are photos or videos of patients doing activities of daily living (ADL) while wearing a customized prosthesis or orthosis. Solid visual aids demonstrate your abilities while showing how your skills can improve patients' lives.

Interesting and Informative

The best way to ensure a successful presentation is to keep it interesting and informative. This reinforces earlier points about researching your audience's concerns and then providing relevant education. Just because your audience is physically in front of you, doesn't mean they are mentally in front of you. Keep them stimulated through pertinent topics and continuous interaction.

Clear Objectives, Clear Goals

One of the first steps in preparing a presentation is to identify clear goals, while keeping in mind that your primary objective is to get an invitation back to give another inservice. The only way you will be invited back is if you can prove you are an invaluable resource with a wealth of relevant information. Be sure to follow up with a survey. Honest and critical feedback is invaluable to improving your presentation.

End on Time

End on time, and if possible, end a little early. It will be much appreciated by your audience, as running overtime is one of the biggest complaints that participants have. Your audience has made a good faith investment of a very valuable asset: their time. It is imperative that you show proper respect by valuing their schedules and finishing your presentation on time, as promised.

To ensure you run on schedule, be sure to practice, practice, and practice again. Practice in front of a mirror, in front of staff members, or even family members anyone who will listen. You will be surprised how it will build your confidence and prepare you to present a quality inservice.

Education is a cornerstone to building a strong network of referral sources based on trust and respect. A way to differentiate yourself and your practice from the competition is to provide relevant and useful inservices to your referral base and establish yourself as the go-to practitioner for quality education.

Dale Berry, CP, CP(c), is vice president of Clinical Operations for Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics and is a professional motivational speaker. He is a member of the National Speakers Association and author of the book, Results-There's No Such Word as Can't