As I said in my previous blog post about the New Professionals Conference 2011, I was lucky enough to be selected as one of the speakers. This was my first proper conference presentation; I’d submitted a proposal, had it accepted, had written a paper, and was standing in front of approximately 60 or 70 expectant faces, with a PowerPoint, lectern and microphone. This is quite a difficult post to write, as I have very conflicting feelings about how things went; part of me is absolutely buzzing, and part of me is disappointed in myself. I worked so hard on my paper, and received some great responses from people, but I feel my delivery could have been much better and didn’t do justice to all the work I’d put into it. I am unsure whether I should publish this post, not just because I can’t decide how I feel, but also because I don’t want to come across as fishing for compliments. That is absolutely not the case. I’m supposed to be reflecting on my experience, and reflection is all about being critical and honest, so that’s what I’m doing.
Anyone who has been anywhere near me in real life or on Twitter over the past couple of weeks will have known that I was nervous! Really nervous. I get nervous before teaching or presenting. When I’m teaching, the nerves usually go away quite quickly once I get into it. The same happens when I present to colleagues. But when I’m presenting in an environment where a lot rides on how well I present, i.e. a job interview, the nerves stay with me, and try to infect my voice, my legs, my hands and my brain. So I didn’t have a track record that suggested I would be miraculously OK once I got up on stage! But I thought I might be. I was extremely well-practised. I’d done a final run-through before leaving the hotel room that morning, in front of the mirror, and I was pretty good. I was feeling nervous still, but confident that I could control the nerves. I’m not sure what happened, but this wasn’t the case. I remember how fast I spoke (I speak fast normally and I make a conscious effort to slow down when I’m presenting, but that went out the window). I remember falling over words. I remember trying to make my posture relax in the hope that this would make my brain relax, and I do think this started to work towards the end. As soon as I got off the stage, I wanted to go back up and start all over again and get it right. I was immediately disappointed in myself; I had worked so hard, had some great material, and I felt that I had spoilt it with my nervous, rushed delivery. I also felt that I had spoilt any chance of being asked to speak at other events. Several people have mentioned that speaking at one event like the New Professionals Conference has led to them being asked to speak at others, and, as nervous as I get, I do want to do more speaking, and presenting of my own research. I had hoped that yesterday would be a way in for me, but, to be honest, based on my performance, I wouldn’t ask me to speak at my event!
I’m not sure what I would do next time about the nerves. I rehearsed thoroughly and took Bach’s Rescue Remedy beforehand! I think maybe what might help would be to go and look at the room in advance, stand on the stage, work out how I’m going to hold myself and how I’ll stand in relation to the computer screen and a lectern if there is one, work out whether to hold my cue cards or put them on the lectern. I didn’t do this this time, and I think that might have been a mistake. I went in blind, and didn’t go anywhere near the stage until it was my turn to speak. I think another problem that I had was that I had a lot of material to squeeze into twenty minutes, so I think the presentation was always going to feel a bit rushed, even if I spoke slowly. Next time perhaps I need to be more realistic about what I can achieve in the time available, and adapt my proposal accordingly at an earlier stage.
However, as I said, despite a twinge of disappointment, I am buzzing! Despite my delivery of my paper, I received loads of positive responses to it, both to my face and on Twitter. Attendees appeared interested in what my survey brought up, and were tweeting as I spoke. My discovery that there was a perception of new professionals being a “clique” has sparked some discussion, and at least one blog post on this specific issue. Interest in what I said is still fairly high on Twitter several days later, including amongst those who didn’t attend the conference, which suggests I have made some kind of impact. The evidence-based nature of my paper was praised, and several delegates have told me that they found it relevant to their professional lives. I have been asked if I will be publishing a full written version of my survey results and paper and the answer is yes, I will! I am inspired to carry on writing and doing my own research, and the vague idea that someday in the future I could be a practitioner-researcher is becoming far more concrete and immediate a possibility. One of my objectives in my Chartership PPDP is to publish and to speak at conferences, and I am going to continue submitting paper proposals, both for written work and conference presentations. I intend to get better at speaking; practice makes perfect, after all! I will take the steps I mentioned above to try to minimise the nerves, and I will keep trying. OK, maybe no one is going to come knocking at my door asking me to speak at their event just yet, but that’s fine; I’ll just keep on submitting proposals and seeking out speaking opportunities myself.
I hope this post isn’t too self-indulgent. Perhaps it belongs in my Chartership portfolio as a private reflection. I think I am going to publish it; my suggestions for how to do things better next time might be useful for someone. I am feeling far more positive than negative about it now, and writing it all down has helped with that. Overall, speaking at the New Professionals Conference 2011 was the most amazing, exhilarating experience, and I would encourage anyone who is considering submitting a conference paper proposal for the first time to go ahead and just do it!