Remember last month when I wrote how it was exactly a month until I had to present at a conference, but it was all good because I had a whole month to prepare, so whatever? Yeah, it’s now two days away and I am starting to get nervous. I’m finished my slides, of course, and have submitted them to the conference organizers to load on a laptop that I will use to do my talk, so that part is off my shoulders. But it’s the whole doing my talk thing that is weighing heavy.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to talk. A lot. I used to get in trouble in school for talking. A lot. And, I can get up in front of people and talk, no problem. I get nervous, sure. I have a leg that likes to jig when I get nervous too, just to make things interesting, but I really am ok with it, and I usually enjoy it. I’ve spoken dozens of times to large groups of students when I worked in the hallowed halls of Soul-Sucking College Library; I’ve made presentations to scientists during my time working in a research library and have even been part of a large talk here at the cancer centre, and they’ve always gone well. So what gives? The most worrisome thing for me is when I come to the end of my presentation, to the last slide that usually reads something like “Thanks for your attention. Questions?” that all hell breaks loose. Or at least I expect it to. It’s question period that scares the crap out of me because I’m always afraid the audience will have questions to which I do not know the answers.
You know, normally I don’t have a problem saying “I don’t know” to a question on a daily basis. I actually say it quite a lot in this job, since patients often have questions related to their specific medical condition that I’m not even qualified to know, let alone have the answer readily available. But somehow, when I’m invited to speak at a conference where I am the supposed “expert” on this topic, I feel like I really ought to be, you know, omnipotent or something. Which is completely ridiculous, I know. And yet, I still go there. And the bizarre thing too is that I know my stuff, I am usually able to fully answer the questions that are fired at me, and – and here’s the thing that I just haven’t been able to come to terms with yet – I actually kind of am the expert on this topic.
What it boils down to then, is more of an issue of self-esteem. I am asked to speak to a large group of people because those who are organizing the event know that I am the best person to ask to speak because of my knowledge, my excellent communication, my mad presenting skillz. Which is awesome, right? So why do I still feel like I’m not worthy? And you know, I’ve never even really had a bad experience following a presentation. But I’ve seen enough of them go down to come to the conclusion that it’s only a matter of time before it happens to me. And I’ll probably handle it just fine. Or I won’t, maybe. I guess you don’t know until you’re faced with the situation.
So on Wednesday I will organize my handouts and pack them up and take them to the conference centre, find my presentation room, grab a glass of water, wait to be introduced, and get started talking about what I know an awful lot about. And people will enjoy it. I almost wrote “people will enjoy it, or they won’t” giving myself an out, but why sing that same old self-defeating tune and expect the worst? Why not expect that people will not only enjoy my talk, but will love it! Will applaud wildly and cheer and ask for more! Will hail me as the “Queen of Information”! Sure, why not go into the fray feeling like the audience is totally on your side, why wouldn’t you do that? I don’t know, I just never do. Until now.
I just found out that 60 people have registered for my (my!) session, and registration remains open until tomorrow, so there could be more. So at least 60 people actually signing up and actually to hear me speak. Dudes. SIXTY PEOPLE are going to be out there listening to me at a conference they’ve actually paid to attend. This isn’t a bunch of students who would rather be anywhere else. These participants will likely remain awake! And attentive!
And you know what? I am gonna knock their socks off, or die trying.