Question time is always the part of presenting at conferences that gives me really bad 'stage fright'.
My rational brain tells me that I should actually feel very confident coming into question time because I am presenting research that I have conducted thoroughly from start to finish. Still, I never look forward to it which is why I was very grateful for the opportunity to attend a full day workshop and training on 'thinking fast' and improving public speaking skills.
Here are my top takeaways from the day:
1. Practice is essential. '
They say ‘experience is the best teacher’. Well in this case, that is true. Although the nerves may not ever be fully absent when public speaking, the more you do it, the more your brain will learn that you aren’t in any danger and be able to use that ‘stress’ positively. Second, the more you speak about your research, the more you are able to gain personal insight on your work from a different perspective but you also receive constructive feedback or points to consider during both question and networking time at conferences. Finally, the more you practice public speaking, the more effective you’ll be at improving yourself.
2. Understanding your hot buttons
This can prevent you from being thrown off balance when someone pushes them or when an unnerving question is asked. Again, the more public speaking opportunities you take, the more practice you get and the more experienced you'll be at question time. All this experience can be useful for you in preparing a set of fallback phrases for when you are feeling extra jittery or if you get a question that is either controversial, too personal or aggressive.
3. Get curious and learn how to reframe
This allows you to connect more effectively and encourages collaboration. Instead of thinking of your audience as people there to pick out flaws in your research, think of them truly as your peers and friends who are interested and want to help you spread the word about your work. Connect with them earnestly. Help them understand the impacts of your research and the purpose of your work from a larger perspective.
I’ll be presenting a chapter of my thesis to a conference in Adelaide soon. I hope I get to really enjoy this experience and remember all that I learned from the training day. There is still much work I need to do on my thesis, but I know the Ph.D. experience won’t last forever so need to enjoy it (and suffer it at times), while I can.
PS I sometimes wonder what happens to all those notes that we students take at conferences? There should be an app for that! Maybe there is? Let me know by connecting with us bloggers on social media.