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Presentation anxiety

Today is day two (of three) for the first conference of the year for me (more here). Presenting live is always a challenge and the difference between a good presentation and an okay presentation (any attempt is at least an okay attempt in my opinion) is a combination of planning, practicing, and luck. Of course there are things that can make this particularly difficult, for example one of the issues I have is aphasia, so while I can write normally (mostly), speaking can be a challenge. This is particularly apparent when I’m stressed, so presentations are a challenge.

I don’t mind public speaking. I enjoy it and even when I’m stressed about doing it, it’s always something I’ll agree to do as long as I have the time and desire to do it. Basically the fact that I have issues speaking never really keeps me from doing it. Personally I prefer recording videos, it gives me the chance to get it perfect and not screw something up, it takes a lot of trial and error (okay lots of errors), but it’s worth it. I can respect the need to do it live on occasion though. Doing it live during a virtual meeting feels somewhat unnecessary, but the practice doesn’t hurt I guess.

Ironically the short presentations are worse than the longer ones. Long presentations you have the chance to correct yourself or touch on something you may have forgotten. Short presentations are tricky, you have to cram the right amount of information into it to give the audience the overview of what you’re doing. That includes the background, the people involved, how you did the experiment, the results from the experiment and future work. So what’s the time for me to get all that information out there, just five minutes.

Five minutes feels like a lot when you’re doing it (it feels like forever!), but it’s often over before you know it. Maybe I need more practice, but my turn has come and gone and I gave it my best effort. Thankfully I believe I only used the wrong words a few times. The trick with aphasia is sometimes you say a word you’re thinking, but the word that comes out isn’t the one you’re think of. For me it’s more like I know the word I want to use, I know what the word is basically any other time, but I can’t find the word when I need it in that moment. Sometimes it will come to me after the fact, sometimes I’ll end up getting a word that’s close, and on the worst occasions I’ll use a totally different (and sometimes opposite) word than what I mean. The scary part is sometimes this will occur without me realizing it. It just won’t register that I used a different word.

All this means that presenting for me takes a lot of effort and again I don’t mind. I just don’t do as well as I could, or at least as well as I feel I could do. That’s why I like recorded videos. I can review my recording and if I mixed something up and didn’t realize it, I can record a new one until I get it right. My next planned conference, I recorded upwards of 20 different versions of my video submission before I got it “right.” That was a four minute video and it took me hours to get the way I wanted. I got great feedback from everyone on it and they all agreed it was great, but that’s because I had the chance to get it to the level I felt was appropriate for something like that.

I guess that brings us to how I did today. Overall it went okay. I got some feedback from my main-PI afterwards suggesting that my video was better (of course it was), but overall the feedback wasn’t bad. Some of the issues I am aware of and I hope I can fix, others are things I couldn’t change even if I wanted to (again, aphasia and anxiety, which makes the aphasia worse). One piece of feedback I got I’ve gotten in the past, namely I use “kind of” a lot, or more than I should. I’m not actually certain how many time I said it and while the talks are recorded, I’ve never had access to them in the past to determine what exactly I’m doing when I speak.

Overall it wasn’t too bad though, this presentation’s feedback was better than last so that’s the good news. I mean, each presentation is a chance for improvement, so hopefully the next one will go better than this.


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