Monday, March 3, 2008

Guest Lecture, Take Two

Well, I did it. I have given the guest lecture that caused me so much stress. At least it's over.

I ended up having a chat last week with the course organizer who had forgotten to tell me where the class was being held. He was extremely apologetic (more so than the initial email reflected) and more than willing to reschedule my talk for a date which was convenient for me. I also found out that he taken the full blame for the misunderstanding when he told the students what had happened. Those two actions went a long was toward defusing my anger at the situation. I think a large part of my anger was fueled by the thought that people might think that I blew off the lecture, so I was relieved to find out that my reputation had not been tarnished. Also, it makes a big difference when someone says, "Yeah, I'll bet that was really infuriating, and I'm sorry." I often think too many people forget the value of a good apology.

So, at any rate, I ended up giving the lecture. And not losing my temper explosively for a second time in public. My lab mates had a jolly good time of teasing me all day, however. I must have gotten almost half a dozen fake messages that the location or time for the class had been changed, the delivery of each one accompanied by the snickers of the messenger. What a riot!

But I was really nervous. It's hard to explain the weird set of emotions I feel about public speaking, but I'm doing to try. Whenever people ask me, I say I really like teaching and talking about my research, and I'm always really excited at the prospect of giving a talk of any kind. It's something I'd like to be good at, and I don't wish that I could just do my research and never have to give talks or teach like some of my colleagues do. I'd even say the opposite is true: I feel compelled to do more of that kind of stuff, and seek out opportunities to do so. I consider giving good talks and being a good teacher to be an important part of the job description of a scientist. And yet, just before I give a talk or even do a poster presentation, I get incredibly nervous. Sometimes to the extent that I feel physically ill. Although I know in the small sliver of my rational mind that is still functioning at this point that I'll be fine when it's over, my stress response is kicked into overdrive and I feel like a deer in the headlights. The first time this happened, I thought that all I needed was more experience to feel more comfortable. But alas, that has not helped. Experience has given me a mantra to recite that goes like, "you're nervous, but you can get through this, you've done it before, and you'll do it again," but the physical reaction (racing heart, distraction, nausea, etc) has not reduced much in severity. I think there must be something I can do to "get over this", short of a pharmaceutical solution. If not, I'm going to end up having a heart attack one of these days!

By way of a post mortem for this talk, I think it was really only so-so. I went in there wanting to do a great job, and I spent a long time on preparation of the slides and thinking about the material, but I only practiced the lecture once, and not all the way through in one go. So, I found myself thinking that it would have been better to present some things in a different order as I was talking, which was not fun, and that made it hard to stay on track. I also planned to cover too much material, so I had to cut out a large chunk of stuff on the fly, and had a hard time talking about the last topic since the lead up was lost. However, the students seemed pretty interested, and asked questions throughout, so I added some stuff in on the fly in response. So I guess it was a pretty average first attempt. If I did it again, I'd definitely change a lot of things around, but I don't think the students were in agony the whole time. So, I give myself a "nice try" overall.


Anonymous said...

Hi! I was a mom/grad student, and I'm currently a mom/postdoc. I just wanted to tell you that I'm really enjoying your blog. And as for the lecture, if students are asking questions throughout your talk, it must have been a stellar lecture. I find that I'm terrible at judging my own seminars. Talks that I think I knocked out of the park were actually so-so, and lab meetings that I assembled on the fly were incredible (according to my colleagues). You should try to get feedback from the students or from the class organizer to see what they thought of your lecture. But generally, more questions = more better. So, great job!

acmegirl said...

Thanks! I will definitely try to get some feedback.

Amelie said...

I also get terribly nervous before presentations, and I had been hoping it will get better with time and experience... and I agree with mom/postdoc above, if they kept asking questions your talk must have been pretty good.

EcoGeoFemme said...

Good for you for getting through it!

My presentations are SO much better if I practice several times.

DrugMonkey said...

a looong while back in grad school we had a training session on doing oral presentations. the professor said "If you aren't a little nervous before each talk, this is a sign you talk is going to suck".