I wrote an earlier post on “how you might come back thinking ‘that was a great conference’“. The conference was more or less a specialty conference, which means everyone there studies a very specific topic. This also means it is easier to connect to the ‘bigwigs’ in the field. I was aware that I’d be citing a large portion of the scholars in the room while and I remember being the most nervous I had ever been to give a presentation. The night before a fellow grad student and I were up late in the lobby practicing our presentations when a scholar whom I respect tremendously stopped by to check on us (awesome, right?). She told us that it is perfectly fine to be nervous for a presentation, in fact, she went on, it is best to remain nervous throughout your career because it means your work is important to you.
Will they like my work? Will I say something that can offend someone? Am I pronouncing someone’s name right? Did I really double-check all my stats? Do I have a stain on my shirt? Do they think I am smart enough? To be honest, I really do not want to remain nervous when present my work, or when I introduce myself to new faculty, or when I walk in to teach a class. I could seriously do without the shaky legs, swarm of butterflies in my stomach, and laundry list of questions that make me doubt every aspect of my professional self. But what I decided, however, is that I always wanted to remain inspired.
As I reflect back, I was nervous to present my work in that room because I was so inspired by those filling the room. Much of their work laid the groundwork for my own. And being in front of them would mean I had the opportunity to *ahem* inspire them. When I peeled back the layers of nerves I realize it comes down to one primary thing: I want to succeed in my role and give back as much as I receive.
As academics we use “informed” to describe the borrowing and building off of others’ work. Your methods can be informed, your theory can be informed, even your book title can be informed….but I think “inspired” might better explain what is really going on. I get inspired reading a journal article, whether it be for the groundbreaking theory or because the abstract is clearly written. I get inspired when a faculty member encourages me. I get inspired when I see a second draft of a term paper. And if its not obvious, I get really inspired at conferences. But, the thing is, if we are open to it inspiration can come at any point and from any source.
So the advice that I give you (and myself) is to walk into that conference (or a job talk, new class, oral examination) and channel the inspiration into what you are doing. I’m speaking somewhat figuratively, but also literately – use the inspiration you received and put it into your presentation, that is, think of the person whose presentations you most admire and try to replicate it!
This advice is coming straight from Dr. John Glavin, a professor of English who also moonlights as a speech coach. Glavin told our seminar class a story in which he was working with a politician who was flat out strugglin’ in his speeches. Glavin felt as though they were at a dead end until he suggested the politician mimic his favorite speaker. A few days later the politician delivered his best speech to date. Who did he mimic? Martin Luther King Jr.
So okay, we won’t all be mini MLKjrs but what I am suggesting is to find your inspiration and use it to become an inspiration. Embrace the nerves by remembering why they are there. Allow them to be a reminder of your passion and use them as self-encouragement for the task at hand- if you are one fire, someone is sure to finds a bit of inspiration in you.
(too cheerleader-ish? sorry, i’ll try more broodiness next time)