This week stepping up to the microphone is my colleague, Kelly Labrecque, who shares her personal journey from trepidation to triumph at the podium. Kelly’s article is a great reminder to all of us that by saying ‘yes’ to the things that scare us (at first!) lots of great things can happen! ~Helen
Like many people, the thought of speaking in public scares the daylights out of me. My primary fear? The audience will laugh me off the stage, label me a fraud, and never allow me to work in research again. I know this fear may seem ridiculous to some, but for those of us new to sharing our ideas in a professional setting, the anxiety and self-doubt is real. We wonder, “What can I possibly teach a room full of seasoned researchers? What do I have to share that will be interesting and engaging to others? And honestly, will it really matter to anyone (other than me) if I don’t do it.”
Two years ago, with the encouragement of my HBG family, I decided to confront these fears by presenting at my first research conference. It was a terrifying experience made bearable only by the fact that I was lucky enough to share it with my HBG colleague, Heather Willis. I’m not sure I could have gotten through it without her. (Thanks, Willis!)
Here is what I learned from that experience and I hope that it inspires some of you to move beyond your comfort zone and share your knowledge with your peers in the research community.
Share your passion
In my opinion, the best presentations are those given by people who are not just knowledgeable, but passionate, about their work. So consider the following when choosing a presentation topic:
- What topics or trends in philanthropy make you love being a researcher? (read: What makes you “geek-out”?)
- What tips and tricks have you developed over the years that could benefit others?
- Is there a game-changing piece of advice you wish someone had shared with you as a budding researcher?
For me, deciding what to present was fairly easy. I’m fascinated by New York City real estate and it was, by far, one of the most challenging areas for me as a new researcher. As a result, I have spent a great deal of time learning all that I can – everything from navigating ACRIS to understanding current market trends. In fact, once word got around that I was a bit of an “expert” on the subject, colleagues started coming to me with their questions. That’s when I realized I had something important to share with my peers.
Know the skill level of your audience
In developing a presentation for a conference, be sure to properly gauge its level of difficulty. Will your topic be geared towards the new researcher or someone who has been in the profession for a number of years? If you decide to welcome all levels to your session, be sure to include some background basics for the newbies, as well as, some more challenging aspects for the veterans.
For my presentation, I focused on creating content that could be used by both the new and seasoned researcher in all sectors. I didn’t want to bore or overwhelm my audience. So I began by giving the key background basics of understanding the different types of real estate in Manhattan and how to verify ownership and value, then moved into the more advanced nuances of how market trends affected these values. This ultimately allowed me to engage all researchers.
Think about what YOU look for in a quality presentation
Whether you present at a regional, national, or international research conference, audience expectations shouldn’t differ much from your own. Although the sectors in which we work may vary (healthcare, higher education, arts and culture, etc.), our conference goals are the same – to learn from and connect with our peers in a supportive environment.
When outlining your talk, think about the elements you find essential in a quality presentation. Ask yourself:
- Do you prefer to feel like you are part of a conversation? Or would you prefer a step-by-step training/lecture?
- Do you prefer to see slides with less text and more images? Or vice versa?
- Does a presenter who reads from pre-written notes seem less confident in their presentation than one who speaks “off the cuff”?
Given the scope of my presentation, I decided to provide a more step-by-step training with an even mix of images and text. And since it was my first attempt, I had prepared notes that I rehearsed at least a hundred times!!
Set realistic goals for the time allotted
Conference presentations often range in length from 60-90 minutes. Plan accordingly, especially if you are splitting the session with a colleague. Here are some tips that worked for me:
- In your first few slides, inform the audience of the learning objectives and how you will handle questions (take them as they come vs. waiting until the end).
- As you prepare your presentation, be sure to stick to the outlined objectives.
- Practice the presentation repeatedly to get a good idea of how much time you will need to get through your slides.
- If working with a partner, decide how you will divide the presentation and how long each of you will need.
Heather and I were fortunate, each portion of our presentation fell together perfectly with the time. We practiced a few times together and separately to be sure that even if we got a deluge of questions, we’d be on time.
Practice, practice, practice
I can’t stress enough the importance of practicing your presentation, not just for timing, but to help you remember everything you want to say. Having prepared notes is fine, but reading from them word-for-word can easily bore your audience. Fluency of message demonstrates confidence of message.
Other ways to share
Every researcher has something important to share. You don’t have to get up in front of a hundred people for 90-minutes to make an impact. Here are some other ways to share your knowledge:
- Volunteer with your local APRA chapter.
- Split a presentation at a regional conference with a colleague.
- Present at smaller gatherings such as Regional Interest Networking Group (RINGS) or Think Tanks.
- Take part in a roundtable discussion at a regional conference.
- Write a blog post for your organization. (See what I did there?)
Say “yes” to new opportunities.
Last month, Amy Begg of Harvard University received NEDRA’s Ann Castle Award for her contributions to the research community. In her moving acceptance speech, she offered the following piece of advice:
“Say ‘yes’ to every opportunity that comes your way because you never know where that could lead you… I realize it isn’t always easy to say ‘yes’ but every time that I have, I have grown as a person. Saying ‘yes,’ has exposed me to so many wonderful opportunities in so many different directions. In fact, I have found that when I have said ‘no’ it has actually held me back.”
Let’s hear from you!
When have you moved beyond your comfort zone? If not, what’s holding you back? What advice do you have for a researcher considering presenting at his/her first conference? What are some ways, as a profession, we can further encourage people to share their knowledge?