I was very lucky to be offered the opportunity to present and be part of a panel for a NSW Health Masterclass series. This was the first chance for me to deliver a presentation on my own research to an audience of healthcare professionals and academics, as well as participate in a Q+A discussion panel. After a very successful and fun evening, I reflected on what I had done to help myself prepare for the event and to deliver the best presentation I could (especially given it was a last-minute opportunity that I had minimal time to prepare for!)
I trained as a journalist long before I went into business and research (and even before that – I was a public speaker and debater during school). Part of this training included “faking confidence” when interviewing and presenting. Despite getting quite nervous and jittery prior to presenting (to the point where I worry all the adrenaline is making my blood sugars drop), this training helped me to learn how to put on a façade that exudes confidence and positivity in the subject I am presenting. This learning included demonstrating eye contact with the audience (even if this means looking slightly above eyeline if you’re not comfortable locking eyes whilst speaking), remembering to smile, and being aware of my tone, inflection and register; making sure that I maintain a bright, confident sounding voice, even if I am shaking on the inside! I believe this because I continue to be asked to present – in roles I have had to deliver bi-weekly information sessions, presenting to a small group of up to 50, and I regularly have presented to lecture theatres of up to 500 students and staff. So whilst I continue to be nervous when presenting (especially in the context of research), it is good to know that my “fake it ‘til you make it” presentation confidence and strategies work for me.
What also helped me get into the right mindset to present was doing things beforehand that I know/recognise help boost my mood. This included keeping up our normal evening routine and then listening to a few songs to “hype me up”. There are some amazing Spotify playlists out there that have been curated with songs that have been proven to improve focus and mood. I also find maintaining a similar routine to normal (thus, reducing the “special nature” of the presentation, really helps me have a more levelled approach when preparing to present. For me this routine at the time of presenting last was having an early dinner with my family whilst watching Bob’s Burgers (our favourite show at the moment), and this helped me view the presentation as just a component of work to do alongside my usual routine, rather than a “big, scary thing” to get overwhelmed about.
I felt very lucky that my presentation was able to be pre-recorded for the event, so I could ensure I was ready and delivering what I thought was the best version of my presentation (and it also meant I could respond to audience questions in real-time whilst the recording played, which was super convenient). Also, it is extremely beneficial to know that I could. I discovered this after my third attempt to record my presentation, I learnt you can pause and resume recordings made on Zoom whilst trying to manage a stubborn respiratory infection and not cough through all my slides. Whilst it may take a few attempts to figure out how to make sure the recording has minimal lag, it is an extremely beneficial tool to know of when recording presentations. This also is a great feature to know of – if you feel you’re going off-track on a presentation when recording, there is the option to pause, collect your thoughts, and return to recording when ready. Recordings also reduces the time-heavy approach of presenting, and being able to record on your own terms, when you’re ready is so valuable.
Some presenters can struggle when presenting to a camera, rather than in person, and can find it difficult to connect with the audience as a result. As a consumer, I always find the best way to engage with my audience is to share part of my story with them – to give the presentation a more personal approach. Of course, I only share what I am comfortable being in the public realm (especially when recorded), but I find in showing my personal connection to the research I am discussing, audiences are more receptive (and usually kinder) when it comes to question time and providing feedback. I belief this is because the audience can see and feel my direct connection and lived experiences, which adds authenticity and is so valuable in establishing a connection with audience members. In the current climate, whilst presentations are likely to be delivered remotely, having the skills to connect with your audience in a virtual setting is a complicated, but valuable tool.
Lastly, if you’re given the opportunity to present and you’re early on in your research – I highly encourage you to give it a go! During the pandemic and as more presentations are delivered remotely, you might even find that opportunities to present have much more flexibility (ie. Being pre-recorded) – so it’s a fantastic chance to learn without the pressures of in-person presentations. Whilst I was super nervous about preparing a delivering a presentation with under 2 weeks’ notice, I am so proud of how well I did and the feedback I received and cannot wait to volunteer for more.