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Attend a conference, boost your confidence

Student highlights importance of sharing academic ideas

Dennis Barbee, Guest Writer

You’re progressing in your studies. You’ve put in the time – found what your passion is and have joined all the clubs on and off campus that you can think of. You’ve written a few papers, and some of your professors have told you how much they enjoyed them and how they think you could expand on the idea. You’re pretty excited, but you still feel nervous. What about all those people? What if I screw it up and come off sounding like an idiot? Is it worth it?

We all get nervous before presentations. I have attended several conferences, and you might be surprised to hear that seasoned professors still get nervous and still make the same mistakes you and I make. It’s natural to be nervous. The key is practice. And even with practice – you will still get butterflies. At my last presentation, I was so worried that I would sweat under my armpits, I never raised my hands above waist level. It’s just one of those things. Just remember: everyone gets nervous.

If you sign up for a conference and wait until the last minute to practice – you will screw it up. While writing your presentation, take it to the writing center. Have them look it over for any grammar issues or flow issues. Also, read your paper out loud between edits. This may sound silly, but it works.

What about all those people then? Yes, there will be a lot of people in the room, and they will all be focused on you – but that doesn’t mean you have to focus on them. Instead, find two fixed points in the back of the room. Try to focus on them. It won’t stop you from sweating, and it won’t keep them from staring at you – but it will take your mind off them. Unless you want to envision them naked. I hear that works too.

Finally, is it worth it? I can say without a doubt in my mind that it is worth it, 100 percent. These conferences are your first step into the big game. Even the smaller ones. You take your idea to conference, and when you finish, people come up to you and express interest in your ideas. A conference is the best place to take something you worked on and watch it start to grow. You will meet so many people that are like you, it will make your head swim. And that’s one of the great benefits from presenting – feeling like you belong.

Another benefit from presenting at a conference is that you get to sharpen your idea for publication. Many people don’t realize until it is too late how big this benefit is. Take your idea to conference, sharpen it up and get it published. It opens doors.

And last but certainly not the least – is the ability to see new places and find yourself. My last conference was in Albuquerque, and I was with friends. I drove there myself and stayed at a different hotel, which made all the difference. I was able to see the mountains in the morning, mingle with peers during the day and enjoy the local culture at night. It afforded me an opportunity to think about all the things I went there for and how to accomplish the goals I have set for myself. I wouldn’t have done that by staying home.

So – get your work out there, get recognized and inspired. In the words of one of my favorite professors, “Mark a trail for others to follow.”

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