Sunday, September 9, 2012

My 10 minutes of fame -II

You can see the first part of this post here.

And so it finally dawned. The day I was supposed to make my presentation to the BIG scientific community. You might think I'm making a very big deal out of this but to me, it was a big deal. And probably that's why I was putting enormous pressure on myself to do this right!

Usually student and post-doc presentations are held in the afternoon after the symposias are over in the morning and most of them are held in small rooms. But imagine my horror when I was told I was supposed to present in one of the big symposia halls itself. These symposia halls are big ones with the capacity to hold at least 600-800 people. Since the speaker cannot be see by everyone, there is a huge screen which projects the live feed of the speaker. So, every single expression on the speaker's face is obvious to everyone. Every grimace, every frown and every bead of sweat is out there for everyone to see. But the good thing about it was since there is so much light on the speaker's face and the rest of the room is dark, you don't realize there is an audience. You might as well be in an empty room.

So, anyway on the day itself, I was too nervous to actually concentrate on any of the morning talks. During lunch I couldn't really eat much either. My talk was scheduled to be at 2 pm. All my friends and colleagues were wishing me luck and making random conversation. But I couldn't really get my head to do anything. So I went to the auditorium a little ahead of time. 

To my surprise, my supervisor was already there. I was touched to know that he was there even before me. Have I mentioned he is one of the best bosses around. (And no, he is not reading this blog. I am sure!) He wished me luck again and told me just to be myself. He told  me about his first talk and how it was a horror-show and that it would only get better. I can only hope. 

Ten minutes to two, I went to the chair (not the electric one, just the chair-person of the session) along with  other speakers of the session.The chair told us we each had 2 minutes extra as one speaker had cancelled out. So I now had 10 minutes for my talk and 2 minutes for questions. I was delighted that I could manage with time to spare. I don't have to face the timer ticking on my slides if I take too long. One of the other speakers sat right next to me. He was a post-doctoral fellow and I'm so thankful to him. I didn't even catch his name. The only thing he said to me was " Why are you so nervous? You do realize that you know more about this project than anyone else in the audience does!" , which is actually very very true. That did boost my morale quite a bit. 

And then, my name was announced. And today's first speaker is Dr. Maya. The chair person didn't know I was a phd student. And he also said " He is going to speak to us about...",  he didn't know I was female either. He did apologize when I went on stage, but by then I didn't care any more. After I was at the podium, everything else went blank in my memory for the next 9-10 minutes. It was just me and my slides.I know I blanked out a few times, but came back immediately, which my colleagues said they didn't notice. And then there was applause. I was too blank to notice that too. Then the dreaded Q and A session started. Every one of the people who asked me a question complimented my talk/work. Maybe they just did that just as a formality. Nevertheless, it felt good. I am proud to say I answered all questions. Surprisingly, it did look as though I knew more than I thought I did! My Q and A session was better than I had ever dreamed of. After a round of 8-9 questions, I came down the podium and sat through the other talks in a daze. After the session, my boss came up to me and patted my back and said, "You did well, kid!".That meant a lot to me. 

And just like that it was over. There! I had given my first presentation at an international conference in front of at least 500 people.

I am hoping that someday, I will look back and laugh at myself and think how silly I was to feel so nervous about a talk. And that is one reason I am recording this in such detail.

And now that the tough part is over, let the holiday begin.

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