I also asked the organiser for the opportunity to present one of my current projects to the group, as I'll need input from lots of them if I'm ever going to get it finished. Like everyone else I was allotted 8 minutes and 1 slide.
Not wanting to have to leave the house at 5 am to catch the first ferry, four of us (including my boss) decided to fly to the Island. Given the foggy conditions we called the airline the day before the retreat, and they told us they'd been flying all week, no problem at all. Of course this meant that we took off an hour and a half late, and arrived half way through the session in which three of our party were supposed to present. "Luckily" for me though, I was due to speak at the very end of the day.
As in, last. As in, nothing but me standing between the audience and a lovely evening of dinner and drinks.
Now, I've done a lot of presenting in my time. Not much in high school, but a lot at the undergraduate level. My first few presentations were awful - I always get very nervous, and my lack of experience made things much, much worse. But while I got better and better with practice, I've still never stood up to give any kind of speech without a pounding heart and sweaty palms. My PhD and postdoc years gave me even more experience, including two platform presentations at the huge American Society for Human Genetics meeting. Despite coming close to a panic attack before every single major presentation, I would calm right down as soon as I got halfway through the first slide. I was always given a lot of compliments on my performance, and was told that I looked and sounded supremely confident. I even successfully incorporated a few jokes, and my regular lab meeting and journal club presentations became calmer, almost routine.
When I moved into industry I still had to present once a month or so, to both internal and conference audiences - new product launches, sales reports, marketing campaign metrics, that kind of thing. And at my wedding, my friends and family said it was obvious that I'd had a lot of public speaking experience (the wine helped).
My new job, however, does not give me any opportunities to present. So this was not only the first time presenting to a new group - always guaranteed to make me nervous - but also the first time I'd presented anything to anyone for over 18 months.
Apparently it is not like riding a bicycle.
I mean, I got across almost all the information that I wanted to convey, in more or less the right order. People asked questions and gave suggestions, continuing in the bar later. But I could hear my nerves in my voice for the first time in years, and I didn't even try to use the laser pointer because my hands were shaking too much. No-one said anything about that aspect of the talk, but I was not at all happy with my performance.
Of course, it's different when you're presenting your own research. In those situations you're THE global expert, and reminding myself of that always helped me to control my nerves. This current (unbloggable) project is not my core area of expertise, and is the kind of thing that absolutely anyone can have a strong opinion on that is at least as valid as mine. That and the time slot do provide some mitigating factors.
Still, though. Confident public speaking is a hard-won skill that I'd come to be proud of. I do not want to lose it. So I either need to find some creative way to fit more presentations into my current role (unlikely), or consider other options. Toastmasters, maybe - does anyone have any experience with them?
A few glasses of lovely local wine in the bar helped to take the edge off my disappointment. And dinner was delicious. It was fantastic to spend time with my colleagues outside of work and find out who's into restoring antique furniture, who's writing a book, that kind of thing. We had some really quite hilarious conversations as the wine continued to flow. Turns out that one of the PIs whose grant I helped with in October was second author on the paper I presented at my grad school interview - that made him feel pretty old!
Mr E Man chose to forego the above geekiness (although the furniture restoration / house renovation conversation would have been right up his alley). Instead he caught an early ferry on the Saturday morning to come and whisk me away to a romantic cottage on the Island's Southern coast. More in Part II...
I escaped to my lovely room and its jacuzzi tub at about 11 pm. Here's more of the view, and some more arbutus tree p0rn. This one is very young - does that make me a treedophile?