I spoke at a conference.
It was a very interesting and amazing experience. If you read my last post, then you know that I was presenting two sessions at a specific west coast gymnastics conference (called “Region I Congress”). Here’s what happened:
Last December (2009), I emailed someone on the board of Region I. I told him that I had an idea for two sessions to present at Region I Congress the following August and asked what I needed to do to be considered for a speaker position. He and I emailed back and forth a few times, and by the end of January 2010 I had been confirmed as a conference speaker for both sessions. At this point, I had already submitted a written proposal of what I would speak about, so the sessions were already outlined and I had planned the basics of what kind of content and learning activities I wanted to include (but, of course, they were subject to change as I continued to prepare).
Fast forward to July 2010. I received an email from the conference coordinator stating that all speakers needed to email her a bio, a brief description of their sessions, and any handouts that they wanted to have included in the conference attendee packet. Though I had been continually brainstorming how I wanted my sessions to go, I hadn’t actually written anything down yet and was starting to get a little anxious about what information I would actually present, so this was a great deadline. I spent about a week putting those together, sent them off, and felt a little more at ease about my pace of preparation.
The conference was set for August 20-22, 2010. My sessions were scheduled for Saturday, August 21 from 3:15-4:15pm and 4:30-5:30pm.
My entire summer this year was spent doing my first Level II fieldwork, a 12-week full-time internship in which the OT clinic becomes my classroom. Thus, I didn’t really have time to prepare much written work during the summer. My fieldwork finished two weeks prior to the conference, and my 2nd year of OT school didn’t start until two days after my conference presentations, so it was a perfect schedule for final preparations.
Or so I thought.
For two weeks I read and browsed through textbooks, websites, and old class notes. I saturated my brain with pertinent information. I visualized myself speaking to a room of probably just 30 people, and I could feel the energy and adrenaline rush that I knew I would experience. But when I excitedly sat down at my computer to make the PowerPoint slides, I just didn’t know what to write.
It was the weirdest thing.
For nearly nine months, I had known pretty much exactly what I wanted to include in these sessions – what topics I wanted to cover, what interactive learning activities I wanted to facilitate, and what kinds of questions I wanted to ask. But when it came down to putting it into written words, I had nothing. It was very frustrating.
The week prior to the conference was spent on vacation with my family at a beach house in San Diego. I had planned on being done with my preparations prior to vacation so that I would have time to practice, refine, and generally relax before the conference came and grad school resumed. I wasn’t done. Fortunately, the vacation was a perfect opportunity to write, with a wide-open schedule and serene view of the Pacific. Too bad my two nephews (2-years-old and 3-months-old) are so darn cute that I just wanted to play with them the whole time.
Even when I did manage to sit down at my computer (which was most days), I just couldn’t pull it together. Something was missing.
Fast forward again to Friday evening, August 20th. The day before my presentations. My husband and I had driven eight hours to the conference site/hotel and then enjoyed a meal at a Mexican restaurant across the street. Now we had returned to the hotel room and I had set up my laptop, my notes, and my textbooks for the final time. I think it was about 8pm, and my first session was scheduled to begin at 3:15pm the following day. As I sat down to try to pull together all the information I had studied and collected over the past nine months, it came to me.
I just knew what to write.
I filled in the gaps of one of my presentations and did a major overhaul on the other. I worked and worked and worked until it was 4:35am and my husband was sleeping soundly on the King-size bed behind me, lights still on. I tabbed important pages from books I referenced, just in case someone had a question that could be answered better by the book than by my brain. When I was finished, I was very proud of my work, and I really thought that these would be some high-quality sessions.
Throughout this entire preparatory process, I had been paranoid that something would go wrong prior to presenting. My laptop is old and low on memory, so it acts up sometimes – what if it crashes right before my presentation? I’ll get a flash drive and have my husband bring his laptop just in case. I brought business cards with me – what if they get spilled on? I’ll put them in a ziploc bag. I bought a new white shirt and red cardigan-type cover to wear when I was presenting – what if the white shirt gets stained or gets rubbed on by the red cardigan? I’ll put them in separate bags and not take them out until it’s time to wear them. I had taken every necessary precaution to ensure that things would go as smoothly as possible. So when I saved my presentations for the last time and then transferred those documents to my flash drive to replace the older versions that were on there, I felt satisfied. I got up to go brush my teeth in anticipation of collapsing onto the King-size bed with the impossibly puffy white pillows and comforter. But then I stopped myself, walked back over to the little desk and, just to make sure, took out the flash drive and then put it back in so that I could just make triple-sure the correct documents were on there, since that was what I’d be using to open up my presentations the next day. What I saw made want to cry.
It was the old version of my presentations.
Both of them.
I gasped, dropped my head in my hands, and mumbled repeatedly to myself, “This is not good, this is really not good.” Apparently, all that work I had done over the past two days had been saved to the flash drive, but I thought it was saving to the desktop. So when I replaced the flash drive documents with the ones from my desktop, I shot myself in the foot. And not only that, but because my hard drive is really, really low on memory, when I deleted those “old” documents from my flash drive, I also then emptied out the recycling bin on my computer. The completed versions were gone.
Utterly and completely gone.
I remembered how something similar happened to me once in college with a 25-page paper/project I had almost completed. My desktop just crashed, turned off, didn’t save. After the initial devastation, I had somehow managed to pick myself up, go back to my resources I had used and notes I had handwritten, and just start writing. That time in college, my project actually turned out to be better the second time around, plus I knew the information amazingly well after I was finished.
I guess that’s what I have to do now, I thought to myself.
Just a few minutes after this devastating discovery, I took a deep breath, opened my books, and got back to work. I worked more quickly than the first time, adding to and editing the old slides, and Lord knows I was thankful that I had tabbed those pages in the textbooks I had used just hours before. Finally, around 7:00am, I was finished. I knew my slides inside and out, and none of the transitions between slides surprised me anymore. The only problem was, I needed to print out some slides to give to the conference attendees, but the computer in the hotel’s business center didn’t accept flash drives (for obvious anti-virus reasons), and I didn’t have internet in order to be able to email the slides to myself and then open on the business center computers. I gave in and paid the $12.50 for internet access (which would expire at noon that day), emailed the slides to myself, grabbed my room key, and headed downstairs to the business center. Thank goodness they had PowerPoint installed on them! Otherwise I would have had to hunt down a Kinko’s in the area. As I printed, I was alone except for a few flight attendants who were killing time as they waited for an early morning shuttle to the airport. After about 20 minutes of tinkering with the printer and making sure that I had everything I needed, I headed back upstairs.
At 7:35am, I went to bed.
I woke up around 11:15am and was ready to go. After showering and eating the free lunch that was provided to conference speakers, my husband graciously allowed me to practice my presentations on him for nearly two hours while he watched the Little League World Series. I gladly accepted a few suggestions he gave me. As I prepared myself for game time, I suddenly discovered that, as a result of the amazing beach vacation the previous week, my forehead was now peeling at my hairline. It wasn’t just flaking. It was peeling, and peeling bad. Ahhhhhhh! Thankfully, my hair covered it up and at 2:50pm we were ready to head downstairs, laptop, flash drive, legal pad, business cards, and books in tow.
Once in the conference room, I opened my slides, checked to make sure they were the right ones (thank goodness they were!), and then connected my laptop to the AV system and, boom, there was my title slide projected onto the big screen. After all the tech stuff was set up and my timer was sufficiently visible to me so that I would be able to keep track of time, I began milling around the room introducing myself to attendees and making small talk. (This was a strategy that I learned about in a session that I attended at AOTA Conference in Orlando this past May – it helps ease the nerves and makes attendees feel more connected to you.) Just as 3:15 was about to strike, I headed to the front of the room, took a breath, and then stated, “Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Christie…”
And we’re off.
Yikes, I thought to myself, I’m really speaking at a conference!!!
The first session, which was entitled “Developmentally Appropriate Coaching Strategies for Infants to Pre-Teens”, went great. My husband said that I sounded very natural and that I had good stage presence. I was expecting 20-30 people to attend the session. According to my husband’s count, there were about 60. I had even made far more handouts for the interactive portion than I thought I would need, and I still ran out! For someone who secretly feared that no one would show up to her sessions, I was relieved and surprised by the number of people in that conference room.
After the session ended, people came up to me to ask questions and tell me that they really liked my presentation. One girl even told me that she had originally planned on going to a different session after this one, but since I was presenting again, she was going to change her plans and stay put. Amazing. I glanced over to my right and saw that there was a line of more than 20 people, all waiting to write their name and email address on a pad of paper so that I could email them my slides.
The second session quickly began, this time with more confidence and a nearly equal number of attendees. It was titled, “Coaching Kids with Special Needs.” It, too, went very well. In my opinion, it went even better than the first session because I had more experience with that particular material and I was more passionate about it. In addition to technical information and coaching strategies, I got to talk about my vision for bringing gymnastics and OT closer together, and people responded really well to that. They were intrigued by the information and after the session concluded, just as many people signed up for an email of the slides to take back to their gym.
The most rewarding part was when, after my second session, a young coach approached me and told me that she wanted to become an OT. In addition to being able to provide coaches with tools for success, this is exactly the kind of thing that I had hoped would happen. She said that OT had been popping up everywhere in the past few months, and that my session had confirmed the idea that she wants to apply to OT school. We talked about where she’s currently doing her undergrad, what the process is like for applying to OT school, and what kinds of areas of practice you can go into once you become registered and licensed.
Once the sessions were over, I realized that my back hurt, I was hot, and I was hungry. But that didn’t matter. I experienced such a rush of adrenaline that as soon as the crowd died down and I began to gather my things I announced to my husband, “I want to do that again!” He told me I did a great job, and it was over. He helped me carry armloads of supplies back up to the hotel room, we dumped them on the desk, and then I plopped onto the bed.
Since that day, I have emailed out the slides to those who requested them, and have received more emails with positive feedback about each of the sessions. I am still riding the adrenaline wave, reliving every word I said and conversation I had. Despite the difficulties along the way, I made it through relatively unscathed and ready for more.
I am so grateful that this first experience went well. I am thankful for my friends who prayed for me and, more than anything, my husband who supported and helped with without even a second thought. He did anything I needed in order to help me be successful. That part in our wedding vows about “encouraging you to achieve your goals”? He definitely did that.
I look forward to the next time that I am able to present important and engaging material to a roomful of people who are eager to learn. I don’t think I want to be a professor someday. But I do want to be able to teach in some capacity.
The dean of my OT school and president of the AOTA, Dr. Florence Clark, loves to talk about confidence and power. She has told us how important it is to engage in confidence-based practice and she wants us to feel and be powerful in the things that we do as OTs. I definitely felt those things last weekend, and I hope that I can carry those traits with me as I seek to continue to develop myself as a person and a professional.
Thanks for reading!