A few months ago I wrote a post about saying no nicely, i.e. making the most of the opportunities you’re given but making a conscious effort not to take on things that are not relevant or will not develop your skills or interests further. You can read that post here, and please bear it in mind throughout this one.
One of my New Year’s resolutions is to gain experience with public speaking. I hated giving presentations and talks throughout both school and University; I was a really shy kid growing up and the mere thought of the spotlight on me made me turn beetroot. Towards the end of my undergraduate degree I tried to improve my confidence so that I felt able to push myself. Now I feel comfortable talking to academics with decades more experience than me, and I enjoy learning from them so try to ask questions whenever I can. Giving presentations and talking to an audience still terrifies me though, so it’s time for me to get my act together; I’m 24 years old and talking to a room of people should not terrify me as much as it does.
Last week I gave a talk with only 2 days’ notice. My Supervisor was going to do it but we got notice of the time slot so late that we thought we’d been cut, when we did eventually find out we were in he couldn’t attend so it was down to me. I made the slides and wrote down a script, read through it a few times, did 1 practice run through and then did the talk. It turns out that doing the thing is a whole lot easier than talking about doing the thing and stressing about doing the thing! Still buzzing from the fact that I managed to do the thing without turning a worrying shade of scarlet, I was asked to do another thing – it is relevant and helpful for me, so there was no need to say no. In April I’m giving a short talk at my Unit’s lunchtime research meeting. That’s a bit scarier as I know the audience and that always adds a bit more pressure – but hey, I’m going to do the thing and not stress about it because I’ve done it once before and I’ll do it again (and if I want to make any progress in academia at all I’ll going to need to present regularly so it’s not an option not to be good at doing the thing).
Moral of the story? Get out of your comfort zone, have confidence in your own abilities and do the thing, whatever it is. Once you’ve done the thing you’re most worried about, do it again and again until your comfort zone grows to encompass it. Then find the next thing that terrifies you and repeat.