Last week I went to the Coastal Zone 2009 conference in Boston, MA. It was my first time giving a talk at a conference and to say I was nervous was an extreme understatement. I had practiced my talk a billion times, but I was still afraid that I was going to choke once I got up there in front of an audience of strangers.
I was pretty unenthusiastic about being in Boston for the first 24 hours. I actually think I went through a bit of a culture shock--it's been a while since I had spent a significant amount of time in a large city. It was also super fancy, which was also something I was not used to. When I first walked into the hotel, it was chandelier and American flag overload! Everything was big and extravagant (see below)! It was like performing in a Broadway play!
A lot of the talks given weren't very interesting for me because they were given by policy makers and practitioners in the field of coastal management. However, I think that it is important to attend conferences like this because there is definitely a lack of communication between this crowd and those working on the academic/research side and this is a great opportunity to share information about practitioner needs and research methods.
Once Tuesday afternoon came around (the time of my presentation) I was shaking from nerves! My throat was forever dry so I continuously chugged glasses of water with no effect. There were 4 other talks given at that time and mine was the second one. It goes without saying that I heard not a single word of the talk before me because I was so nervous....and then I heard my name being called up! I walked up to the podium and looked around and the room was packed! There must have been ~150 people in the audience. It was the fullest session that I had seen at the conference! Thankfully, I couldn't see anyone's face except for my adviser's and the other presenters in the front row. They immediately became my friendly faces that I often looked to in the crowd.
Once I started talking it was almost like I was on autoplay. I could hear myself talking very clearly and slowly, which is not how I talk when I'm nervous, so this was a plus. After this I soon gained confidence and was able to somewhat calm down and finished the talk with no major problems!! Unfortunately, all questions for the 4 participants were saved until the end and I quickly figured out that I am completely uncomfortable answering random questions in front of a large audience...hopefully this gets better. Once the session was over, I had an immediate sense of relief and felt like I was now going to enjoy the conference. The 700 pound, rabid gorilla that had been hanging over my head for months was now gone!
The rest of the conference was great! All throughout the week people came up to me and told me how much they liked my talk! I couldn't believe it! It felt really good and motivating to hear that people were actually interested in what I was saying.
The city of Boston was pretty nice. It was much colder than I had imagined it to be and the streets were always quite crowded. We didn't have time for much sight seeing, but we walked along some of the Freedom Trail to some of the historic sites and explored the harbor area.
view from my hotel room
Paul Revere's tomb
statue of George Washington
the harbor from Long Wharf
sunset at the harbor
On Thursday night we had a large reception at the New England Aquarium. They closed it off to the public and the conference participants were free to roam around looking at sea life while hitting up the bar and finger foods located on every floor! They also had Frank Sinatra playing in the background. On the back patio of the aquarium there was a large tent that overlooked the harbor and a band was playing on the inside. It was pretty awesome! I wish I would have brought my big camera because I wasn't able to capture anything that moved behind the glass of the aquarium with my little one. However, here are some shots of some still sea life that I got...
what i aspire to be (on the inside)
me and heather outside the aquarium
Overall, the conference was a great trip and despite my constant belly aches caused from overactive nerves, I proved to myself that it is possible to overcome those fears. It may have been painful and scary, but it's good to challenge yourself because in almost every case (at least I have found) that it is not nearly as bad as your imagination creates it to be.