Learning to present at a conference

Having returned from my third conference in six months, I’d like to reflect on my development as a conference presenter and on my involvement with BALEAP in general.

My first contact with the BALEAP Community of Practice was at the biennial conference in Nottingham in 2013. I was an MA Linguistics student at the time and was collecting ideas for my dissertation, as well as trying out the environment of a big conference and meeting colleagues from other institutions. I was both overwhelmed and encouraged by this event, keen to make more of this professional network.

The CfPs for the next PIMs came out, first the one on Feedback (Oxford Brookes). A colleague asked whether I’d like to do a joint presentation with him, and I was horrified that he thought I could have anything to contribute. So he did it on his own, and I ended up not even attending the event because it was full before I had made my mind up about whether or not to register.

Then my unofficial mentor, i.e. an experienced colleague, encouraged me to submit an abstract for the next PIM on Authenticity (Leeds). I always wanted to go, but she said “no, you’re not just going, you’re presenting, you have something to say!” So I thought about my teacher identity and teacher authenticity and submitted an abstract.

At the same time, I was really interested in the topic for the following PIM on Corpora (Coventry). The upcoming event and CfP prompted me to do a teaching project “properly” and I submitted an abstract on that project. So that was two abstracts in for two PIMs.

When my abstract for the Leeds PIM was accepted, I felt a mix between joy and PANIC! I thought, “Now I have to deliver!” I kept editing the talk substantially right up until the night before, so I only really had an hour or so to practise what I would actually say around the final version of the slides. On the day, I made it somehow, but despite positive feedback after the session, I felt like I had sounded tense and memorised. I asked myself: Had I under-prepared (i.e. not practised enough) or over-prepared (i.e. settled on the exact words, rather than the content)?

Apart from feeling a bit tense regarding my talk in the second last slot, I had a great day, meeting new colleagues and others that I had met at the conference, so I thought: I’m getting somewhere. I’m starting to know people!

The next time, for the Coventry PIM, I allowed myself longer for the preparation. I started drafting the slides 3-4 weeks before the day and was happy with them a week before the event (I know, this sounds very geeky). I took the time to rehearse. I did settle on an “exact word” version, but I was not dependent on it. I talked through the “exact” version with a colleague and then rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed. At that point, there were a few empty classrooms in the building, so I was lucky there. Also, at that time I worked on presentation skills with my students, so this was authentic/integrated learning for all of us.

And it worked. At my third event, which was the second time that I was a speaker and the first event that I didn’t attend together with other teachers from my university, I felt like I had “arrived”. I felt like I was no longer an “apprentice” but a junior member of the community. Thanks BALEAP for welcoming me!

This weekend, I was at the InForm conference in Canterbury. There is some overlap with BALEAP of course, but the only person I knew at that conference was Olly Twist of Garnet Education. The talk I gave there was a joint talk with a colleague, so that was another first – and a different challenge. So in no way am I at the “end” of my learning journey as a presenter, but I’m getting more and more pieces of experience together, and I’m moving gradually closer to the centre of the community of practice of EAP professionals.

To anyone who might be thinking of giving a talk – just go for it!

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