November 16th, 2010

First-Time Presenter

Several Cardiology Fellows who are attending this week’s AHA meeting are blogging together on CardioExchange. The Fellows include Susan Cheng, Madhavi Reddy, John Ryan, and Amit Shah. Check back often to learn about the biggest buzz in Chicago this week — whether it’s a poster, a presentation, or the word in the hallways. You can read the preceding post here.

Yesterday was my first time presenting at AHA.

I arrived early in the morning to upload my slides, as we had been instructed by the IT staff to have our talks on the system three hours before our scheduled session. And after Susan had described the technical difficulties of the day before, I did not want to have a similar experience.

Later in the morning, my mentor Kim Williams called me to practice our presentation. As we started to rehearse, we realized that we could add some more statistics into the presentation. This process consumed us right up to the start of our session “What’s new in nuclear cardiology.”  So despite my previous organization, I had to jump to the top of the queue at the speakers’ resource center and ask the staff to re-load my talk.

I then left the lofty heights of Hall A and walked to the smaller rooms closer to Lake Michigan. This was the first  formal scientific conference at which I have presented data. Over the last few days I have been struck by the solemn, serious tone of the presentations. Unlike CCU conferences that we present at during fellowship, these were taciturn discussions of science with no room for jokes or inaccuracies. To say that I was nervous would be an understatement. I am not normally anxious about talks, but this was so different from what I was used to.

I was scheduled to talk after the intermission in the afternoon. However, when the last speaker scheduled for before the break was late, I was asked to substitute. I guess I should have said no. One would think that it would not matter, because at this stage, I knew our data very well and had been freshly working on stats, and so I agreed to present before the intermission. But it did shake me unnecessarily, which was foolish. In hindsight, I did not have sufficient mental preparation  and flew through my slides in what felt like a whirlwind. Halfway through, I realized this, and I managed to pace myself and get across more of our finer points . Still, the question session was a struggle, with fair but tough questions, which I was unprepared for.

As I was leaving the room at the start of intermission, I saw a half dozen fellow friends of mine coming down the hall to attend my talk. A senior faculty member from Boston also was coming to hear me speak. It was quite touching to see so many of them prepared to make the long walk to the Eastern conference room to show support and solidarity. And although I had initially felt defeated because I did not do as good a job as I would have liked, seeing the support that my colleagues were willing to offer me was heart-warming and inspiring. Next time, though, I will insist on sticking with the time initially assigned for me.

What have others experienced while presenting at AHA? Do people remember the first time they presented? Any advice to those who are still about to give a talk?

8 Responses to “First-Time Presenter”

  1. My advice to those about to give there talks is to remember that you are in charge. Set the tone and talk slowly – a lot slower than you think you need to. Also take one deep breath before you start and try to smile whil you are up there. This goes for a talk at the AHA/ACC/HRS or even noon conference at your training insitution. Also remember that you do, in general, know more about your topic than anyone else in the audience (of course there may be your mentor and perhaps another expert in the audience). And do not be afraid to say “good question, I never thought about that” when you don’t know the answer. Many more words of advice – what do others have to add?

  2. Hey John, fantastic post. I think this is something that everybody has probably been through at one point or another. I distinctly remember feeling like I could sense my voice shaking when I gave my first big conference talk. As a senior fellow with now a bunch of talks behind me (and I’m counting all the noon conference and home institution talks too), I can say it definitely gets better! I like Andy’s comments a lot. In addition, a tip I heard from one of my mentors recently was to pause for about 3 seconds before answering any question. I’m not sure exactly what this does psychologically or otherwise, but it does seem to help moderate the flow of the Q&A conversation.

    • Saurav Chatterjee, MD says:

      John-its a great post.As we discussed that same morning that we met-I also had my presentation the same day.And pretty much-your experience sums up the feelings that I went through too.Other than the usual initial jitters-I also ended up responding to lots of queries with answers that somehow didnot seem to appease the enquirer.Of course it might have been due to my inexperience and also the fact that I was presenting a clinical study in a cerebro-cardio-protection and resuscitation session dominated by papers on animal experiments and lab research.And I also felt after talking with a few other first time presenters that over preparing was also a significant contributor to their stress-I even met someone who had memorised the talk down to the last notation!!

  3. Joh, great post!! I agree with the previous comments (slow down, be in charge, pause before answering questions). I also think its easy to “run through slides” like your racing in the Grand Prix. I remind our fellows and faculty that although they may be familiar with each slide, for everyone in the audience it’s the first time they’ve seen it….so they’re reading it while your talking. Thus, it’s good to methodically walk through the slides. It also allows one to hit the “finer points” of the study that are easy to overlook when your breezing through the slides at 200 mph.

  4. Great post. The first experiences with public speaking are always challenging – but it is a skill – and practice, guidance, experience will raise your confidence and performance. And mostly everyone has the sense that they could have done better – but I suspect that you did well. The changing of the times was a shame – and your post made me appreciate how disruptive that could be. I suspect the moderator did not appreciate it either.

  5. John, this post is a classic, as it brings us all back to our first knee-knocking, heart-pounding tongue-tied experiences. I remember the feeling like it was yesterday—so much like the nerves at the beginning of a sporting event or race that calm down once it gets underway. More than any strategy, it is just experience that calms the nerves. Thanks for sharing this with all of us.

  6. Thanks for all the great fedback. Definitely made me feel better. I have filed your comments away for future presentations.

  7. Roshan Karki, MBBS says:

    Very helpful!