November 15th, 2011

My First Oral Presentation: Life on the Other Side of the Podium

Several Cardiology Fellows who are attending AHA.11 this week are blogging together on CardioExchange.  The Fellows include Revathi Balakrishnan, Eiman Jahangir, John Ryan (moderator), and Amit Shah. Read the previous post here. Check back often to learn about the biggest buzz in Orlando.

My experiences of AHA conferences have been a progression, as they probably have been for others as well. It started with coming just for the experience; no presentations, just pure learning with my eyes wide open. What fun! The next AHA, I had the privilege of presenting a poster. While it was an honor to be selected for it, I felt some frustration because of the limited attendance and vast competition from other sessions and exhibits. At times I felt as if I was standing alone, handcuffed to my poster! This time, I timidly came to AHA with the opportunity to present my abstract in an oral session.  It was a refreshing change from a poster and an honor, but definitely a challenge as well.

It was a blessing and a curse. I loved not having to drag around a huge poster container, but I felt that I was dragging around my dread instead. What if I mess up my slides? I found myself tweaking them at the last minute, and missing sessions just to practice. Why did I sign up for this? Thoughts were racing as I became tachycardic in anticipation. Deep breaths…

The talk went…well, it just went. I never became completely comfortable, and found myself talking too fast several times. I felt like a mechanical speaking robot, reading off my slides at the speed of sound with little inflection or emotion.

Before I knew it, the talk ended. On to questions! Two were asked. They were really insightful, actually, but my brain was still not working. Although I did my best to answer the questions, I felt like a politician; it sounded like I was answering, but I didn’t really answer the question completely to the satisfaction of the audience.

Afterwards, I ran into some friends, which was a breath of fresh air; they were all very encouraging. Overall, I valued the experienced, learned a lot, and would do it again in a heartbeat, even though I know I’ll be nervous again.  Hopefully I will be a little bit less tachycardic at least.

Does anyone else have stories to share about their first experience given an oral presentation? Perhaps any tips?

[EDITOR’S NOTE: for more on the experience of presenting at for the first time see John Ryan’s post from last year’s AHA and his interview earlier this month with Thomas Ryan].

3 Responses to “My First Oral Presentation: Life on the Other Side of the Podium”

  1. After my experience, I think that last minute changes to slides is not recommended. I find it unhelpful- no one else is going to notice except you and I think it distracts you from giving the talk- the last hours should be spent rehearsing the talk, not updating the slides.

  2. Agreed. Looking back, I would definitely have focused more on earlier preparation and better sleep. I was admittedly fatigued, being on a busy clinical rotation. Perhaps one night of sleep deprivation can be compensated with a caffeine bolus and adrenaline, but after that, the fatigue and inability to concentrate becomes quite difficult to overcome no matter what.

  3. Karen Politis, MD says:

    You have something important to say!! Otherwise your work would not have been accepted. Say it with precision, confidence and trusting your audience – they are all interested in treating their patients better, and maybe you can offer some insight, no matter how inexperienced you think you are. Know your lines by heart – so even it the slides go off, you are still in control. GET IT DONE IN LESS TIME THAN PROVIDED. They will love you.