Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to present at my very first national conference, the Annual Program Meeting for the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), which was held in Dallas, TX this year. With CSWE considered one of the biggest conferences for researchers in the field of social work, and seeing myself as merely an inexperienced second-year doctoral student, you could only imagine how nervous and afraid I was to present. I had nightmares that my alarm didn’t go off and I slept through the presentation, that I forgot the jump drive with final presentation at home, and that I forgot everything I rehearsed as soon as I stepped up to the podium. I even had a dream that I got booed and Sandman from the Apollo Theater removed me from the podium with his infamous cane! My heart was racing all the way up to the beginning of our presentation, but luckily, all of the preparation paid off!
The presentation was to last only 20 minutes, but it felt so much shorter than that, especially after I became more comfortable with standing in front of the room. I was able to develop a sense of confidence and reassurance that I really did have the skills necessary to not only present research, but to also answer questions from the audience. Something that I feared became something that I enjoyed. Instead of experiencing anxiety, I felt exhilaration. The girl who used to stutter and trip over her words even when asking a question in class was now co-presenting first-year outcomes for a multisite mental health project at a national conference. Let’s just say, practice makes perfect and I’m excited to hone my public speaking skills even more!