In the last few blogs I have outlined the travel and research I did as the 2017 Norman Foster Travelling Scholar, but do you know what scared me the most about the entire experience? The presentation at the end! Part of the process is to present your findings at Foster + Partners at their London office. Of all the incredible experiences I have had as a result of winning this scholarship, the thing I value the most is the confidence it has ingrained in me. I have gone from a very shy and socially anxious second year undergrad student, to travelling the world solo and presenting to a large audience at one of the biggest architectural firms.
I have spoken out about my mental health quite a lot in the last few years as I think sharing is one of the most important ways to recover and to help others. So, I will always be honest – I am still shy, I still get anxious about a lot of things, I still have occasional panic attacks – but I have overcome my biggest fears, I have met my challenges head on and come out a much better person for it. I used to get panic attacks just getting on a train from my home to my university city; then I took 18 flights on my own in one summer.
Travelling on my own forced me to meet new people. I reached out to people in my hostels, people I met on tours, architecture students in the countries I was visiting, organisations and university professors. The ways that so many people offered to help me made my journey so much better and as my confidence grew, so did my ability to trust in others. This led to some amazing opportunities and experiences, from participating in a traditional drum practise to sharing chai in Dharavi with new friends.
When I returned from the trip, I begun to write my report for the RIBA and adapting my research for my dissertation question. The presentation didn’t come for another 5 or so months after my return, so I had a lot of time to prepare (and work myself up about it!). In the end, I presented my research multiple times. I had a practise run at Michael Dales Partnership, a practice I did work experience at when I was younger; a short talk at the University of Lincoln on travelling as a solo woman, for International Women’s Day; the official presentation at Foster + Partners; an organised talk at the RIBA; and more recently at the Norman Foster Foundation in Madrid.
The presentation itself actually went really well and I managed to enjoy myself. Over two years on and it is still one of my proudest moments, knowing that I overcame my fears and didn’t let my anxiety hold me back. I can’t say I am keen to present yet, but it is becoming easier every time – I always make sure to take any opportunities to present, because I know that the more I do it, the more confident I feel.
I spent quite a while reading tips on presenting before the big day, but my top ones are:
Prepare and practise, but do not over-practise. If you prepare too much, it can take away any level of candid interaction with your audience and become robotic.
Practise in front of people – try to run through the presentation a few times to your parents, partner, friends, whoever you have around you. They can give you tips on how it is going, and it gives a better indication of the time it’ll take you. You will almost certainly speak more quickly to others than to yourself, so that is an important point if the time frame is important.
Use the questions as a chance to push your own thoughts on the topics. Particularly in research, people can become very involved in their topic that they never stop to consider it from an outside perspective.
Take deep breaths to keep yourself calm and collected. Remember to breathe between your sentences and slides, and have a glass of water at hand.
Your posture matters – keep your shoulders back and up, maintain a confident frame and it does wonders to how you feel. A slumped over body does not present a good image to the audience, but it also sends negative messages to your own mind.
If you get nervous, it is really great if you have someone reassuring in the audience. When I presented at Fosters, two of the previous scholars were in the audience. Knowing that they had already been through this helped me massively.
AND ENJOY YOURSELF!