crash n burn - kill me! oh my! argh.


======= Date Modified 11 04 2010 18:04:26 =======
======= Date Modified 11 00 2010 18:00:02 =======
======= Date Modified 11 56 2010 17:56:34 =======
Today was my first presentation not as a PhD student and as a temporary lecturer. It did not go well. Apparently the delivery was the issue, not so much the material (the chair asked afterwards for my thesis and a paper. and besdies, the powerpoint was beautiful and the script reasonably polished). The chair came to talk to me afterwards and said that I should take acting lessons to project the voice and prevent the words getting strangled in my chest and control my breath and thus diction. I am so ashamed and embarassed. It must have been awful. I felt so dizzy and suffocated talking (and talk is precceeded by a headache and nervous trips to the bathroom)- and why the hell wasn't there a microphone! Anyway, the worse part is that my head of department and another colleague were there to witness this awful talk. So ashamed. The head did not look impressed and did not speak to me all day. I know it is not the collected elegant professional stance she would like (and I would like). Urgh. Just makes me think who am I kidding with all this. Feel really low. I've made myself look really incompetent and I worry I have now made the department look bad too - hence head is not happy with me.

I want to fade away!



On the flipside, at least someone did come and point to you out what points you could improve. It would have been too easy for nobody to say anything (as sadly too often happens). Try not to worry too much about it, it's over now, and instead focus on what you can do to improve.


Hi Chris,

First, so sorry that this has really stressed you out. I can definitely relate to the nerves you describe. Look, it obviously wasn't your best presentation but I think you are probably exaggerating the negatives. As you said yourself, the chair was interested in the material, the script and powerpoint were polished and you were happy with them!!

So, the issue was delivery alone. Are you always this nervous? Did you have time to do a spoken-aloud run-through of the paper before hand? I might be over-stepping the mark here but I noticed your posts on the nocturnal workers thread and you seem to have been up the WHOLE night before getting ready and going in to give this presentation! If this is the case, then no wonder you were in bits. I can hardly make it down the street in the morning if I haven't slept the night before never mind do something as demanding as giving a presentation. I am the kind of person who gets very nervous before these things and I find the only thing that calms me a bit is being well-prepared. I also think you put added pressure on yourself by thinking of this in terms of 'my first presentation as Dr Chris' instead of just another presentation like ones you've done before.

You are not trying to 'kid' anyone. You completed your thesis and passed your viva because you DESERVED to, because you are competent. The sooner you start believing that the better.

I very much doubt that the HOD is avoiding you. It sounds like your self-doubt talking. Learn from this. Prepare your presentations as far in advance as possible (I know this is hard but it definitely helps with nerves) and whatever you do don't let this become an elephant in the room that stops you from giving papers. In fact, I would be inclined to say that the next opportunity you get to do another presentation, grab it. And the sooner the better. Then this experience can be relegated into the category where it properly belongs-- a once off. The embarrassment will pass in a day or two.

Sorry if I sound bossy. I've been there too. Hugs and (gift)


I agree with Kaymoy. Don't leave preparing a presentation to the last minute. Finish it well in advance, then practice, practice and practice. Oh and revise and edit it, as needed. The main point of practicing is to work on your delivery and confidence, and also speed of diction. I record my presentation as I'm practising, then play it back. It becomes painfully obvious where the problems are. And, above all, sleep well before you give a talk. Don't stay up almost all night!

The first university where I was a PhD student offered training to PhD students and post-docs on speaking skills, including helping us use our diaphragms, and learning how to project our voice. I've never given a presentation where I've used a microphone, even at conferences, and can project my voice pretty well. Does your university offer any training like that?


Quote From BilboBaggins:

The first university where I was a PhD student offered training to PhD students and post-docs on speaking skills, including helping us use our diaphragms, and learning how to project our voice. I've never given a presentation where I've used a microphone, even at conferences, and can project my voice pretty well. Does your university offer any training like that?

I did something like this too. It's probably the most useful two hours of training I've ever done. See if there's a staff development unit offering something similar, as it really does help. Even thinking about the mechanics of using your voice correctly, helps me to calm my nerves. And everyone messes up at least one presentation if not many in their lives. I certainly can think of several cringeworthy moments, but I'm pretty sure I remember them but the audience doesn't. Plus if it had been so unredeemingly awful then I doubt the chair would have asked for the paper & thesis, or bothered to give you advice, so don't beat yourself up too much. The chances are too that your HoD wasn't intentionally ignoring you but was just tied up with other people. Honestly, almost certainly none of it is as bad as you think at the moment.

Avatar for Eska

Hi Chrisolinski, something similar happened to me at a department symposium recently, so I can empathise completely. I just clammed up and everything went spinny, even tho I deliver lectures, hae given papers before etc, no problem, even had people comment on how good I was at it! Being in my own department, delivering to the top people in my field - who I really respect - really flipped me out. I also got quite paranoid and ashamed afterwards, the whole thing felt like a major calamity.

I agree with previous posters who say preparation and a good night's sleep are key. I had already given my paper at another conference, and just practiced it through the night before the , only to realise at that point that I really did not like it any more. I was away from home so had no laptop/printer and just had to read it as it was: My big chance to impress the big cheeses down the swanny... so I felt. I had also been under an awful lot of stress in my personal life and was feeling low because of that, I don't think this helped my frame of mind. Are you ok after the break up? Could there be some residue from that situation?

I hope you're ok, this will pass, and the comments you had were mostly very positive so I wouldn't worry about how you've made yourself or the department look. I'd defo take the training if it's offered, that sounds really useful for anyone.


Hi Chrisrolinski, I'm sorry to hear you've had a bad experience with your talk. I can only echo the advice that others have given, regarding getting a good night's sleep before hand and taking up any training that's on offer. I don't know if this is helpful at all but I take a different approach to any talks and presentations I've given and it has worked quite well for me. Sorry if the advice seems like something from the School of the Bleeding Obvious.
I make notes concerning everything I'm going to say and memorise it parrot fashion. Then, like others have said, I just practice speaking it aloud with my presentation slides pinned to the wall. So by the end I can recite everything on the slides, and everything extra concerning each slide, verbatim. So, even though I'm really as thick as two short planks, come the presentation I real of everything, including statistics, without ever looking at the slide screen. It comes across as polished because I can concentrate on my voice and intonation as I deliver the presentation.


Hey! Sorry to hear you're so stressed and upset about it. I think the main thing is, you got up there and you did it. The content was fine, the slides were good, the script was there- all you need to work on is the delivery. Try not to take it as an insult, I reckon the chair probably just meant it in a helpful way (although I would have felt exactly the same as you and taken it very much to heart and beaten myself up over it!!) and didn't mean to upset you. A lot of people wouldn't even have been able to get up there and deliver at all, so for the first go it sounds like you did a grand job for the most part. We all need to work on some bits and we're all more naturally gifted at some aspects of the academic life than other aspects, so keep your chin up and don't stress about it! You could learn it by rote and then concentrate on the delivery- but personally I find the best speakers to be those who don't learn it by rote and just talk more naturally about what's on their slides. But if you would feel better learning it by rote and then concentrating on the delivery to start with- do that! And there are plenty of really experienced lecturers out there who are professors and are crap at lecturing (and always will be!), but you've got loads of time to work on it! All the best, KB


Best not dwell on the experience.  There will be other presentations and other opportunities to get it right, you've got the rest of your life to impress the world with your excellence. We only really learn what we're made of when we're tested - dusting yourself off and bouncing back from this is truly a test of character.


Hi Chris, I just want to echo what everyone else has said, and tell you, don;t worry about it. I totally would have felt the same way you are, so I can understand where you are coming from. But it's best not to dwell on these things, and concentrate on moving on, taking what you can from the experience and learning from it. It's better to have great content and concentrate on improving your delivery, than have crap content so that it doesn't matter if your delivery is good or not! It's probably a combination of relief that you are finished your PhD, being anxious from giving your first Dr talk, and sheer exhaustion from working late preparing it! Of course if life gets in the way and you aren't able to finish your talk well in advance there is nothing you can do about that, but you can practice your delivery in the meantime.

It's good to know exactly what your key points are, I don't like learning from rote cos then I find it difficult to think on my feet if I get lost or forget something. Stand in a corner and practice your talk, you will hear what your voice sounds like much better than if you speak to an open room, and you can see where you are losing breath, changing pitch or being too quiet. Practice breathing properly, and always stand straight with both feet evenly on the ground, it's amazing the difference that make to projection of your voice. If you tend to walk around when presenting, make sure you don't turn your back or turn away from the audience as you will muffle your voice. And just get used to talking about your subject out loud, with gesticulations and everything, practice in a lecture room at night when the uni is quiet and you'll be fine! (up)


Oh dear, I'd have felt exactly the same, but its a learning curve and we all have problems at some time. As the others have said, don't dwell on it, take the advice, use it and next time it will be much better. I'm sure it wasn't as bad as you think it was and that the advice was given in kindness to help you out. As for the HOD, it may be that it wasn't ignoring at all, just busy and nothing much to say! Its done now, in the past, and you will improve and get better. Well done you for doing it at all - I always want to be sick if I have to get up and tend to spend more time concentrating on hanging onto my dinner than how I'm talking lol! The advice from the chair and the others here is very valuable, we don't become a Dr and suddenly on cue become amazing speakers, it all takes time, and if some of the lecturers I've heard are anything to go by, some never make it lmao - but you will xx (gift)


Hi Chrisrolinski,

Firstly, I, like many forum members, would feel exactly the same (and when I have to do something similar in a few weeks, I'm sure I'll end up with similar results!), so I'm not playing down your feelings here.

But we get over these things, 'cos ultimately it doesn't really matter - those in positions of academic power can pretty well tell if someone is or isn't a cocky so and so - and for those of us who aren't, this sort of thing is to be expected. But we learn from it, and move on - the memories get easier! (I can now giggle as well as shudder when I think of the first few conference papers I did as a new PhD student, puffing & panting, sweating & purple-faced - I even had to get a chair to sit down half way through my first paper, as I thought I was going to faint! :$)

I'm sure those 'at the top' have seen this situation so many times that they may to some extent expect it from new post-docs of the not-so-cocky breed, and are probably pretty well aware by now of the pressures that we put ourselves under in such situations.
Perhaps this is why the chair felt able to give you the advice - maybe they're so used to saying similar things to others who've gone through such agonies?

(And I'd go with the other comments that your HOD was probably just busy.)

Take confidence in that your knowledge and research experience impressed your audience, and think back to how you got over similar situations when you were just starting out. If you had nerves / embarrassment then, I'm guessing you managed to deal with it in the end (at least to some extent)?

Sounds like your work did you proud - anything else will be put down to just what it was by the sounds of it - self-imposed pressure because you actually care about your presentation (unlike some I've encountered), I'm sure

(And at the risk of sounding like a bossy mother - get some sleep! sounds like you're overworking yourself)

Better luck for next time - onwards and upwards! (up)


*hugs* I think that nearly everyone has been in that spot and more than once! You are not alone in having a presentation not go the way you wanted. But no way did you look incompetent or put the department in a bad light. You got up there, you had good materials, you made it through. Incompetency would be a) you no showed; b) you turned up drunk or c) your material was all wrong. None of those things happened, what you had was a case of nerves. Which is NOT incompetency--far from it!!!!!!!!!

I have a friend who has been teaching for years and she tells me she still gets nervous before class! Some long time professor sorts are very nervous ahead of its not even necessarily a symptom of being new--some people just have more nerves than others about public speaking.

Don't fade away. Pat yourself on the back for having got through it. I think the only way to get through speaking nerves is to just do it and do it and do it until eventually you have done it so much you do not get nervous ( or less so...).

At my first ever academic conference some senior academic woman came up to me in the LOO!!!!! to tell me how I had screwed up on some point in the presentation, and I was in error. I felt sick the rest of the day. Turns out that I was right, and she was wrong, and my respect for academics qua academics went out the window. One, she was wrong, and two she was a complete ( fill in word not allowed on the forum) in how she approached me.

At some level if people have no constructive criticism they should just shut it--sorry if that sounds harsh, but really, the people who dash around in conferences lime lighting and trying to show they know more than the speakers have got some real issues. If they are all that, then they should be up there in the front, not in the back, waving a helium hand and trying to demonstrate how the speaker is wrong. It is one thing to have a polite, if passionate academic exchange. Its another altogether to be rude.

Oopps off on a rant. :D I would say you did just fine, and should take what there is to learn from this and then just put it behind you. You will have other presentations that do not go as you want and others that will exceed your expectations.

I have been told that when people are nervous, they breathe shallow from the chest and not from the diaphragm and thus the voice comes out more breathy. Simple tips for nerve control are:

1. Smile!!!!!! Honestly!!!! If you smile, your body relaxes, and the breathing changes from chest to diaphragm. I paint a false smile over my face if I have to to make this happen--but it does work!!!! Smile and make pleasant chat the few minutes ahead of presenting, and it forces the body into relaxing.

2. Deep breathe. Same effect. Breathe from the diaphragm--no nerves! Take some deep breaths as you begin to speak and smile! If you need to pause--which is recommended from time to time, have a sip of water, take a few deep breaths, if need be FORCE that smile back on your face, and your body will be more relaxed, the nervous shallow breathing gone, and your own nerves diminished.

Acting lessons and other presentation workshops can help you learn to do all this--but really---controlling nerves or at least masking them is this simple--smile and breathe deep! I know it might sound trite, but it works!!!


Thanks for all your comments! I feel a bit better today, just embarassed really. I am going to sort out some sort of voice coaching. Maybe 2 or 3 sessions as I am poor, but perhaps they will help.

I have given a number of conference papers before and seminar papers, but I was very aware it was my first one post-PhD. I think my presentation has always been awkward - and it was just this chair being brave/consdierate to bring it up!

Thanks all for your suggestions and supportive comments. :) I am sure thing will get better in time (they have to right?) as I get used to doing this job.


======= Date Modified 12 Sep 2010 18:54:26 =======
Edit to say that you replied while I was posting: glad you're feeling a bit better!

I used to be physically sick before presentations and still get very very nervous, so know how you feel a bit. I would also say that you need to cut yourself some slack. This isn't the only presentation you've done, is it, and you've done fine those other times? Maybe you were putting more pressure on yourself as it was your first post-PhD and, in combination with tiredness, it led to you having a bad day. We've all had them. I've even given the exact same paper on different days and had it tank one day and go brilliantly another! Sometimes it's all about state of mind.

I went to a voice-projection workshop led by someone from drama and it was really helpful. That was for PhD students but maybe it would be worth digging around to see if they offer similar for post-docs and/or lecturers. My supervisor also had me shout stuff to him at the other end of the corridor to check my projection before I gave my first lecture, but I wouldn't recommend that if you don't want your colleagues to think you are crazy! I have also asked fellow students to give me (honest) feedback on my delivery and that has been helpful - but make sure it is someone you can rely on to give you *constructive* criticism. Anyway, for today, you have permission to mope (have you got any chocolate?) but make sure that you get right back on that horse.