I am having an experience that I find extremely anxiety-provoking. I am giving a presentation in Thailand to a large group who do not speak English as a first language on a topic that I think is very straightforward. I know from experience that this could go very badly. In the past at times like this, I have given similar talks only to find out later that no one has understood the concepts I was speaking about at all. That’s so embarrassing.
I have a great topic for this presentation: From Texting to Talking: 3 Proven Strategies for Connecting with Your Teen. The conference organizers proposed another title, also on a parenting topic, but I offered this as it parallels work I am currently involved in as I try to bring together everything that is known about the most effective parenting strategies. These strategies are very helpful to parents in my practice and I am also planning to bring them together for a book.
My main concern about the talk is that these concepts are most effectively conveyed in a small group workshop. How the 3 strategies were determined, however, is very much a topic that can be brought together into a brief presentation. I have twenty minutes only for both my presentation and questions. Other than being late, one of the things I hate the most is when a speaker in a conference cannot keep to their allotted time. I always think that this demonstrates a personal view that what you are speaking about MUST be more important than anybody else’s work. No matter what, I will finish within my allotted time.
Whenever I think about how this talk could go, I start to feel anxious. I feel a bit nauseous and break into a sweat. I get a stress headache if I don’t practice both breathing and mindfulness. I hate the idea of the long trip – 30 hours of travel. The good news is that, because I’m so nervous, there is no possibility of falling asleep as my presentation is about to begin.
How am I going to cope with my anxiety, you wonder – other than with mindful practice and focused breathing? Well, to begin with, I am super prepared. I have only 8 slides, including the introduction and the end. I have tested the timing, allowing for 5 minutes of questions. I have given the presentation to a colleague whose first language is very much French.
I also have copies of my PowerPoint in every which way you can imagine. I have sent it to the conference organizers. I have emailed it to myself. I am carrying it on a memory stick. I also have my speaking notes in several formats.
This week in the ward’s groups, when patients have asked me if I ever get anxious, I have told them about this situation. I have asked them how they would manage. My young patients, all of them trying to manage extraordinary anxiety, had the best advice for me. We spoke about how they had given me the advice that they often most needed to hear themselves.
One young man captured my eye roll perfectly, stood up and said, “Right back atcha, eh Dr. Beck?” Of course, he’s right – I think I’ll manage.