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Academic Coach Benedict N. had the distinct honor of being invited to present his research at a symposium at the University of California, Merced. He joined the ranks of college professors and doctoral students, as he stepped up to the microphone to tell stories that were both personal and impactful. Below, Benedict shares with us his mental journey in preparing for his moment of truth.

After spending most of the day sitting in a chair, my heart suddenly begins pounding. I’m not surprised this is happening, but I wish it weren’t. I’m nervous.

Preparing for the first time to present my own research outside of the college I attended, I take a few deep breaths and swig some water. I flew all the way out to the west coast and don’t really have the option to disappear and hide now.

Remembering that I’ve been thinking about this topic since writing my senior thesis in college, I try to reassure myself that I’m prepared.

Sure, tenured professors and PhD candidates have been presenting articulate and brilliant papers all day. Sure, it’s been awhile since I’ve been in this kind of academic environment. It’s not like I’m in a room full of people smarter than me eager to judge me or anything.

Pause. Pause on the negative self-talk.

More deep breaths. More water.

It’s the end of the day. Scholars are humans too, and since it’s prime late afternoon nap time, attention spans are probably short. Grateful for the organizers’ invitation for non-traditional presentation formats, I turn off the blazing thoughts in my head to revert back to a plan that never existed. I’ve prepared for this.

More deep breaths. More water.

During the break, I take my seat at the panelists’ table and imagine myself smiling and speaking confidently. I try not to smile too exuberantly while the audience members still sitting in their chairs can see me. I don’t want to weird them out before I even start, right?

It’s my turn to speak. I glance down at my outline printed a week ago, scanning jotted notes I’ve since made. I look up at the overwhelming crowd of 12 people—there are simultaneous panels, and I guess mine lost that competition– but it’s all the same. I inhale and begin to tell some stories.

Once noise begins to come out of my throat, I realize I must be speaking. I don’t even feel my heart beating anymore, and my awkward sweating subsides too. Telling stories that connect to things I’ve read, reflected on, and care deeply for, I feel at ease.

This does take me by surprise. Also, the audience seems to be paying attention! Ten minutes later, my presentation’s over and not only am I still alive, but I actually remember what just happened. I feel calm and excitement and relief and pride and all of a sudden I’m sitting in a chair watching another presentation. The keynote. Could that be me someday? Though I don’t plan on it, if you tossed me up there, I think I’d survive just fine.

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Stay Calm at the Mic

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