From Butterflies to Bouquets: Trials of a First-Time Presenter

By Karen Tkaczyk

What’s it like to stand up in front of scores of people you don’t know and make a presentation? Even more interesting, what’s it like to prepare for it?

October 31st—there I was heading off for San Francisco with my slides prepared. It had all begun at the closing reception of the ATA conference in New Orleans last year. I was chatting with friends and they started talking about what they would like to see the following year. I impulsively said “Maybe I could do something?” and that was that. They encouraged me and I came home wondering about aspects of my work that would lend themselves to an educational session. It had been a number of years since I had given any sort of professional talk, so it felt like a new experience.

I submitted a proposal to ATA in March of this year to present on the topic of “Terminology for French>English Technical Cosmetic Translation.” In June I heard that it had been accepted. I had 90 minutes worth of content and handouts to plan and, optionally, a paper to write for the conference proceedings. ATA regularly sent out “speaker checklist” emails to keep me informed and on track in my preparations. I received emails in the ensuing months from people who had seen my name on the schedule and wanted to talk to me about the content or to wish me all the best. There was a huge amount of support and encouragement from my colleagues.

I submitted a paper on the topic during the summer and sent in my handouts, and then finished my slides in the days leading up to the conference. As my talk included both technical and language-specific material, I had asked both a cosmetic chemist and French-to-English translators to take a look and to give me their impressions. I received feedback that my talk was very interesting, sufficiently in-depth to be challenging, and well-structured, but possibly too long for a 90-minute slot. I, on the other hand, couldn’t imagine how I was going to make it last the full 90 minutes!

Now it was time to be there, and to be a speaker. The specialness starts when you register and you receive a “Speaker” tag to stick to your conference badge. Nothing like the badge of NCTA President Tuomas Kostiainen’s rainbow collection of tabs, of course, but still, it was a great ice breaker. As people walk around looking at your tummies trying to pick up the information contained on the badge, my “Speaker” identification was a natural way to get conversations started. Many people asked me about the topic of my presentation, and whether I was nervous.

Ah, that subject of nerves. My presentation was not until Saturday afternoon. That left a lot of time to become nervous. I was fine as I arrived, excited about attending the conference and meeting up with trusted colleagues whom I had never met in person or had not seen for a year, and I wasn’t bothered about the fact that I was speaking. I handed in my electronic file for the DVD upon arrival so that I would not be tempted to spend time tweaking it further.

Countdown to success

It would have been wonderful to have had an early slot and get the presentation out of the way, but that was not the case. My first nerves appeared on Friday. I asked the ever-helpful ATA staff if there was a speaker-ready room that I could use to practice my setup; “No, not this year,” came the reply. Nerves gripped me. ATA staffer Teresa Kelly took me aside and answered all my questions reassuringly, particularly regarding the technical help that would be available as I set up my laptop and microphone.

As Friday evening approached I was becoming nervous. My roommate helped with wardrobe indecision on Saturday morning. Eating lunch on Saturday was a challenge, but I was with friendly, reassuring people who kept things light-hearted. When I arrived at the room the technical help was indeed present and efficient, and they handled the minor details, such as screen settings, that I assumed I would have to do myself. The room was soon pleasantly full, and included plenty of faces who were known to me.

During the presentation, the time flashed by. I was really enjoying telling people about the subject, to the extent that I lost track of time about halfway through and did not get through all of my slides. Next time, I’ll take a stopwatch to keep myself on track!

Next time, you say? Yes, it was a great experience. My audience asked for Part Two next year since I hadn’t finished my material. Whether or not that happens, I will look forward to sharing what I know with other groups at other times. All in all, being a presenter was a very satisfying, and rewarding, experience.

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