After watching my Duke Blue Devils conquer the ACC Women’s Swimming Championship at Georgia Tech this weekend, I spent the better part of my weekend devouring some great TED talks. Not only were the messages by Shirzad Chamine and Brene Brown inspiring and refreshing, but they also gave me the opportunity to reflect on my own recent public speaking experiences.
Two weeks ago, I had the honor and privilege to do what I consider two of the most humbling experiences of my professional life: speak with and in front of colleagues at the American Physical Therapy Association’s (APTA) Combined Sections Meeting. In keeping with the fact that it occurred the same week as the Super Bowl-we’ll basically equate this to the Super Bowl of all PT nerd-dom, complete with fanfare, its own hashtag, an exhibit hall with plenty of games and freebies, and plenty of evening parties. Just imagine 10-15,000 of your best nerdy PT friends all descending on one giant convention center in snowy, frigid Indianapolis (seriously, whose idea was that?). It was a geek fest- but a very inspiring geek fest at that. And some may argue it offered some great people watching and fashion critiques. Apparently the token wardrobe for PTs is still believed to be khakis and polos, if you were wondering (there is an entire Twitter conversation about that).
I found out last summer that I would be speaking, so there was plenty of time to prepare. Like the athlete that I am, I spent weeks training, rehearsing, polishing, and preparing my presentations so that I could get up there and deliver the presentations in true TED talk style. I read a book, watched tons of TED talks, and ran the talks by several colleagues and students. I selected outfits that would convey my personality. People: I wore HEELS for crying out loud. I spent hours in the convention center’s “practice room” making sure that the computer and projector were compatible and that all of my photos and videos shone through to convey my visual message. An audiovisual snafu was a worst nightmare for this overprepared, overachieving, nerdy PT.
Completely relaxed and confident, I walked into presentation 1, plugged in my computer for one final test, and it popped up beautifully onto the screen. I was speaking among 10 other experts in sports medicine. I was 7th in line to speak, covering a case study of a young female athlete swimmer (does it get anymore exciting for me!?). I sat listening to my colleagues share their stories, eagerly awaiting my turn to take the podium. It was finally my turn. I thought in my best Kevin McAlister homage “This is it, don’t get scared now,” proudly took the stage, and plugged in my computer.
As Murphy’s Law would have it, all of those hours of preparation and practice came to a screeching halt. The A-V connection wasn’t working. What!? I’d practiced and tested it a minimum of 23495 times on this very projector! Why wasn’t it working? I had approximately 1 minute to get it sorted out before they told me to get off the stage and let the next speaker go. That 1 minute went pretty quickly and unsuccessfully, and off I went, sheepishly back into the audience.
Now, this could have been a total game changer. First time on a big stage and my computer malfunctions. The whole world can now seemingly assume that I wasn’t prepared. But…but..I practiced!! I swear! And I even bought the special Mac adapter! A charitable stranger offered up his PC computer and I spent 20 minutes transferring files, videos, and completely rewriting my talk. Apparently presentations written on a Mac don’t always transfer perfectly to a PC (Insert elitist Apple statement here). I finished everything just in the nick of time and retook the stage.
By this time, I was going last. Nearly half the room had emptied as people left early to catch lunch. It wasn’t what I had envisioned. But I charged on. To my surprise, I was even more relaxed this time around. I thought, I suppose it can’t get any worse… The projector worked, I didn’t even need to consult my notes, and I delivered the message with ease and grace—even inserting a little humor here and there. After the talk, I had some wonderful conversations with PTs and PT students who were so thankful for a talk about swimmers-a topic that is rarely covered in a sports medicine world heavily focused on more traditional sports.
First talk down. Snafus aside, I was pretty proud of myself. Now that I had ripped off the proverbial Band-aid, I was more than ready for the 2nd talk the next day.
For the next presentation, I was speaking with 2 of my most valued mentors and colleagues-Blair Green & Julie Wiebe. See this post and this post and this website to learn more about Blair. See this blog and website featured in my Blogroll to learn more about Julie W. Needless to say-they are both rock star PTs that I really admire, so it was a honor to stand up and speak with them.
I was up first. I joked that they were hazing me and made me go first and explain all the “sciency” concepts because I was the baby of the group. For the record-It is NOT easy to speak continuously for an hour! Talk #1 was only 9 minutes. This one took me 65 (apologies to Julie W for being long-winded…I blame the bad video connection!) The good part about having to teach a big group science concepts is I also got to exercise my inner 3rd grade teacher-meets-kids Pilates instructor. Getting a room of 100+ people on their feet and making them wiggle and do some silly things really does give an air of feeling powerful (or maybe that’s just what I’m telling myself).
We had a pretty awesome message to share, if I do say so myself. The presentation, Building the Female Athlete from the Inside Out, conveyed the most current ways to build and fashion a female athlete’s movement performance after injury or impairment. We took a multifaceted approach, covering three unique cases. I discussed a young female athlete (my wheelhouse!), Blair shared about a post-partum runner (her true love), and Julie W anchored the relay by taking on the beast of the CrossFit/High Impact athlete (seriously, she is the only person I know who can talk publicly about that hot topic and not get tomatoes thrown at her).
Of course, this presentation was not without its blessing from Sir Murphy and his law. While I had carefully ensured no encore performance of the computer issues I had in talk #1 (of course I had!), it turns out there were more issues to be had. This happened in the form of the presentation completely shutting down in the middle of Blair’s portion. <Cue potential panic attack>. Good news—turns out we could give the presentation in our sleep and she carried on and handled it like a champ while I scrambled to help her fix the problem.
Overall in that talk, we had our share of issues and imperfections. There was certainly a laundry list of things to improve upon in the future. Despite those things, the outpouring of support and gratitude following our presentation was humbling. We were tweeted, retweeted, facebooked, Pinned, emailed…the list goes on. As far as social media goes, we were definitely feeling the PT nerd love.
But perhaps the most rewarding feedback we received was at the conclusion of the presentation. As the last presentation on the last day, we were afraid nobody would stick around for our talk. On the contrary, we had a room full of engaged attendees. As we entertained questions from the audience, one attendee stood up from the front row and said nothing, but just began clapping. She turned to the audience and continued to clap, offering up her own personal standing ovation. I was thinking to myself wow, this attendee is quite enthusiastic. Not to mention she has some guts to stand and do that. She then turned to us and said “Ladies, you NAILED it.”
Then she identified herself. It was Mary Massery.
For those of you who aren’t PTs—this would be akin to having Coach K stand up and applaud you as you gave a talk to the entire NCAA on new and innovative approaches to coaching men’s college basketball. Yes, of course I’m going to use a Duke basketball reference after that win over UNC this week.
We were starstruck, to say the least. For Blair and I, both of our jaws immediately hit the floor. According to Blair, this was like being thanked at the Oscars. Julie W knew her previously but it was clear that was very meaningful to her as well. When I was in PT school, I was told by multiple professors that if you ever had the opportunity to learn from Mary Massery-you do it without hesitation.
To add vulnerability to humility—I had even quoted her twice within the presentation, not knowing she was sitting on the front row. This, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly why we are always taught to check and double check references before quoting someone! My 5th grade and high school journalism teachers would be so proud.
Mary happened to escape the room before I had a chance to thank her and shake her hand. Good news is she’s coming to Atlanta later this year and I will get to do that AND learn from her, as recommended to me when I was a novice PT. She did send an email to us later commending us on our effort. It’s not quite a hand shake, but my jaw may or may not have hit the floor again.
Overall, it was a wonderful experience. Among my many reflections, here are a few pearls I picked up along the entire journey:
- Like in any sport or activity-you can prepare, rehearse, perfect, and polish to the nth degree-and things will still go wrong. The key? Learning to roll with it and breathe through it. You’ve got this.
- Humility, vulnerability, and grace go a long way. It’s not about YOU in sharing your message. It’s about the people with whom you share it. It’s more important to establish a connection with them in order to get the message across than to worry over the details of the actual message. People only retain 10-20% of what you say. So it’s not about what you say-it’s why and how you say it. Be yourself, add some humor and fun—and people will really engage with you. This makes it a lot more fun as the presenter, too.
- I say this all the time—but teaching is not a teaching experience. It is a learning experience for the teacher.
- Blogging is a fantastic platform for sharing passions and messages. It’s even more fun when you are given an actual voice on an actual platform, and you get to wear heels to do it. Thank you Blair for letting me raid your shoe closet.
- The unconditional support, compassion, and reinforcement I received from people who barely knew me was so humbling and validating. It has been amazing to receive messages and emails from people who just want to network and share their stories with me. What an incredible profession to be a part of.
I’m thankful for the opportunity to have shared my stories and passions with so many people. I can only hope that even just one person has been able to integrate some of those concepts into their daily practice. I gained new inspiration not only for this blog, but reinforced and reinvigorated my curiosity and passion for so many things related to the care of young athletes. As I come down from the CSM high-or hangover as I’ve called it-there is plenty to integrate into my practice. Lots of new connections, friends, and knowledge. I haven’t even started to reflect on all the cool things I learned at the conference in all the classes I took (another post for another day). Stay tuned!