Monday, March 23, 2015

Journal Club, Here Me Roar

To start out this blogpost, I think it is only fair that I tell you that no, I have no fear of public speaking. In fact, some might even say that I love public speaking. Why exactly? I have no idea. Maybe it stems from the fact that I come from a big family where everyone talks at once and thinks what they're saying is the most important thing to ever be spoken, so I consider the chance to get to talk freely with no interruptions a gift. Maybe it stems from the fact that I've always found I'm better at expressing myself through spoken words than words on a paper. Maybe it stems from the fact that I've been a generally ridiculous human being for the last 18 years of my life, and I basically feel no embarrassment or shyness when it comes to making mistakes in front of people. Or maybe I just like to talk. Either way, hand me that mic, I'm ready!
However, just because public speaking doesn't terrify me does not mean that this journal club presentation didn't terrify me a little. There's a difference between just getting up in front of a crowd of people and talking and getting up in front of a group of extremely intelligent people and presenting complex science. As I began to picture myself giving this presentation, the only images that kept flashing through my mind were a flurry of likes and ums, over-the-top hand gestures, and the color red. Let me break this down for you:

#1: Valley-Girl Syndrome
One of my biggest peeves when listening to a presentation is when people excessively use "like" or "um". However, this is not to say that I am immune to the use of these words. In fact, when listening to me tell a story, most people would probably assume I was a valley-girl not a Massachusetts native due to my atrocious overuse of the word "like". However, this is usually not much of an issue while presenting, but that didn't stop my mind from thinking that it could just happen and sending me into a panic.

#2: Interpreter Syndrome
Blame it on my Indian heritage. Blame it on my restlessness. Either way, I'm a gesturer. I always have been. I talk with my hands flying all over the place, sometimes in helpful ways and other times in relatively random sweeps. For my everyday life, this is passable; a person or two may comment, but it's generally just accepted for who I am. However, in scientific presenting, random hand movements can be very distracting. Every movement you make should be with a purpose because your viewers are acutely aware of everything you do. Hand gestures can be extremely effective, but only when used in moderation. I knew that the "moderation" part would be the challenge.

#3: I'm-not-good-at-associating-colors-with-feelings Syndrome
During our practice journal club slide presentations with Professor Runstadler, many comments were made involving the color choices that people made on their slides. What looked like just ordinary templates to me were ripped apart for the thickness of a line or the location of a square. The colors were acutely analyzed, and I was sitting there, thinking "Holy cow, who knew a square could be so insulting?" One particular comment that stuck with me was about the use of red. Black, white, and red are the three basic colors that I felt were often used when trying to highlight something without being too playful or unprofessional. However, during our practice presentations, I was informed that red was thought to be too alarming. It made viewers feel worried or like something bad was happening. I had never thought about it like that, but needless to say, the red titles on my slides were not feeling the love. Therefore, in preparing my real journal club presentation, every time a color appeared on my slide, a slight pang of fear would go off inside me, hoping that this color wasn't also one that elicited a strong emotional response. I went for a variety of blues and prayed that no red appeared anywhere.

Journal Club is frightening experience for  a variety of reasons, depending on the person, but what we all shared as a class is that we got up there, spoke for 10 minutes, and did awesome jobs in my opinion. Everyone climbed Journal Club Mountain, and now a 20.109(S15) flag is planted firmly at the top.

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