Friday, March 19, 2010


Standing in front of 30 distinguished academics, researchers, community organisers, and advanced doctoral students at London School of Economics my stomach churned and my back began to sweat.  I took a deep breath and gave a short introduction, rambling on about the conceptual genesis of my dissertation project.  Looking down at my written out talk I took a seat, unable to keep myself upright as my nerves went into overdrive.   As I plunged into the paper my mouth picked up speed.  My mind kept telling me to slow down and draw out the concepts, but my mouth said "F that" and kept on going, trying to make the talk end sooner rather than later.  Then, the talk ends...I let out a breathe...and the questions begin.  5 actually, not to many but just enough to clarify points I missed.

Claps ensue and I am done, but why am I still shaking?  The organiser comes up to me and congratulates me on the talk, saying it was informative and she wanted me to go last in order to end the seminar with a bang.  I say "thanks" and then take a seat next to my friend and mentor in the UK.  She looks up and I start to cry.  Yea, I said it, cry.  Not that sobbing cry, but tears come out as all the emotions from the past month of writing, conceptualising, reading, and stressing spill out in one moment.  My friend looks at me and says "Oh, the talk was good, you just talked fast that was all but the content was good."  I look back and choke "I can't do this man, I am not cut out for this."

The next day I was fine.  After talking with my friend and then my UK advisor/sponsor I realised the talk was actually good, it was just spoken to fast and the material was to dense for a 20 minute talk.  But what really came to light was my lack of confidence in my talk, and that showed in my nerves and fast speech.  The 5 other presenters all had an aire about them - they spoke with an assurance in the voice that the material they were presenting was accurate and their interpretations valid.  Even if criticism was raised they stood their ground and delivered.  I, on the other hand, didn't have the assurance or confidence in my material - it was new and I was working through difference strands of thought in order to understand the complex processes of nation-making, racial/ethnic identity, and citizenship in Britain.

It's all about confidence when it comes down to anything.  I have to know that I CAN do something and do it WELL.  This translates into other aspects of my life - running, hiking, teaching.  From this talk I learned that I lack a little bit of confidence in my intellectual abilities.  But, if I don't believe in myself than how am I to expect others to believe in me?  It's interesting, at one hand I research and teach about the influence and psychological impact institutional racism and inequality have on people's lives and on the other hand I buy into it as I see myself as "less than" my more privileged colleagues.  It's a nasty cycle that takes time to work through.  So the power of positive thought is a privilege many of us have not learned.  We see ourselves in these negative terms that then hinders our ability to progress in ways we wish we could.  I forgot that when I prepared this talk, falling victim to self doubt that cripples the best.

I speak again in May at London Southbank University around the same issues and am in the process of writing a working paper to publish online that draws out these complex processes that are in my head.  As I prepare these pieces of work I need to find that confidence and believe in my abilities.


Amanda said...

I believe in you, and now that that talk is out of the way, you have no where to go but up. Next time you will slow down because it will be in your mind and everything will be fine. I know that you know we are always more critical of ourselves than anyone else is of us. Im so proud that I know someone who spoke at the London School of Economics and that I'm visiting her in May!!!!

Meg said...

go girl--you've always been a good presenter, regardless of what you think. and you're just a natural fast-talker--in any situation! :) but yeah, i'm sure you'll be thinking about it next time so you'll slow that mouth down

Angela said...

You can do it, Nicole! Seriously, you are brilliant and people will see that shine through! Speaking in front of people is terrifying for most anyone....even those who appear so calm and collected! But seriously, it takes practices, so keep at it!