What seems like many moons ago, I sent in an abstract for a paper I hadn’t even written yet to a graduate conference call for papers at the University of Alberta.
It was on the topic “Resistance is NOT Futile” and we had to be writing about any form of resistance within history. Since the paper was for my class on Indigenous research methods, and I was hoping to focus on Two-Spirited people, I felt I could easily meld my paper to revolve around historical resistance.
A few weeks later, I was informed my paper was chosen and I would present! I was of course very excited, but also figured most people’s papers probably got chosen – couldn’t get a big ego. Yet.
I wrote and handed in my paper on Two-Spirited people’s resistance to colonial definitions of gender before the winter holidays and the conference became a vague thought in my mind of something coming up in the distant future.
As seems to be the case, it wasn’t in THAT distant of the future and soon it was almost time to head to Alberta. And I wasn’t ready.
I was nervous to present on such a broad topic with so many discrepancies and so a large risk of getting something wrong. I’ve taken one Native Studies-esque class (ie. the one I just finished) my whole life and now I’m thinking I know enough to present on it?!? What was I thinking?!
I researched the topic further, trying to quell my nerves and convince myself I had a good point and knew what I was doing. I wrote my presentation, trying to keep it long so the Q&A session would be short. But 20 minutes is a long talk and eventually I accepted questions would be asked. Don’t fight it. (Sometimes, resistance IS futile)
After crafting my talk to have a few jokes, some pop-culture references, scholarly mentions and (hopefully) some interesting points, I was starting to feel more prepared.
I practiced alone (muttering and pacing everywhere), I practiced with one of my best friends (for unconditional love and support), with classmate Jes (for tips and advice on talking (and my outfit)), with a random person I barely knew (to see if I could hold her interest) and was finally ready.
If only I had an artistic montage on the time leading up to the conference…
Of COURSE the weekend I was supposed to fly into Alberta, there would be storms everywhere and it ended up I couldn’t go to the first day of the conference. So, Friday March 1st, I got dressed and headed to campus.
Luckily, I had someone to come with me through the train system and GET me to school. About two hours early… Once there, I got lost despite wandering around looking at the map on my phone, but some helpful people pointed me in the right direction.
I got to the right building and walked around the floor looking for the room number. And when I found it, my nerves faded almost completely.
I was standing in front of a door to a room that looked to be about the size of a small office.
And my visions of grandeur disappeared.
I think I was hoping for standing ovations, screaming crowds… TED Talk style. But, as I say in the title of this post, everyone has to start somewhere. Perhaps one day I’ll speak in front of that many people. Jillian Michaels can do it. Positive thinking!
I left the room (it wasn’t even open yet, I was so early) and went to get a coffee and read my book. About half an hour before my session started, I headed back over and took a seat in an unsurprisingly small room with about six people in it.
Everyone was very nice, introducing themselves and talking about their schooling and research, but once in the room, I suddenly got too nervous to talk much.
Why so nervous? Besides the normal pre-presentation butterflies, I also met Winona Wheeler, a known Indigenous scholar whose work we read in class, within five minutes of entering the room and my stomach dropped. I knew she was going to BE at the conference, but she wasn’t chairing my panel so I had hoped she wouldn’t be there!
Not that I think I got my facts wrong or didn’t believe in what I was saying! It’s more I didn’t want to take the chance of saying something wrong or being asked a question I couldn’t answer.
I don’t know if I heard much of the presentation before mine, I was too busy mentally going over my talk. When I finally got up to the podium (in front of about a whopping 16 people!), I can only hope I appeared calm and composed and not like I was sweating profusely.
I gave my talk, answered the questions and it was done. One question was asked that I could not answer, but I tried to say as much as diplomatically as possible (basically without being like “… whaaaat…?”) and Winoa Wheeler turned out to be very nice. She complimented an aspect of my work – maybe I know something about something after all… There goes my ego, just taking off.
I sat down and was done! My first academic graduate presentation not in front of my classmates! I felt like balloons should be falling from the sky, trumpets blaring, and glitter being thrown in my face by happy people in body suits dancing around me!
Maybe that will come after my TED talk….