Sunday, 6 December 2009

Best of 2009: Workshop or Conference

Was there a conference or workshop you attended that was especially beneficial? Where was it? What did you learn?

My small, cozy, everyone-knows-everyone university is very closely affiliated with a large, you're-a-number university. I like this system, because I get the community of the small school with the services of the large school.

One of these services is their Counselling Centre, which offers a variety of workshops each semester. They email out a list of them every time, but I've never really given it more than a cursory glance before. This year, something prompted me to actually read through it. Am I ever glad that I did!

I noticed they were offering a workshop to help people who had difficulty with public speaking. Boy oh boy, does that ever describe me. I am shy. I am nervous. I experience a lot of social anxiety. I find it difficult to speak to anyone who is not a fairly close friend, no matter what the context, so speaking to a group of relative strangers when there is nothing else to distract them is not something I am comfortable with. Normally, signing up for a workshop is not the kind of thing I would do; mostly because it would cause me too much anxiety. Which is what made this one such a good idea. Not to mention I was more than a little concerned about the 5 upcoming presentations I had...

So I signed myself up for it, figuring that the worst that could happen is it wouldn't be helpful and would be a waste of my time. The worst did not happen. It was probably one of the best uses of my time in recent memory.

Although it was advertised as being geared towards public speaking, it was mostly about anxiety reduction in general, with a little bit of work on public speaking skills thrown in. I use those anxiety reduction techniques all the time now. They helped me get through one presentation that I was particularly nervous about. They help me keep my heart from pounding every time I have to make a phone call. Heck, I use the relaxation techniques to help me get to sleep at night!

What was even more important than these techniques, though, were the connections I made with other people. There were eight of us in the workshop, and by the end of 5 workshops of an hour and a half each, I felt comfortable talking to these people and laughing and joking around. It never happens that quickly for me. That alone was a really good experience.

The workshop also reminded me that I am not alone. Everyone gets anxious sometimes. Those other 7 people? They get nervous too. We had to give a 2 minute presentation at each workshop session, and if I hadn't already known that they had public speaking anxiety, I would not have guessed it from watching them. Which made me realize that other people who seem confident are probably nervous about it too, an idea which was reinforced by talking about the workshop with other people. Someone who I perceive as extremely confident told me they get terrified when they have to do presentations. And my dad, MY DAD, who is, you know... father-like, and grown-up and unwavering and a semi-important government worker and has done a million presentations in his life, my dad told me that last year he had to give an important presentation and he got so nervous he thought he was going throw up. Knowing that other people get just as nervous when they have to do presentations makes me worry a little less about them judging me when I give a presentation, you know?

All in all, it was a wonderful workshop. I'm slowly reducing anxiety in my life, I met some new people, and I realized I'm not totally abnormal. These are all positive moves forward.

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