Last week, in the third installment of Why My Brain Sucks, I said there was an upcoming research competition I’d be participating in. Seeing as I contracted food poisoning a couple of days afterward, I haven’t been able to recount the experience in text form until now.
I couldn’t sleep a wink the night before. I think I got less than five hours of sleep, and only from what can be called two glorified naps. Regardless, I woke up at 5:30 AM to get ready for the 7:30 AM bus out of town, dressed all spiffy in a slacks suit. There was another student on the bus sitting in front of me, so we were able to have ridiculous conversation in order to wake ourselves up from being complete zombies. A television show plot combing plants and CSI came up, but we thought it was really awesome at the time. I had originally been planning on taking a nap on the way there, and I think I took a short one just before the bus got to our stop, but I didn’t mind the least. I also value a hearty conversation, no matter how silly (especially when I’m sleepy).
Armed with a purse full of notecards and heart full of gumption, my pumps got me to the venue where I signed in the first time and uploaded my presentation to the PC we’d all be using, and then it was time to wait. I said hello to familiar faces and chit-chatted for a bit, then decided it would be smart to get food. One pasta order later, and I was giggling through a mouthful of noodles while watching a Game Grumps collab video. Nothing like a Game Grumps video to take down stress levels!
When I got back to the venue, there was a bit of waiting, during which I signed in for a second time, received my nametag (which made me feel so official), and a program of events for the day. I missed opening remarks due to a last minute bathroom run, but I was able to get in for the first presentation. I was the last to present, so I watched friends and strangers alike present for the judges and the minimal audience members present, all the while trying to frame the situation in a way that would make it far less daunting. I tried to think of it like a classroom presentation, especially since the majority of people in my session shared my major. However, what really made me nervous was listening to the judges ask questions after each presentation. It reminded me of those cooking shows in which the judges might sound harsh, or ask why you hadn’t incorporated a certain element. So I tried creating questions in my head, but as my turn drew near, I had to focus on the present moment.
I remember being really impressed by the presentation before mine, eloquently given by a classmate and fellow Communication Studies major, then promptly transitioning to nerves. As I went to set up, though, I was able to make easy conversation with the moderator, which toned down my nerves a bit. We waited for a bit to see if anyone else was going to come into the room before I started, then it was time.
As I was announced, I saw my friends and faculty sponsor in the audience. I made sure to look at the judges, and I also saw my Professional Speaking professor sitting in the back (no pressure, especially at an event reliant on speaking at least somewhat professionally). I was all too conscious of the 20+ notecards in my hands, but I navigated the presentation remote (or “clicker,” as I’ve always called it) smoothly. The original plan was to use my sponsor’s set, but since there was already one provided it wasn’t necessary anymore. I thought I’d lose a bit of confidence because of that, but surprisingly I didn’t. When I managed to get some chuckles out of the audience, it served as a good bonding moment between myself and the audience. I felt that I sounded professional, didn’t stand in one spot for too long, and made steady eye contact with everyone when I could. I did falter a couple of times, though—I forgot to write the title of a cited work on one card, which led to me fumbling to remember aloud, and the “1 MINUTE” card was held up in the middle of my last important slide. However, I summarized the last of it well enough, went into the conclusion, and went straight through to the end without giving myself time to screw it up. Thankfully, the judge’s comments and questions weren’t very harsh at all, and one suggestion of a future addition was interesting and helpful. All in all, I felt it had gone really well, which was confirmed by well-wishes from friends, my sponsor, and my Professional Speaking professor.
After the session was over, I went to have lunch and visit with a friend who had come to see my presentation. We have shared classes a couple of times in the past, and since she has graduated we don’t see each other as often as we used to. We caught each other up on our lives, talked about the presentations, and told stories—I really missed doing that with her. Having her there at the presentation also gave me confidence. Having her there with me afterwards also helped, even though I was drunk tired and spoke like it after the presentation. She had to leave before the reception, but only after a drive back up to the venue building and a promise to tell her what happened at the reception.
Now, I waited for my parents, who were driving from home to be at the reception with me. There was a part of me that, despite my confidence, asked if I had done well enough to be there. I was sure that no matter how I placed, they would be proud of me. But what if I didn’t place? What if I did place, then only could feel bad about it because I could have done so much better? I tried to push away these thoughts with more YouTube videos, but the thoughts remained at the back of my mind.
After helping my parents get their parking situated, we went into the venue building. I introduced them to a couple of people before going into the reception and finding a place to seat the three of us. Waiting for the reception to start was nervewracking all on its own. even though I couldn’t exactly change anything, I wondered what I could have done differently. I wondered what the judges said about my presentation, what they thought of the summary I had to submit in my application for the competition. I started dissecting all the possible bad from all the possible good, battling sleepiness as I fought to retain a composed smile all throughout.
In the opening remarks, the speakers stated their awareness of our nerves, and promised to keep their remarks short.There were a couple of laughs and knowing smiles, as well as praise for everyone involved in the competition, and then…it was time. I was in the first session, so our places would be announced first. The first presenters who went that morning got third place, and I thought, Okay, it’s either second or nothing for me. When the girl who presented before me got second, I thought, Wow, she was really good! It was either third or nothing for me, now. I honestly didn’t expect to hear my name called at all…until it was called for first place.
The surprised sound that came out of my mother’s mouth mimicked the sensation in my gut when I heard my name. I was so shocked, and I think it showed when I went to take a picture with the Provost (I remember her telling me this was “a good thing,” so I’m not sure what the heck my face looked like). I sat back down, elated and still shocked. I applauded with everyone else as more first, second, and third place winners were called, until finally it came time to announce the delegates list. Basically, ten of the top undergraduate/graduate presentations of the day were chosen by the judges to advance to the statewide competition at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, as representatives of our school. Again, the nerves set in, but before they could spread I heard my name again. The shock that had yet to wear off was significantly added to as I went back up to join the Provost and start the line of delegates. I applauded with everyone else as the other nine were called up—including the girl who had presented before me and received second place—, and then our group was applauded for. My parents were crying when I came back to my seat, and my sponsor was ecstatic, as well.We had a nice chat wherein I introduced my parents and sponsor to each other before leaving for a celebratory dinner down the street. I called and texted everyone I had promised to update, the revelations of the evening not quite having set in yet. My commonly used phrases, all toned with disbelief, were: “Holy shit,” and “Well…damn.” When I got home and on Skype, I updated my status to: I DID A GOOD THING 😀 .
I don’t think that even now, the full meaning of what happened one week ago today has set in. Sure, I’ve had to complete paperwork and submit the official statewide competition application online, but I still can’t wrap my brain around it. Until now, I have felt like I was not “research competition smart”—sure, I could do well in classrooms, but speaking at a research competition? No way! And plus, this was something I undertook precisely because I didn’t want to do it, as a way of challenging myself and seeing what I was really capable of. To come out on the other side of it with such success makes me wonder what could be next, which was one of the questions I kept hearing after the reception last week (most answers, supplied by others, consisted of going to graduate school). It was something I’ve never done before, and state is just another realm of uncertainty. However, if I can retain my internal and external support bases, I will do just fine. Whatever happens at the state competition, I will know that I did my best and at least got that far—something I never thought I’d be fit for.
The moral of the story is this: If there is something you’re hesitant to /scared of do(ing), especially if it’s something you may actually be capable of (and if it’s good for you and/or others), try it. Gather your supporters and believe through the stress. As long as you do your best work and dedicate yourself to the cause, you will do far more than you ever thought you could. You will have gained valuable experience, and at the end of the day you will have gained something.