I'm busy lately - mostly focusing on my presentation at MobiCom 2015. It was my first time presenting my work as a CS PhD in such a big conference (well, in any conferences). I spent almost 3 weeks to prepare for the presentation and potential questions people might ask. The story can be very long, and I'm gonna be as brief as possible.
When I got the news that my paper was accepted, I was happy for sure. But what was coming immediately was the nervousness of presentation. Between March and July, I was mostly focusing on the mobility project and offloading project. Until we decided not to submit our results to HotNets, I didn't put much attention on the presentation. But when I got started and I presented my first ppt to Ben and Heather, what I got was a super negative feedback. Powerpoint is not so easy to make.
Above shows how many drafts I attempted. Didn't bother about the very first draft even since it was too "drafty." Until we were approaching the final version, I couldn't practice the talk too often. That's because it would be so hard to change my wording otherwise. But I did practice a lot. I practiced in front of Ben and Heather, in front the whole lab, in front of each colleague, and in front my friends and my girlfriend. (I really appreciate their help!) Not to mention how many times I practiced on my own. And eventually Ben and Heather got tired of my slides and my talk, saying "just do a final practice when you arrived Paris." I will summarize the lesson I learned towards the end of this "diary."
The preparation of presentation also includes Q&A. This is the part where people get chances to ask you questions at the end of your talk. It lasts for 4 to 6 minutes usually. But it is super hard to prepare since you don't really know what others think. Presenting to different people really helps me collect all kinds of questions. In the end, excluding clarification questions, I prepared 25 questions in total, 12 of which had backup slides.
The Day Before My Talk
Although I was well-prepared (in a sense), I still felt nervous starting the first day I arrived at Paris. I arrived the hotel in the afternoon on Sept. 7th, and there was a banquet on top of Eiffel Tower at night.
Because of the following reasons, I was mostly absent spiritually even though I was smiling when Giovanni took the photo shown above.
- My butt was flighting against my body after the 11hr flight;
- I got out of the plane with a stiff neck on both sides;
- I was nervous about the next day's presentation.
So I went back at 10pm and tried the last-minute efforts. My mind was repeatedly going through the following process:
- Here is what I am going to start with: blah blah blah
- Hmm... I finished and would expect these questions: blah blah blah
- Wait, how should I start the talk again?
And I fell asleep in about 2 rounds.
So eventually it comes. I basically ignored all the talks in the morning and focused on my last-minute preparation. Heather stopped by and helped me with one more practice, and many students and professors I knew gave me encouragements also. "You can do this!" I told myself. Then my session began.
My talk was the 4th one in the session, and I was sitting in the front row and waiting. Ben Greenstein was the session chair. He looked nice and that in fact gave me some strength. And then the unexpected thing came. After the 2nd talk, I was told to present since the guy giving the 3rd talk forgot to upload his slides. I remember Heather said "you, up!" And I blanked out for 3 seconds at least. Then I went on stage step by step, and I could hear my heart beating. I turned around slowly, looked at the audience, peeked at Heather, and then stared at the screen. Once "hello everyone" came out, I felt inner peace.
The only thing that caused me to panic again was the screen in front of me and the one behind me. I thought they had one slide difference but they turned out to be the same. That panic came quickly and was gone fast too. So the whole presentation was in general smooth, even though I had a few oral mistakes. In the Q&A part, people were nice and asked very reasonable and expected questions. Except the one I misunderstood (from the rockstar Romit), I answered all questions (6 out of 7).
Thoughts & Lessons
So after the "short diary", here are the lessons and my thoughts from the presentation experience.
- You are the expert in you talk. People ask because they don’t know, or because they want to inspire you from other directions. There’s no need to panic.
- We Chinese need to practice our English pronunciations. Find native speakers and talk with them.
- Prepare well before the talk. Ask as many people as you can to improve your talk and collect potential questions.
- Get familiar with the stage if possible before the talk.
- Practice your tone like telling an interesting story.
- Listen to your advisors. Most of the time they are right 😛