This past weekend was the ACA Conference in New Orleans, so between Bourbon Street outings, hurricanes with friends at Pat O’Briens, and taking notes from Judith Beck I managed to squeeze in my first-ever conference presentation. My friend/classmate/fellow ACA member Otiz Porter and I co-presented our education session entitled, “It’s Not All Guns and PTSD: Military Culture and the Need for Therapeutic Connections.” We received great feedback from our attendees who seemed to appreciate our down-to-earth delivery and out-of-the-box approach to offering relevant information. We had so many people approach us afterward with compliments of our session and requests for copies of our materials (we ran out during the session) that I thought I would share the experience.
In the days leading up to the presentation, we were definitely feeling the pressure. We weren’t stressed about our message, but just wanted to do a good job in presenting enough of what our audience would want to hear about our topic in that one hour allotment. We had been preparing for months. We spent years gathering the information we wanted to share. We had up-to-date, personal information from the field. We had a cool video to show. O.T. had years of research and personal experience working with Veterans. I had just returned from a behavioral health specialist position in Afghanistan. We had Troops join us who could add their insight. We were definitely confident and prepared. So why feel any pressure? Why stress? Well, for starters we both have full-time jobs and are in the middle of a PhD program. We are also both over-achievers who are active in other professional and personal endeavors such as O.T.’s radio show and my extensive work-related travel out of the state. So it was hard for us to find time to just relax, breathe, and simply focus on the upcoming presentation.
I can’t speak for O.T., but my perfectionist mind was spinning as the presentation day approached. I thought about potential technical difficulties, the possibility of me rambling on too much during the presentation about one thing and not enough about another, I worried about only having 2 panel members since others had to cancel last-minute…and on and on. Oh and I also stressed about the silly stuff like “Will I trip and fall on the microphone cord?” O.T. and I discussed our strengths and potential weaknesses and we said we’d have each other’s back. For instance, I am very passionate about certain topics at hand, so O.T. agreed to “rein me in” during the presentation if I spent too long on answering a question or if I started to get off-topic. Do you think he got a chance during the actual presentation to do so? You bet.
O.T. and I made a really great team. From the very beginning stages of our proposal, we would each divvy up the tasks and then look over each other’s work. Then we would word and re-word things as we proofread. We would text each other ideas as we would have them and then we’d hash everything out over the phone later as we had more to discuss. We created timelines of when certain things needed to be turned into ACA and kept track of deadlines so nothing would be late. We were up to the wee hours of the morning at times perfecting slides and rewording paragraphs and sentences.
Once we were in New Orleans, we settled into our hotel room Thursday evening and briefly discussed how we wanted our presentation to go the next day. We pulled up our power point on the laptop and watched the video with our panel members. We didn’t discuss specifically what would be said—we didn’t want anything to be scripted because we wanted to be real. We knew the information. We knew important points to convey to our attendees. We had our power point to offer as a guideline to keep us on track. We intended on asking the audience what they wanted to know more about. Therefore, there was no point in scripting out our delivery or spending a lot of time on how we would present, so we didn’t. Instead, we got a good night’s sleep.
The next morning, I missed Soledad O’Brien because I could not get my hair to dry. It took forever—I was told due to New Orleans humidity—so breakfast was delayed and O.T. and I had to eat before our presentation! We got to our conference room early so we could set everything up and have no technical issues. But did we end up having technical issues? Yes. But nothing major, just figuring out how loud we needed to be in order to be heard in the back of the room and how to project the sound from the video on our laptop so it could be heard. We adjusted fire and went on with our presentation while joking around about it.
As instructed, we brought 100 handouts but we had over double that many attendees, so afterward we invited people to provide email addresses if they wanted information sent to them or for us to address questions we didn’t get to answer. We had a long list of people to email on various things and it was wonderful to be able to offer that. People gave us great feedback and said our session was informative and entertaining. O.T. and I joke around a lot, so we had some laughs during the presentation and were just ourselves as we talked.
We really did enjoy presenting. Our audience was great—we could tell they had such sincere interest in working with Veterans and it was great to see their interest and to learn from them as well. It was definitely a collaborative effort between everyone in the room—we were all sharing our knowledge and experience with one another on complex, multilayered topics. It was great to gather together as professionals to discuss current military-related counseling challenges and topics in such a frank manner. We met many fellow professionals who will be people we keep in touch with and get to know better in the months and years to come. That perhaps is my favorite part.
Natosha Monroe is a counselor and PhD candidate passionate about increasing Troop access to counseling services. Her blog contents are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense in any way.