I’m still a bit surprised that I got up and spoke in front of 450 people! If I'd realised it was that big beforehand I probably would... have still done it, but been more scared! It was one of the best conferences I've been to, everything ran smoothly, the speaker choice was fantastic, and generally a terrific effort from the WIPM SIG.
Firstly, it wouldn't be a Sorrel blogpost without picture of some of the food - I didn't manage to eat as much as normal due to a) nerves and b) the number of people I wanted to catch up with and c) people who wanted to say hi to me!
I’ve been trying to work out why I was asked to be on the panel. I believe a lot of life is down to luck. But that doesn’t mean you can increase the odds: think of it as a risk mitigation plan - how do I increase the probability? Turn up to things. Volunteer for things. Generally be the annoying one who is always there...
The more things you go to, the more stuff you know, the more people you meet, the better things you get invited to, the more specialised stuff you know, the more influential people you meet... it’s a spiral. But you need to start it!
I started networking seriously around 3 years ago, and have found it's very unpredictable when opportunities will appear - you just have to keeping until they do.
Research research research
I enjoy reading: Project Management, Psychology, Feminism, sci-fi, children's fairy tails... It’s good to stay read up, it’s not something you can cram. But in the months running up to the conference it felt like preparing for a closed book exam which could be on ANYTHING.
I hate exams.
But once we were up on stage and things got flowing the 45 minutes sped by with some interesting discussion. So really, being interested in things is the way forward, even if it's just enough to keep your confidence up.
It’s ok to be socially awkward… Hopefully…
Being on a panel was one of the most socially complicated moments of my life. Our panel host, Chris Bevan, was wonderful - calm and made sure we were organised during the pre-event dial ins. It was a well chosen panel, we all got on well, although my imposter syndrome kicked in whenever we talked!
The way a panel works is: a question gets asked, you catch the panel host’s eye, do a little smile and nod and he will direct the question to you.
Don’t do what I did and be too scared to look at the host for the first couple of questions. I then accidentally smiled at him during a question that I knew nothing about. Hopefully no one noticed my look of fear when the words “Sorrel will have something to say about that” and I was assuming that I only needed to concentrate on what face to pull while someone more knowledgable talked.
Fake it till you make it
While preparing for the panel I met up with Gillian Jones-Williams from Emerge who I’d worked with when I was at BAE Systems.
We covered lots of subjects. But the best bit of advice was probably the most simple:
Don’t say you’re scared, just say you’re excited - use positive language.
On that note
You’re allowed to freak out
I had roughly 3 freak-outs for this conference:
- Using the phone.
When phoning the organisers to get the initial information I dialled the number on my mobile, and stared at it for about ten minutes, phoned them, then quickly hung up before it started ringing. Multiple times. It was only later that I forced myself to actually phone them up - then it was a wonderful, un-scary and just normal phone call. Gosh I’m a prune.
- The night before.
I feel really sorry for my partner having to deal with my anxiety the night before. I was constantly telling myself that I was excited not scared! Even so I burnt the dinner and spent the evening walking round the house rehearsing phrases that could say in response to questions.
- On the morning of the conference.
Now I’m a pro at this sort of freak out - so it was more of a "calm down". The conference was just outside Liverpool St station. My exams for my BSc were just opposite so I know exactly where to go for breakfast (eggs royal) while singing the “Liverpool street station” song under my breath.
Now here’s one last thing that surprised me: after speaking at something like this, people want to talk to you. I spent the whole day at the conference with people coming to say hello, and not just congratulate me, to also ask questions, challenge the things that the panel had said and generally chat. Now as a first timer this was a big shock. But it meant meeting some interesting people from a variety of projects, starting with the lady who used to project manage petrol stations and was trying to understand her project sponsor’s actions, to the lady who sits in the office above mine but we’d never met!
This is something I've always been scared to do - talk to the speakers - I've always seen them as demi-gods who mortals like me don't talk to. Whereas even a quick "I enjoyed your speech" means quite a lot. This is very much something to work on. Speakers are people too!
Now, I will sign off with a copy of the “Liverpool Street Station” song. If you haven’t heard it before you need to listen to the end (it’s only about 90 seconds long).