January 21, 2020
Let’s talk about Talks. Just like writing, they are a part of academic life. We do not get to opt out because we 1) don’t like them, 2) hate public speaking, or 3) don’t see the point. Doesn’t matter, they are part of the fabric of an academic career.
However – I want you to stop wasting your time on them! If you say yes to a talk, and then you start preparing said talk trying to prove your worth to any given audience– you are missing out on the true power of a talk. And your decision making around when to say Yes, is probably super muddy… 😊. Let’s change the game.
The true power of a talk is that talks are not for the audience, they are for you. And there are practical ways to shift your mindset around them.
So, let’s go.
First, recognize that any talk you agree to give can be serving a particular function for you, which has *nothing* to do with “visibility.” You have to choose to capitalize on this.
Anytime you have to stand up and give a talk, you are forcing your Scientist to get to work. When our ideas live in our brain, it’s easy to gloss over the muddy areas, but when we have to stand up and make a slide deck, it really has to crystalize. That work – to crystalize, clarify, and shore up your ideas – is work FOR YOU. That material is the most valuable material you are going to create.🙇🏾♀️
Aside from your actual results, this is the material that will go directly into crucial pieces of your grants and papers. The same material that will set up the *quality* of your arguments for funding. This means this material has direct financial value 💰to the support and progress of your career! You can use the timing, format, and audience of the talk as the structure to complete this important, argument-honing work – often very difficult to prioritize during our busy days.
For example, I gave a talk at a seminar for Oral Health Sciences. (I am a Gyn Oncologist). Why? Because the timing was *perfect* – 3 months before a grant that is going to a broad audience of reviewers, who don’t know my area, is due. I used this talk to get my ideas IN FORMATION.👩🏾💻 And I capitalized on the opportunity to learn how they land with a non-cancer, non-gyn audience. Win and win.
Second, it doesn’t matter where you are in your research journey, including having not yet started. If all you have are ideas, then a talk is exactly where you should start. Because the power of a talk is not just about presenting results or checking a bunch of boxes in a report-like fashion. Instead, you use your energy to hone your arguments, propose study design and think through potential challenges – so that you create the material that is going to land you the grant and the opportunities for research that you are looking for in the first place. I gave 7 talks my first year on faculty, before I had a single piece of data. Every single one strengthened my arguments, made my ideas better, and set me up to get those grants. (As a *byproduct*, the visibility also helped my career. And yes, that was too many 😂!) 💁🏾♀️
Third and finally, use the power of a talk to give yourself the gift of seeing your own progress. It’s so easy to get lost in the day to day and forget just how much you’ve done *independent of number of publications or funding.* If you are working towards your research goals, putting in time on projects even if they don’t work out, having conversations even if they don’t lead to collaborations – you are making progress, period. And when you can see and communicate the value of every one of those activities – you give your Scientist, your Worker Bee, and your CEO a big boost of confidence. 😁
You harness the power of talk when you 1) use the structure to hone your own material for your science, 2) recognize that results are not the point – communicating strong scientific ideas is (and you add the results as they come in), and 3) practice becoming aware of and then capitalizing on the value of the nitty-gritty work along the way.
If you are not doing some combination of these 3 things, then you ARE wasting time on talks. If you will not invest the time and energy to use a talk for these purposes, then you SHOULD say No. If you will do all of this work on behalf of yourself, and then *not practice* giving the actual talk – to ensure you get the best and most valuable feedback – then you are making a habit out of selling yourself short.
You harness the power of a talk when you start with serving YOU, *then* you get to decide what feedback you want based on the audience you have. The audience comes second. And proving your worth is no longer on the list.
Shift your mindset. Watch the world not end. Let your Scientist and Worker Bee go nuts, and crush that talk!