Search
Close this search box.

Advice and support for your academic journey.

In this article, Badryah shares her personal journey of overcoming fear, stress and perfectionism around public speaking, by seeking support, enrolling in a skills course, and shifting her mindset.

One of my greatest fears since embarking on my PhD journey has been to give a public speech. I’m not sure why giving a public speech has become a nightmare for me. I consider myself a very social person, not shy, nor introverted in the slightest. However, I have come to realise that the main underlying issue lies in my perfectionism. As a perfectionist, I don’t aim to give an acceptable presentation, I want it to be flawless. I fixate on the many weaknesses I believe I possess to the point that each becomes an obstacle in and of itself, preventing me from achieving any goal I have in mind. 

Confronting the Fear

Two months ago, at the PGR English Symposium, I was forced to face my fear of public speaking head on. But because I aimed for a perfect presentation, I felt the need to excel in body language, eye contact, and professionalism, all while keeping a flawless tone. What made this even more challenging was the fact that English is not my first language, and I would be presenting in front of an audience that includes native English speakers. This meant that any mistake I made would be particularly embarrassing to me, especially in front of my supervisors, colleagues, and other staff members at the school. 

The “what ifs” started to consume me. What if I didn’t understand a certain question during the Q&A session? What if I didn’t know the answer or gave the wrong one? These thoughts only intensified my stress and added to the pressure day in and day out. However, I realised that focusing solely on the problem and blaming myself wasn’t productive. Instead, I sought a gradual solution and decided to be patient with myself. 

Seeking Solutions: Building Confidence

Firstly, I acknowledged the issue and shared it with my supervisors. Opening up to them helped alleviate some of the burden I was carrying.

Secondly, I decided to enrol in a presentation skills course. Interestingly, the instructor, who was already familiar with me, expressed surprise and commented, “I have noticed that the dedicated students are always striving to improve, whereas those who appear indifferent often possess (incorrectly) inflated self-confidence”. This statement offered me a fresh perspective and a renewed outlook on the matter.

Next, I approached the Academic Skills providers and asked for opportunities to present in front of them. This proved to be immensely beneficial as it equipped me with techniques to alleviate stress and deliver a polished presentation. Additionally, I became acquainted with the various university services available for enhancing student skills across different aspects of research, extending beyond just speaking abilities.

I then practiced my presentation in front of my colleagues, considering the duration of the presentation as well as the clarity of the PowerPoint slides. I requested their valuable feedback, knowing that their expertise as native speakers would provide insightful perspectives, especially regarding the language use. I received very positive and encouraging feedback, which significantly bolstered my confidence. 

Embracing Imperfection: A Journey of Growth and Learning

Most importantly, I made a conscious effort to believe in myself and let go of the idea of perfectionism. I reminded myself that I was the most knowledgeable person about my topic and that small mistakes, such as forgetting, mispronouncing, or misunderstanding something, were not as significant as I made them out to be. In fact, people probably wouldn’t even notice these errors, which I had blown out of proportion in my mind.

By following these steps, I convinced myself to simply enjoy the day and allow myself to make mistakes. I must confess that I experienced some anxiety prior to commencing my talk. However, once I began, I found myself deeply engaged with the subject matter. Overall, it turned out to be a distinctive and delightful experience, free from the immense fear I had anticipated. The audience comprehended my presentation, actively interacted with it, and provided valuable and encouraging feedback.

As for the questions I couldn’t answer? I regarded them as opportunities for future exploration.

For those who share my perfectionist mindset, remember, we cannot change external circumstances, but we certainly have the power to change our thoughts about them. It’s not worth compromising your mental health for the sake of a short presentation. Your well-being should always come first! 

PhD Abroad: How to Navigate Intercultural Interactions 

Are you studying for a PhD abroad? Are you worried about integrating meaningfully into your PhD life in a different country? In this article, Dai Wenqi explores how to socialise and adapt to a new culture during your PhD abroad, providing advice from her lived experiences to help you enjoy your doctoral life to the fullest. This includes respecting and engaging with the culture of your host country, learning the language (but forgo the pressure of perfect fluency), and leaning into your unique personal charm.

Read More »

Death by a Thousand Semesters: Are Academic Careers as All-Consuming as People Say?

The stress and all-consuming nature of pursuing an academic career is often detailed in social media posts and anecdotal tales. Whilst it is useful for PhD students to understand the perils of careers in academia, this article provides further context for some of the issues surrounding progression in the academic profession. It runs through five factors that impact on how all-consuming academic careers can be, ultimately advising you to progress in academia at your own pace.

Read More »

Anxiety in Academia: Using Anxiety as My Superpower  

Anxiety is a debilitating condition that can make the simplest of tasks difficult, let alone a PhD. This empowering article follows Jake’s experience with anxiety during sixth form and university, and how once he discovered research he began to view anxiety as a superpower to keep his PhD pushing forwards. He shares anxiety-reducing techniques for when it gets too much, including affirmations and breath control, and emphasises the value of accepting anxiety in your life.

Read More »

All views expressed are those of the individual authors and do not reflect the views of The PhD Place Ltd.
See our Disclaimer

Update cookies preferences