The Importance of Managing Expectations
About 15 years ago I presented at one of my first academic conferences.
The conference organizers had encouraged creative presentations. So, I recruited several drama students to present the lived experience of my research participants.
The research participants themselves were nervous to talk in front of a live audience, but they were happy to let the drama students share their experience.
I was excited too. My research had been selected to be presented. Academic conferences can be very competitive. It felt like such an honour to be chosen.
I was also honoured to showcase the voices of the research participants and the high school students who would be performing.
On the day of the conference, I walked into the hall. I was nervous and excited. But when I looked around the room my enthusiasm quickly deflated. There were about a dozen people in the audience.
I am not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this.
We still presented as planned and the student performers were fantastic. They also were very well received. But the audience was so small. I felt bad that they put in all that time and effort for a few people. I imagined that they were disappointed.
I also received a few hard-hitting questions at the end of my presentation. Questions I wasn’t prepared for. Questions I thought I should have answered better.
I still remember the look on one man’s face when I failed to answer his question well. He looked disappointed. I felt I wasted his time too.
I did the best I could, but I believed I fell short. I thought I had wasted an opportunity.
I’m not sure why I was so hard on myself. I was in my mid-twenties. I was relatively new to academics. Now I realize that no one had the answer to the question that man asked. It was purely theoretical. He wasn’t likely expecting me to have an answer and I probably imagined his disappointment.
As for the student performers, they didn’t seem bothered by the audience size at all. They carried on, probably thinking it was cool that they were performing at a university in front of a bunch of professors.
However, having zero perspective at the time, I was pretty devastated.
Then, a few days later, I received an email.
One of the workshop attendees asked if I would take my presentation on the road. He was a professor at a well-established Faculty of Education, and he wanted me to present my research to every aspiring teacher enrolled at that university. The university would pay for my expenses and for the students too if I wanted them to attend. Either way, he wanted me to present.
I was floored.
I also learned an important lesson that week, one I have kept at the forefront of my mind. It doesn’t matter the size of the audience. It is the preparation and effort that counts. It may take time, but it will pay off.
So, the next time you feel discouraged or are unsure if you’re on the right track, try to stay positive. Keep putting in the effort and move forward. You just never know who or what you can impact.