After over six years of teaching, I am fairly comfortable standing in front of a group of students. This doesn’t mean that I never get nervous, but going to class is not something that I fear. Given the fact that I stand in front of people roughly nine hours a week, I am always surprised how nervous I am before a 15-minute conference presentation.
For the most part, the skills that result in good teaching seem to be similar to those that result in good presentations. Organization, visual aids, and humor, for example, are all things that I appreciate both in the classroom and in a hotel conference room. The biggest difference between the two seems to be the unpredictability of the audience. After a few class periods, I typically know what to expect from my students, while this predictability never develops with a conference audience. First and foremost, this unpredictability includes the fact that there may or may not be an audience. I have presented in small rooms with only a few people and in large rooms with only a few people (there may have also been a large room with lots of people once, but that was an outlier). Second, there is the fact that the audience members may ask questions implying that your research is terrible or that they weren’t listening to the presentations. I like to think that the former is due to the latter. Finally, there is the slim chance that somebody in the audience will play a role in your future as a reviewer or search committee chair. This means that even if you are in a room with three audience members, answering a stupid question in a stupid way could affect your future.
Despite these differences, I’ve been told a few times that I am a good presenter and I like to think that I’m a good teacher, so maybe the hours I spend standing in front of students each week actually do contribute to speaking in other environments. I am not going to subject myself to watching a video of myself presenting, so I guess I’ll have to take their word for it.