This is the pre-epidemic era, and I am in a large auditorium. The room is not full but it is still a good turnout, and I recognize plenty of senior faculty members in the audience.
I am not the invited speaker of today, who is now halfway through his 60-minute presentation – but still my hands are trembling as I rehearse what I am about to say. When the host opens the floor for questions, I intend to extend my hand.
This is a familiar experience for me. I am excited about the one-to-one exchange with the presenter, yet I am nervous. This feeling is not driven by fear of how they will receive my question, but rather what the rest of the audience will do with it.
From the moment I realize that I want to ask a question, I start worrying about their reaction, and, by extension, that they will use it to measure my credibility, assessing that Whether or not I deserve a career in academia. For me, asking a brief question is more stressful than presenting something.
The forced transition to online seminars during the epidemic provided no relief. I recently attended a Zoom seminar attended by a few dozen people, all of my former research groups and many of whom I know well. And yet my hands were trembling as I worried whether the urge to satisfy my curiosity would overcome my fear of asking questions.
As usual, I decided that it was worth raising my hand at the end of the talk, and I spent the remainder of the presentation in a nervous state.
But later, empowered by other scientists sharing their stories of perceived weakness, I posted a question on Twitter: “Does anyone else start shivering physically from the point in the seminar at which they realize That they are going to ask a question? ”
I hoped to find another person who went through something similar. Yet for the rest of the day my phone was beeping with alerts, as other people shared their experiences. It kept beeping throughout the next day, and the next day.
From the hundreds of answers I received, it was clear that my question had resonated with academics, from undergraduates to department heads. Many of my academic friends and colleagues were among them.
When I look at the answers, I feel very bad and many successful researchers find it bright red in their ears and pound their hearts; Shaking, shaking and trembling were also mentioned by numerous mentions. One person had also fainted as they were ready to ask a question.
It was particularly striking how many people feel, as I always had, that they were eccentrically unusual in being concerned with the idea of asking a question. Many said they were relieved or relieved to know that others had similar experiences.
There are things that we can all do, that make the questioners feel more comfortable. One answer suggested that senior academics could refer to prerequisite questions from junior audience members, helping to validate those questions.
In the same vein, the next time you pass someone across the aisle telling them that you liked the question presented in a seminar, it is a gesture that can give a lot of confidence. The speaker can also help by giving a simple “good question” before proceeding to give his / her answer.
What about me? Since my tweet, I have gained some trust: If I start feeling anxious before posing a question, I assure myself that it is completely normal and many in the audience People know how I feel. And it really calms my nerves.
One thing is for sure: I should not let it bother me more than worrying when the talk is over.