Dear Aunt Rex: I'm terrified of public speaking
Dear Aunt Rex,
I'm a second-year PhD student in the humanities but I've never done any conferences. I hate the idea so much. It's not just the public speaking but also the 'networking' or whatever you're supposed to be doing. Everyone says conferences are an essential part of being an academic but is there any way around it?
-Not a networker
Conferences are maybe not as essential in the humanities as they are in, say, maths, but they're still important and I would encourage you to find a way to do them. They're an important way to stay on top of the latest developments in your field, publicise your own work and meet potential collaborators.
Finding a way to do them will mean, first and foremost, finding a way to NOT hate them! You might consider taking one of the public speaking workshops offered by the Research Student Skills Programme. This can help build your confidence about being in front of people.
If you have a conference paper already written and would like some practice, the Research Exchange Advisers offer a service where you can book time with one of them to deliver your paper and receive constructive feedback. Email ResearchExchange@warwick.ac.uk.
As to networking, my advice is not to think of it as 'networking' at all - this word has become so overwrought with images of slimy, insincere hand-shaking. Think of it instead as interacting with other people who have similar interests and expertise to you, whom you just happen not to have met yet. Talk business with people you sit with at lunch - discuss the things you've heard at the conference, for example. Introduce yourself to people whose papers you liked, and tell them why. Have useful conversations - don't just 'network'. The Research Student Skills Programme (link above) also has occasional Networking workshops and this can help as well.
Remember: being successful at conferences doesn't have to mean gritting your teeth and doing something you hate - it means figuring out what you hate the most about it and finding ways to adapt your experience so that you enjoy it more.
You can ask Aunt Rex a question here.