‘Becoming Together’ A collaborative presentation on Inclusive research relationships

I always am so tense before and during presentations. I always have butterflies in my tummy, I am nervous, I am trembling. Outwardly I appear calm, inside I am freaking out. As long as I can remember I have always had stage fright. This great fear of public speaking.  I acknowledge it’s complicated problem that is blended with many of my personal issues. I have always forced myself to overcome this fear, while in school and college often participated in many elocution competitions, tortured myself to face my demons. Sometimes I won the battle, mostly I lost. The only time I remember being at ease at any form of public speaking was during my teaching days, first as a maths and science teacher, later when I became a teacher educator. It was strange I never felt scared when I was in a classroom or a lecture hall. I enjoyed discussions with my students. When I began presenting at education conferences, I found my fears returning. I didn’t enjoy my own presentations because I felt I rushed through, wanting to cover all the points on the slides. I never enjoyed presenting at conferences. Don’t get me wrong, I do like attending research conferences, I learn so much from other researchers. It is my own presentations I am always unhappy with.

I have collaborated on presentations before, done few joint presentations. Again, the heavy reliance on power point slides and minimal discussion made the experience seem ‘dry’ and ‘mechanical’. It was a choice we made I guess, to use information laden slides for presentations. Mainly because it felt safe, especially being a nervous presenter as well as everyone followed the same style of presenting. But when I got the opportunity to collaborate with two of my fellow researcher friends, whom I respect tremendously. I was elated and jumped at the opportunity. Basically, because I knew this time, the collaborative experience would be different. I say that because both my fellow presenters are exceptional people and extraordinary researchers. I find their research breathtakingly fresh, inclusive, and ground-breaking. I was collaborating with Sharon Smith (whom I met on the first day of induction of my Ph.D. and has become so much more than a friend) and Katherine Barnes (aka Jules whom I got to know through Sharon, admire her research and her warm personality). Sharon is using a post structural approach using conversations with parents of disabled children and many other creative methods in her research while Jules research on PMLD student experiences of touch by using go-pro cameras is cutting-edge. Both researchers embody inclusivity not only in their research but in every aspect their lives. Not only was I honoured that I got to collaborate with researchers I admired, but I got the opportunity to work with friends from whom I have learnt so much throughout my Ph.D. I was really looking forward to this presentation. Though each of our research is different, a common thread that binds it together is that each of us incorporated novel and creative methods to carry out our research.

When we had the first Zoom call to decide how we would go about the presentation for the University of Birmingham School of Education conference on 7th July 2022. We didn’t have any trouble finalizing what we wanted to do in the presentation. I was amazed at how easily the three of us managed to put our main theme together in no time. Sharon kindly drafted the abstract which we submitted. We were overjoyed when our symposium abstract was accepted. We decided we would conduct the presentation as a conversation between us.  We planned to address three questions in this conversation, about our individual approach to designing our research, challenges, and serendipity on our journey of becoming together in inclusive research. To encourage a wider ongoing conversation about how to undertake research that is both ethical and inclusive we created a padlet to share anything we felt had inspired our research like, publications, images, poetry, quotes, blogs we had read. This online padlet was shared with audience at the conference to encourage collaboration and keep the conversations ongoing.

We had one more zoom meeting before the conference to finalize the questions.  Before the conference Sharon had got Covid, and despite being miserably sick managed to create a fabulous powerpoint presentation. The conference was in-person, and we were meeting fellow PGR’s and academics from our university after a gap of two years. It was so good to just see everyone and had the quintessential conference experience after lockdown. Since our symposium was scheduled after lunch, we got to attend few pre-lunch presentations. When it was time for our symposium, I had butterflies in my tummy, but I took comfort that I had Sharon and Jules to support me. When the symposium began, what was amazing was the organic way discussions progressed. Despite not having rehearsed anything, everything just fell into place. For the first time I didn’t feel that presentation was mechanical or forced. Though individually each of us had prepared what we would say, on the moment I found we were spontaneous and natural. The conversations were heartfelt, at times funny and thought provoking. The audience was engaged and engrossed, as were we. The PowerPoint slides did not overshadow or impede the discussion. We began by introducing our individual research and ourselves. Followed by how the pandemic created new opportunities to form new networks without geographical boundaries. How academia seemed more inclusive and open, more empathetic and united. We discussed how ‘becoming together’ along with our participant was important for each of us. How we tried to work collaboratively with our participants in our research approaches to make our research more inclusive. 

The symposium was for 45 minutes, and never once did I feel the urge to rush or cover all the points I had prepared. It felt like we were sharing our experiences and opening our hearts to the audience. I have never ever enjoyed presenting as much as I did on that day. I felt supported by my co-presenters. Unlike other collaborations I had done earlier, this did not feel competitive at all. I just revelled in this feeling of camaraderie and trust. It was amazingly refreshing and comforting. The feedback from the audience was so reassuring and rewarding. And the funniest thing was despite not having met Jules in person before, it felt like I had known her forever. I cannot thank my co-presenter friends enough for the opportunity to be part of this symposium.  I learnt so many new tips regarding drafting abstracts, using padlets, creating eye catching presentations using visual imagery which I now call ‘The Sharon Way’. This will be a memory I shall cherish forever. A tick in my bucket list. I plan to use the ‘Sharon way’ of presenting from now on every time I present! 

This bond three of us created by sharing this presentation experience cannot really be shared in words, it is felt deep in our hearts. It truly was a ‘becoming’ experience  something that will only grow stronger with time….

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