Today was not only a big day because of the Scientopia launch, but also because I had my first student defend. This was a student who started with me a little less than two years ago and has done an excellent job getting things done at a time I needed it most. It's great that the student finished up and that a paper is almost ready to go, it is just odd losing one if the people who has been here since the beginning - but such is the nature of the beast.
One thing that the student asked me, which is a bit of a reoccurring theme, is how many talks did I have to give before I stopped getting nervous. I had to think about it, because whereas it has been a while since I got nervous before a talk, as a young and naive PLS I was a total fucking wreck before a talk. My knees used to shake during talks and even the anticipation made my digestion to bad, bad things.
So, I graphed it (this is science afterall):
Nervousness relative to talk experience.
I think for the first little while it doesn't seem like you are going to adjust. Every talk you are just as nervous as the one before and the only difference is you know how bad it is going to be. Somewhere after about 10 talks it starts to get better, but only marginally so (from eleventy to something in the normal range). Then there is a magical moment when you are no longer terrified the entire time you have to stand there and be the sole voice in the room. Once this happens there is a plateau where you still feel the nerves a bit before a talk and in the first minute or so, but you have the ability to crush those feelings once you start rolling. They persist, however, and can rear their ugly head if the environment changes substantially (really big talk, job talk). After that stage the bottom drops out and it pretty much becomes telling a story.
Maybe it takes a little longer for some and a little less for others, but the only way to deal with a fear of public speaking is to get up there and realize that there isn't that much to fear. Yes, we have all had that time we looked stupid standing in front of a crowd stammering out a circular answer to a question we barely understood, but to my knowledge, no deaths have been associated with such an experience. Often they become part of the War Story arsenal one can use to make others feel better (you think you looked like an ass? Let me tell you a little story...)
It's easy to look at people who seem to be natural speakers and think they left the womb that way, but I can assure you that at some point almost everyone has been terrified to stand up and present their work in front of crowd of like-minded individuals and everyone has a horror story. Rarely is new ground forged in this arena.