By Charuni Pathmeswaran

Last month, 19 female PhD researchers from different backgrounds came together for a workshop on building engaging presentations. We all had one thing in common: an interest in inspiring young girls to pursue careers in STEM. It had been a year since I had attended an in-person workshop. Needless to say, just being in a room full of enthusiastic young women was a great experience for me! 

The session was facilitated by Jo O’Reilly, one of Australia’s leading communication and presentation skills trainer. Jo has a Bachelor of Arts/ Bachelor of Social Studies from the University of Sydney and studied for a diploma of Operatic Art at the NSW Conservatorium of Music. The energy she radiated throughout the workshop was contagious to say the least. She was so engaging that it left us wanting more.

Jo encourages us to radiate positive vibes among ourselves. This was just one of many mini exercises we did during the workshop 🙂

The workshop involved a lot of self-reflection. We were asked to reflect on the types of visibility that make us comfortable and those which make us feel uncomfortable. Jo pointed out that visibility is not about you but instead is about what the audience sees. This was a new perspective for me.  

We also discussed about how we felt moments before addressing an audience. The consensus in the room was that we all feel anxious in the moments leading up to giving a talk. Jo pointed out that nerves are a sign that you care and that gives you an extra push to perform better. She also reminded us to be kind to ourselves and to not let the inner critique get in the way of our performance.  

Jo also spoke about preparing for impactful delivery. For maximum impact, there must be congruence between content, physicality, and voice. We also discussed different communication styles and the importance of maintaining meaningful eye contact.

Getting to know each other during the lunch break: We talked about our research, what we like to do for fun, and navigating our PhDs during a pandemic 🙂

To conclude the workshop, we did a storytelling exercise. Each of us was asked to narrate a story and link it to the message we would like to convey to young girls. Jo emphasized the importance of talking about not just what you are doing but also why you are doing it. Some of the messages conveyed included stepping out of one’s comfort zonebeing okay with not knowing what you want to dotaking time to find what you love, and not being afraid of change.  It was so inspiring to hear what the other women in the room had to say. It was only fitting to end the workshop leaving us inspired by each other and feeling motivated to inspire a generation of young women.