Yesterday, the fantastic 24hour long Virtual Exchange for Occupational Therapy ended. Before we go any further, let’s just take a moment to appreciate the huge effort by the entire OT4OT team that was behind the event. This, the second of such events held to celebrate World OT Day, was built around the theme of “Pay it Forward”. I can’t imagine the effort, the sheer bloody minded force of will that it must have taken to get this event to happen, but I am deeply grateful to Sarah Bodell, Angela Hook, Merrolee Penman, Anita Hamilton, Susan Burwash and Karen Jacobs for taking it on. I must also thank Sarah Stewart, a midwife in New Zealand who inspired the OT community to create this event replicating her model based on the International Day of the Midwife. I’m sure I speak for all the participants when I say it has been a real career highlight!
During the event, OTs from around the world shared their expertise, listened to presentations, networked in a virtual classroom, and challenged each other to improve their practice. I was lucky enough to be presenting a session this year, so I thought I would write a little about the experience.
Before the presentation
When I was asked to present, I’ll admit I was a little anxious. I had various self-defeating thoughts, such as “why me? I’m nothing special”, “what could all these eminent OTs learn from me?”, “what if I’ve been ‘off work’ for so long I no longer think in an OT way”? It’s interesting to me when I spot a reaction like that in myself. Once it is brought to consciousness, I am able to challenge these thoughts- I knew I had experiences that are rare and that sharing within my profession would be useful to many. I knew that the event was purposely designed to hear new voices from OT, not to hear from the regulars on the lecture circuit. I knew that my skills as an OT had deepened and become richer as a result of all the reflective time I had spent since last being in my usual post. I wondered if it was a feature of women- the idea that we are generally slow to put ourselves forward, socially conditioned to take a “back seat” in terms of professional development. I wondered if it was a feature of my own lack of confidence stemming from a period of occupational disruption and subsequent occupational adaptation to my changed circumstances.
Considering all these factors, I decided to challenge myself to engage with the process. After all, we don’t grow by doing the same things we have always done. I have interests in using digital tools in practice, so I knew it would be a valuable learning opportunity to deliver a webinar to a global audience. I also felt that it would provide me with an opportunity to reflect on the changes that my family and I have been through over the past few years. I thought that it could be an emotional and physical effort to re-visit all that had happened, but I knew from my understanding of occupational adaptation that by fully integrating these experiences I would move into a new phase of Recovery.
Developing the Presentation
I suppose that I had underestimated the emotional impact of embarking on this journey. My life over the past few years has changed so much- my life is almost unrecognisable from the life I had before in terms of daily activities performed. As I started to develop the presentation, I looked through many family photos to find ones that illustrated occupational “key events” that would illustrate the story. It was a tough process, particularly when considering the period when my new born baby had been critically ill. I’m sure it’s understandable that in order to continue to fulfil our parental role to our eldest child, we had been cautious about expressing the helplessness and hopelessness we felt when she had been in hospital. I’m not sure any parent would ever really “get over” something like that, but it is true that through the process I was able to start to notice more positive things that I had missed before. For instance, I was happy to notice the efforts we had made as a family to adapt our environment at home to accommodate my disability. Through the photos, I could see how the experience had brought us closer as a family, now very much inter-dependant with each other, whereas before we had been three individual units with our own interests and activities.
Putting together a presentation using Powerpoint was very simple. I had used the tool before, so I knew I would be able to manage it, but it was interesting to me to see how that lack of confidence was affecting my self-perception. I had to consciously remind myself of the many times I had successfully used the tool, and all the positive feedback I had gained from previous presentations, in order to keep my motivation to complete the task high. It is important to remember this for the next time I have to create a presentation.
Using Elluminate Virtual Classroom
Having developed the presentation, and gone through an emotional journey in the process, I was now faced with attempting the truly unknown part of the exercise: the presentation in the virtual classroom. This entailed becoming familiar with an entirely new platform for working, Elluminate.
Sarah Bodell was the facilitator for my presentation, and she couldn’t have been more helpful and more accommodating (thank you!). She was unflappable about my presentation coming in a bit late, my erratic availability on email, and all the other factors that as a result of the chronic fatigue I experience makes working professionally additionally challenging.
Once in the classroom, it was quickly clear to me that the skills I have developed in other online environments would be transferable, and I quickly developed confidence that I would master the platform sufficiently for the presentation. I wouldn’t have felt confident to manage the comments and chat simultaneously, so I was grateful for the presence of my facilitator for the session to both “hand hold” and to take care of the questions as they arose through the chat box.
Having tested out the technology, there was nothing else to do but wait for my turn to deliver the presentation. And to tidy up my references, which has always been the last job to finish in every presentation or written work I have produced. I have started to use another new tool, Mendelay, which will allow me to input my Harvard style references into a list as I develop the presentation, which will hopefully address this on-going learning need.
The last few days before the presentation, particularly the immediate few hours before it started were full of anxiety for me. Once more, it was important to give myself positive self-talk in order to manage the anxiety. I told myself that I had delivered many presentations in the past, and always managed whatever unexpected outcomes they had delivered. I printed out a handout of the slideshow to refer to should something unexpected happen to the technology. I also made sure I had enough sleep and rest in the days preceding the presentation so that I would feel confident I could give it my best attention. I am sure that no matter how experienced one is at delivering presentations there is always an element of anxiety about them. The important thing I have found to be helpful is to not allow the anxiety to paralyse me during the preparation period. Knowing that some of the audience would be made up of people who I “know” from collaborating online, Tweeting and Facebook helped, as I could remind myself it was a presentation delivered in a reasonably informal way to an interested and supportive audience. It was also helpful to remember that people were not expected to attend- that anyone could choose to attend, but that if they felt it did not interest them or was not helpful to their practice, they would simply leave the virtual classroom. This would mean that anybody listening would be choosing to listen to the talk, and therefore a sympathetic audience.
Once I had ensured there were no distractions during the presentation by unceremoniously instructing my family to leave the house for several hours, I knew I could give the presentation my full attention. As I started to deliver the presentation, many of my anxieties simply disappeared, and I became absorbed by the task at hand and able to present the narrative of my experience without the strong emotions I had felt preparing it. I felt supported by the audience whenever I glanced at the chat box, and the presence of my facilitator allowed me to relax into the experience. Despite my many anxieties, I did not sneeze; forget my thread, stammer, or any of the other ways I had vividly imagined I could run into trouble. No presentation ever goes without a hitch, and sure enough, during mine the phone rang. Despite this distraction, which I was able to acknowledge and quickly move past, the presentation flowed in the way I had planned. Timings were kept to, allowing for a period of questions and discussion at the end.
After the presentation
I received positive feedback from the participants, and was also pleased to get feedback through my social media channels (mostly Twitter) that enabled me to feel confident the presentation had been a success.
I was able to reflect on the presentation, and revisit the reflections I had made about the emotional impact of my personal narrative, the illness of my baby and the other content of the presentation. It was interesting to see the experience reflected back at me by their reactions. It felt very validating- I felt that they had understood the situation well and understood the challenges our family had faced. I felt they had accepted the gentle challenges I had made about improving practice, with reference to my own experiences. I felt very warmly supported by my community of practice, and proud to be a member of a profession that was reflective, and that showed such an interest in the experience of a user of the service they provided.
I was very fatigued after the presentation, and the relief from the anxiety I had been feeling. But I must have also been affected by adrenaline, as I felt able to continue (after a few hours rest) to work on projects that were important to me. In fact, I felt reluctant to go to bed and call an end to a day that I had enjoyed so much and achieved some success in. This confirms to me the importance I place on the life role of Occupational Therapist, and confirms my desire to find a way to continue my career, despite the challenges that my disability has created, and their effects on my expected career path.
I have reflected on my experience of presenting at the 24OTx partly for my own professional development, but also with a view to being able to offer my insights to other OTs who may be considering presenting next year, or at another event of a similar nature.
The process was emotional for me, as a result of the topic that I was presenting which held a lot of personal feelings and memories. However, as I suspected, the process of engaging with those sometimes difficult emotions has led to arriving at a positive outcome of further integration of the experiences into my personal and professional identity.
I don’t believe it is possible for many people to say that presenting doesn’t trigger an anxiety response in them. I have been anxious before every presentation I have given. I can see a change in my reactions when I revisit old reflections on practice, in that I am increasingly successful in using positive self-talk techniques to counter this anxiety. Capturing the thought behind the feeling of anxiety allows me to work through this emotion and manage the anxiety with increasing success. I am able to grow personally and professionally as a result. I can see how the experience of anxiety triggered the release of sufficient adrenaline to give me the “good stress” that results in an increased ability to attend to information during the session, enriching the experience of delivering the presentation (e.g. reacting to the phone ringing).
I now feel confident to engage with other opportunities to explore how more of my practice could be delivered in an online environment. I intend to post this personal reflection online on my blog, in keeping with this year’s 24OTvx theme of Pay it Forward.
If I were asked for advice about whether or not to participate as a presenter in the next 24OTvx, I would say unreservedly GO FOR IT! It has been a fantastic experience for me, developed my confidence, my presenting skills, my ability to adapt to new online environments, and I have felt honoured to work with such a fine selection of some of the very best examples of Occupational Therapists- the OT4OT Team.