How to Survive your 1st Conference…

If you love public speaking as much as I do – it’s lots, lots and lots – you can imagine how uneasy excited I might be at the prospect of presenting to a room full of seasoned, distinguished academics over on distant shores. Well this WAS the prospect presented to me! By none other than my fellow MAVRiC mates in 2018, suffice to say I lived to tell the tale and this is how I survived…

The shadow of the past

I’d never been comfortable with public speaking. Although I don’t suffer ‘sick to my stomach’ type of anxiety you typically hear about from others whom suffer this temporary affliction, the thought of looking like a total hero as your mind goes blank in front of a room full of people is enough content for a month’s worth of sleepless nights.

It’s not that I didn’t want to present, in fact this was the chance to share and engage with others on our hard work (playing!). I’d graduated from university, having presented many times in front of fellow students and lecturers. Facing tens or hundreds of academics, academics who have enough titles in their name to cover the alphabet and back, AND whom would be paying to be at the event, this was very much a different bag of skittles.

“You’ll be fine! The conference, as well as its attendees are very welcoming and actively encourage and promote new researchers” These were the words, or at least words something to this effect, of my friend, mentor and fellow MAVRiC member Poorang prior to my travels eastward. This was echoed by Amer our friend and fellow MAVRiC member at the time, who assured me this would be the case having travelled to Dubai the year before for the same conference with CITC (Construction in the 21st Century). I guess I was just going to have to trust them at their word, and I did!…

To Colombo, Sri Lanka

The destination for the conference was Columbo, Sri Lanka’s bustling capitol. This I was very much excited by, I’d travelled a fair bit in this part of the world and this was the perfect excuse to see moooooooooorrre! 🍽

Sound’s ideal doesn’t it? Well things didn’t go as planned and in my small world, this mission to deliver a presentation as smoothly as possible didn’t get off to a great start. It began with waiting for Amer to arrive at Columbo airport. 

We’d been separated by our connecting flights, my plane went direct and Amer’s did not. Having landed for several hours with no signs of Amer I was getting very worried indeed. We were due to present our first paper in just 12 hours! And neither of us were plane sleepers. As it turns out, Amer was enjoying himself on a beach in the Maldives, alright for some hey? I’ll add that it was a tarmac beach, one with a runway on it. There are worse places for an emergency stop I’m sure…


Having finally joined forces once again we were immediately faced with our next challenge, culture shock. Being tired, neither of us were prepared for the heat, customs of the land or modus operandi for getting to our destination hotel I.e. avoiding getting ripped off by the hundreds of taxi/tuc-tuc drivers competing for our western cash. But we made it safely to the hotel. 

Is my jet lag showing?

You might think with just a few hours until the conference and our 1st presentation, we would get straight to sleep. As it turns out, we both needed to de-crease our suits for the big day, after all my suit was made from linen (come on, it’s a tropical country) and came out the suitcase with more ripples than the Indian Ocean. This would have been fine, if the 5 star hotel had an iron & ironing board in the building. For love nor money, this was the case for another hour and a half. After many pleasantries, our suits were looking sharp. If only the same could be said for myself.

Hilton Hotel, Columbo

CITC Bound

On a beautifully fresh, yet warm morning we departed, along with our suits, in jet lag style in a modest tuc tuc towards the Hilton Hotel, the venue for CITC 2018. 

Contrary to my initial deluded imaginations, the welcome to the conference was very warm and inviting. We were greeted straight away by conference host Dr. Syed who made us feel at home. Within the hour we had made friends at the event helping us (me) feel more at ease.

Then, it was Amer’s turn to present. He ‘knocked it out the park’ and delivered our first presentation perfectly. I needed to get some pointers!

Banquet Dinner

That evening, it was all aboard the bus for the CITC gang, we were treated to an amazing banquet dinner next to the indian ocean, a great opportunity to make friends and settle some nerves thinking about my presentation the next day! The food was incredible and the company was just as good, but I needed to get back to prepare for tomorrow. Luckily I managed to persuade Amer and his sweet tooth to help me practice presenting; he did well to listen to me for so long after a day full of presentations, even if he was a little distracted by room service ice-cream.

Presentation Day & Trip to Galle Fort

After much anxiety and yet excitement, I presented the research paper and it went fantastic.  So I guess the short takeaway is that there was an awful lot of fuss for something that went well and so quickly. I was then free to enjoy the event even more.

Trimble presentation

Some notable presentations that day included one by Trimble themselves on AR, VR & MR. But the stand out and one I will never forget, came from a group of students from the University of Columbo who were deaf. They turned an obstacle into a strength by using visual props to present. Ironically, it was a presentation where no one talked, that became the most memorable of the event, truly a masterclass in presenting.

Another eye opening presentation was delivered by Dr. Paul Hampton & Chris Blythe OBE on Modern Day Slavery in construction. Please read up on this if you can, I was unaware of the extent and it’s hidden in plain sight.

That afternoon the CITC crowd once again were treated, with a trip to a relic of the past – Galle Fort. Again another chance to see Sri Lanka, unwind and get to know fellow attendees. I’d imagine these events are a rare treat in the world of conference organisations, much to CITC’s credit!

In Summary

I was transformed by the experience. Not through experiencing Sri Lanka itself and it’s stark poverty, where the gap between have’s and have not’s is huge, I’ve witnessed this kind of poverty before in other countries. I was in fact transformed by the warmth shown to me by individuals (staff or otherwise) at CITC. It’s like a little community. And this has changed my perspective/understanding about conferences. My only regret is travelling to the other side of the planet for 4 days and not staying longer!

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