Presenting at the Colorado Outdoor Educators Symposium (COES)

Leah Elkins, Outdoor Studies student at CMC Leadville explores the campus trails in snowshoes.
Leah Elkins, Outdoor Studies student at CMC Leadville, explores the campus trails in snowshoes.

Presenting on ‘Social Media and the Benefits to the Outdoor Industry’ at the Colorado Outdoor Educators Symposium (COES)

by Leah Elkins, Outdoor Recreation Leadership student & Residence Assistant

I really love to talk. It’s my favorite hobby, I think. I talk about everything to anyone who’ll listen and I talk to my dog and definitely to myself sometimes. I don’t mind talking to strangers in public speaking scenarios, either. But talking isn’t the same as directing a 50 minute presentation to an audience, which is an idea that has always terrified and thrilled me.

So when my advisor, Kent Clement, invited students to attend the 2018 Colorado Outdoor Educators Symposium (COES) with him, I jumped on the opportunity. Hearing other students from colleges across the state present their work and conduct workshops was exactly the kind of thing to help me feel more comfortable with doing it myself one day. I knew that attending would contribute a lot to my understanding of teaching skills and the various ways to involve an audience. I’d never been to an outdoor education conference before and I was eager to absorb absolutely everything, so I signed up months ahead of time and kept it on my calendar as something to look forward to.

Then the unthinkable happened. Something that never even occurred to me as a possibility. Something that was so far out of my comfort zone I knew I had to try it. Kent encouraged me to submit a proposal for my own presentation at the conference.

At first, I thought, why the heck would I do that? I don’t have any qualifications to apply for this opportunity. I’d never even been to a conference in this field before! But Kent planted the seed and I couldn’t stop considering it. He knew it’d give me the experience of organizing my own lesson, figuring out how to engage the audience without boring them, practicing my public speaking, and taking my first step into presenting at more conferences in the future. He knew all that and he encouraged me to consider the benefits of it all rather than pay any mind to the hesitations I had.

The presentation would need to be 50 minutes long, interesting enough for people to attend, relevant to the outdoor industry, educational, and something I was passionate about. No biggie, but to me, it was a bit nerve-racking. So I went for it.

My topic was titled “Social Media: Benefits to the Outdoor Industry.” I wanted to open the floor for a discussion-style presentation on how we as outdoor enthusiasts can responsively represent our industry through social media and smartphone technology (i.e. apps, geotagging, etc.) I was passionate about the topic, the information was valuable and relevant to the audience, and I had my trusted CMC advisors behind me for coaching and fine-tuning.

Leah Elkins presenting on “Social Media: Benefits to the Outdoor Industry” at the 2018 Colorado Outdoor Educators Symposium (COES).

The real-world experience of opportunities like this is one of the most valuable parts about college. In my experience as a transfer student, CMC does an incredible job of finding those opportunities for all students. I came to CMC Leadville to immerse myself in the outdoor field, try new things, learn as much as I could, and build new friendships and relationships. After a year of being here, everything I wanted to experience has been offered to me, and more. I never thought I’d be where I am today, from the beaches of SC to the mountains of CO, applying to present at an outdoor education conference.

And my proposal was accepted. My name was printed in the fancy conference schedule with a description of my presentation. I was given news of my acceptance about four weeks before the conference and I was terrified. And excited. I felt inspired, nervous, curious, and just happy that I had this new, challenging experience ahead of me.

When I got to work, I spent time with Kent going over my ideas and the outline of my topic. I spent time with TRIO Coordinator Jen Speight practicing my presentation skills and tweaking my approach. I learned a ton about presenting before I even started and I had the right people supporting me and inspiring me.

On the big day, my presentation went really well. The room was nearly full and the participants were eager to engage in discussions with me. Despite the hilarious distractions from the room next door, where students were learning about recreation music and banging super loud drums in unison, I was able to hold thoughtful discussions with the audience and learn from them as they learned from me. I got some amazing written feedback from every participant, most of which included something along the lines of “the drums were too loud,” and Kent was incredibly supportive of my job-well-done. I felt accomplished and proud, knowing I’d done my best and I could tell where I had room to improve.

I felt like a total rock star, having chosen to step out of my comfort zone for the sake of learning, and I came out the other side more confident about the opportunity to try again. Thanks solely to the faculty at CMC, namely Kent Clement and Jen Speight, I had the real-world opportunity to face a fear, kick its butt, and realize the value and the fun of presenting on topics that interest me.

I know what I did well, I know what I could’ve done better, and I know that this was the first of many presentations I’ll give in my lifetime.

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