What Milan taught me….

City Centre, Street, Milan, Italy, MilanMany years ago, I was scheduled to give my first ‘talk’ in another country.  Of course, I was full up of both excitement and apprehension and couldn’t wait for the experience to unfold.

I say ‘talk’…it was an academic conference, so its not the same as other speaking engagements, as its usually based upon research that you have conducted, is much less of a free-flow and there is an inherent expectation that there is a fully referenced theoretical underpinning.

My ‘gig’ was actually a workshop, related to professional identity and personal story and was at the very early stages of conceptualising chameleonism – way before it became a business idea.  As an aside, this has been a process that I have valued, as all too often academic concepts, studies, etc, remain ‘up there’ and are not made ‘live’…consultachameleon embodies an academic concept ‘becoming’ reality.  I’ll be writing more about that in future blogs.


As it was my first engagement abroad, I wanted to make sure I didn’t wobble – believe me, presenting to professors and academic leaders, doctors, etc, is not for the faint-hearted!  If ever there is a time for ‘imposter syndrome’ to strike, this was it.

So, to add reassurance, I carefully constructed a powerpoint and was good to go.  I had two USB fobs, just in case and I had read it back to front on the aeroplane and in the hotel room.

The venue was a beautifully rustic community building, with a courtyard, a large room, with many smaller rooms for us speakers to ‘do our thing’.

It came to my time and I strolled into the room, adjusting my new red jacket (afterall, I was in Milan) and allowed my eyes to sweep the room. Gulp! There was no screen….there was no computer…there was no powerpoint facility!

I had to swallow my rising panic, making my throat dry.  No powerpoint started to sink in and I realised that my chameleonic resilience was needed.

The funny thing is, I had for years resisted powerpoint.  I didn’t take to it…I thought its was a distraction and was (and still am), part of the anti-reading-the-slides brigade.  Around 2003, I gave in to the lure, mainly because it was a useful tool for saving and then digitally sharing all my wonderful nuggets of wisdom…

By the time Milan happened, I was already a convert, so had to very quickly undo my powerpoint habit.  Thank goodness for my reflexive capacity…as I (to this day, I feel ‘just about’) pulled it off.  For the record, if this had been a talk in England, I may have used humour a bit more to relieve the tension…but in these European Academic Conferences, there is much less of those type of shenanigans!

You may be wondering if the lesson I learned was to check that a powerpoint facility was available.  No…that was definitely on my preparation list and I had been assured it would be there….waiting for me…

What I learned in Milan was much more powerful and has helped me through many situations since.  Like when I show up to lead a seminar with twenty students and show up to find three groups hoping I can work with them (it happens, we are human, people get sick…).  Like in Spain, when I had to pronounce conscientização (from Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed) in a talk with a group made up of many Portugese scholars (I only speak one language – note to self to change that ‘one day’).

I learned to always expect whatever.  To not cling too tightly to one idea, approach, scenario, etc and to take a few deep breaths and dive into the situation as it is, rather than what I had predetermined.

Thank you Milan.  You did your job very well, indeed.

For more about me, jump over here.