We sometimes are quick to throw phrases around. A frequent one I use is, “ Own the room, don’t let people project their insecurities or fears on you”. These are some of the basic guidelines I use when going for an interview, an exam or before an audience where I am being accessed. Recently, I had an encounter that forced me to recognize that we always need to refresh our basic knowledge. How I so easily forgot this principle that helped me to push through my job hunting days. Days where I would walk around Lagos knocking on corporate doors with only my CV in hand, a positive attitude, and confidence.
Sometime back my daughter was having a violin practical exam outside her school. I drove to her school that day to pick her up from their end of term party. We arrived at the venue of the exam an hour before her allocated time. I let her catch a quick power nap and we dived into some revision. We rosined her bow ( one of those music lingoes), tuned her violin. I even got her to play the scales and her pieces one more time. Then we headed to the exam building. As we climbed the stairs I decided to give her a prep talk. My daughter is eight years old, very new to the examination world ( her school does not believe in exams for kids her age). This would actually be her second exam, the first one was the year before. It was a music theory exam. I recall advising her then to revise her work once she finished. She should seat and wait until the examination is over before leaving the hall. This should allow her enough room to revise and make any changes necessary. To my amazement, My daughter would walk out about thirty minutes into the exam claiming she had finished. Sarah was bored staring around. She asked the exam invigilator if it was okay to leave and they said she could. The examination would officially end an hour later.
This time around I thought I prep her better. As we climbed the stairs I went on, “Sarah you know during your exam, you would be the only student in the room with the examiner playing your pieces.” She skipped the stairs, smiling and looking happy as I continued. “You should not expect the examiner to like you, smile at you or be happy with you. Please play your music pieces and answer the questions respectfully, this is serious!” She was now literally dancing on the landing. She responded, “Mom don’t worry, I am going to play my pieces and they would love it, the examiner would enjoy it and be happy”. I hurried after her as she took off. When we got to the waiting room there were other families present. I thought I attempt one more time. I stooped down close to her seat, leaned into her and continued. “Sarah, the examiner will be firm and keep a straight face”. she leaned in towards me, I could see the twinkle in her eye as she asked” Mom will it be like the Mona Lisa face?” I continued, “Yes dear, it will be a poker face, the idea is not to give away the outcome of their assessment of you right away. Is that Okay? Now she was swinging her feet, holding the sides of her seat as she said: ” Mom I told you they are going to love it when I play, they will be nice”. I could catch a glimpse of the assistant coordinator smiling at us, and I could feel others in the room staring and listening. It became apparent, I was not getting through to my daughter. She was all smiles, feeling confident, swinging her legs and now humming a song. I blamed it on the sugar, she must have had so much sugary stuff at that party.
Guess the need for this particular prep talk? A year ago, when my son wrote this exam he broke into tears when I asked him how it went after the exam. As he was being examined on the piano pieces, he made a mistake while playing. He looked up and saw the examiner looking at him expressionless, he panicked and even made more mistakes. Thank God he passed that one by a hair’s breadth. After that incident, I decided then to mentally prepare them for similar exam situations.
Today my daughter was however not having any of my prep talks. When she went in for the exam, I would stand close to the door, trying hard to eavesdrop on her playing. I was so nervous that my heart would skip a bit when I thought she missed a note. I decided this was unhealthy and headed to the washroom. I came back and after what seemed like an eternity my daughter would emerge smiling, still with the twinkle in her eyes, all confident with that rhythmic gait in her steps. I held her hands, bent over asking her how it went. “Mom, it was excellent, the examiner loved it, I told you! I played my pieces, he asked me some questions and even when he tried to make them tricky I answered it. He was nodding his head and said “good “. In the end, I told him he was nice and he smiled mommy”. I would ask her to repeat what happened there two more times as we walked back to the car. I tried to process what she was telling me. It got me thinking.
When we got inside the car I said to her, “ Sarah you are right, it is okay to smile, be happy and confident when you walk into an exam. You don’t need to worry about how the examiner looks or feel. Maybe, in the end, you might infect him or her with your positive attitude. We must let Asher know this when we get home”. My daughter reminded me of the need for a positive attitude especially in cases where we are being assessed. It could be an Interview for a job or visa application. It could be standing before a board or client presentation. Own the room with your presence. Do not let the dispositions of others put you off your game. Wish me luck, my son, Asher has his exams in two weeks!