NMRT February Online Discussion: Presenting at Conferences
The February discussion focused on a topic that can strike either fear or excitement into any librarian: presenting at a conference. Public speaking is frequently said to be one of the biggest fears that people have and that is no exception to librarians. But conference presentations don’t have to be scary or stressful. Participants were asked to focus on their experiences presenting and providing suggestions for becoming a confident presenter. There was plenty of advice given that can be used by beginners and seasoned presenters alike.
Finding Where to Present
Before you can actually be a presenter, you’ll want to find a situation where you can actually present! But remember that presentations aren’t something you can only do at conferences – there are plenty of opportunities to get started in your own library. Whether it is doing a presentation at your staff development day or presenting on something during a staff meeting – these are great places to get started and to build foundational presentation skills.
If you are ready to branch outside of your library, the best place to start looking for opportunities is within your own local or state library association. You can also try for other user groups that exist in your area.
Listservs and other electronic mailing lists shouldn’t be overlooked either. There are plenty of opportunities that come across on these lists. Sign up for some that are of interest to you and take the time to check out all of the different calls for speakers that are put out there.
Don’t forget to tap your peers for suggestions particularly those who have presented before as they may be aware of opportunities near you that you may not have heard of.
Power of the Poster Session
Poster sessions are a much smaller scale way to get into presenting. They generally involve a poster of a specific project or topic as a visual aid and explaining to curious conference goers what your project was about. These will involve small groups of people which is a great way to get used to talking in front of others. It is also far less formal so you can choose to have an “elevator pitch” ready to go on your poster or you can make it free form and invite people to ask questions. Posters can also be presented with more than one person which can take some of the pressure off of you.
Another alternative to doing a full presentation is doing a lightning talk. These are a relatively common event that happens at conferences where a number of speakers do a very short talk on a topic. The length is roughly 5-10 minutes which means you don’t have to prepare a lot of material and it is a great way to break into doing something more “formal” than a poster, but with much less pressure than a full 45+ minute presentation. It’s a great way to test the waters.
Choosing a Topic
For any type of presentation, it should go without saying that you should pick a topic you are comfortable with and enthusiastic about. Getting ready for a presentation is much easier when you care about the topic and how you feel about your topic will be evident when you are presenting. It will also serve to alleviate some of your nerves. The better you know your topic, the more prepared you will feel.
This is definitely true for a presentation that will have a question and answer section at the end or if you’ll be involved in a panel discussion. You never know what someone is going to ask and the uncertainty of that can be extremely stressful, but it helps to boost your confidence if you know and like your topic.
Working with Others and Practicing
Practicing your presentation with others is a great way to feel more prepared come presentation day. Whether you are practicing with a group of colleagues, friends, or family, having anyone available to listen to you can help you become more comfortable speaking in front of others. Those who listen can point out things you might be doing wrong or notice areas in your presentation that need more work.
You can also choose to team up with a more experienced presentation partner. Presenting with someone else or in a group can ease the burden of getting used to presenting. The amount of information you have to present will generally be less than if you were presenting alone which means less to remember. Plus, a more experienced presentation partner can help you with your preparation and even your speaking technique to help build your confidence and prepare you for the future.
Librarianship is a field known for professionals who are willing to help each other out so there is never any harm in reaching out to others for help.
While breaking into presenting can be scary, it is definitely a worthwhile experience. Not only do you get to build your own skills as a speaker, but you get to make connections by meeting new people. And you get the chance to share your knowledge and experience with others. You never know who might be inspired by what you have to say. It’s a great way to give back to the library world.
Submitted by Elayna Turner