NMRT January Online Discussion: Problems with Presenting

By Joy Dubose

Presenting at conferences can be a rewarding opportunity. Whether it is at a state, regional or national level it is a great experience. With the arrival of Covid-19, many conferences moved to a virtual setting. This has allowed more people the opportunity to present, who may not normally be able to.  Also presenting online may be less nerve wracking for presenters than standing in front of a group. So, what is the best way to get a topic accepted? How do you prepare once it has been accepted? What is the best way to work with co-presenters? Also, what are some differences presenting online rather than in person.

Getting a Topic Accepted

When thinking about presenting, first you need to find a conference that is looking for presenters. A good place to find these proposal calls are listservs. There are many listservs for various aspects of librarianships. Often when conference time comes around these will be flooded with calls for presenter proposals. You can check the websites of associations to see when the next conference is. When it gets a month or two from the conference, calls for proposals generally go out. However, they can be as early as 6 months away. 

It is important to review these calls thoroughly. Hopeful presenters should make sure they have an idea that falls within their themes or guidelines. If there are such keywords, for example “metadata, diversity, or public services”, incorporate them into the proposal. Also make sure the proposal follows all guidelines and is a complete idea. This will help if it is to be accepted.

Also, investigate state and regional conferences. These are generally held at a different time of year from national conferences. They can be a good testing ground for a presentation that you might want to present nationally later. If the audience on the state and regional stage have questions or concerns about the presentation, use it. Address these concerns and edit your proposal for the national conference. 

Preparing for a Presentation

Once the proposal is accepted then the work begins. Here different people have different methods. Some presenters pull in all the information and research they can find and sort it out later. Then they use their presentation as a guide to stay on topic. Some use the proposal as a starting point. Everyone has different research and writing methods. When presenting some presenters prefer to use scripts or outlines. These can help presenters keep on track and avoid awkward pauses filled with “um…”. However, others prefer to just wing it and go forward. Whichever way you present, if you can, make sure to have a run through or a practice session. Ask coworkers or family and friends if you can practice your presentation with them. During one such practice session, my family made a point to all be on their phones, talking and not paying attention. This was done so I could focus more on my presentation and not be distracted by what the audience was doing. It certainly helped me focus when it came to the actual presentation. 

It is also important to stay true to your proposal and include the material that has been “promised” to attendees. For example, if your proposal is about the use of children’s books, do not create a presentation on World War 2 unless it ties into children’s books somehow. There have been many presentations in which the written description did not match the actual product and that can be disappointing to those attending. 

Also, prepare to answer some questions afterward. Almost ever presentation session will have a few minutes for questions. It is important to know enough to answer some questions, but keep in mind it is also alright to say, “I don’t know”. It is impossible to predict everything people may ask you. Keep note of the questions and that way you can incorporate answers in future presentations or even into a paper if you so wish.

Working with Co-presenters

A presentation with co-presenters can have unique challenges. Above all communication and understanding are key. It is important to know who is covering what topic and how it ties into the overall presentation. Having an overall timeline can also be useful. That way everyone can keep on track and there will be a limited chance of surprises. This can all be done without appearing to be overbearing or micromanaging. Everyone of the group wants to do well and be a part. Let everyone agree on their part and the timeline and do not appear to “take over”. Also, understand that not everyone works the same or has the same process. You can not expect a coworker to think and work the exact same way as you. If there seems to be a problem, talk with them. Address the problem before getting too close to deadline time. That way if there is a problem, it can be fixed. Make sure that everyone can get together, either online or in person and run through the presentation several times. If you can, practice in front of a mock audience, like other coworkers.  Also, make sure to have everyone’s notes and slides just in case something happens and someone can not make it. 

Online vs. In Person

With the arrival of Covid-19 in 2020, many conferences moved to an online setting. This has allowed many people to present who would not be able to. Instead of traveling, finding a hotel, and going to a conference center, people can now present from home or work. However, that does not mean there are not some pitfalls with online conferences. 

With online presenting one of the biggest challenges is the technology itself. Some committees and conferences will have a tech run through before the presentation day. Make sure to get on the platform at least once and become familiar with it. Find out important functions such as how to   share the screen, record, etc. Also, it is important to test the audio and camera. If using the camera, make sure it is on your face and not over your head or on your neck. With the audio it is important that the audience can hear you, but at the same time you do not want to sound like you are shouting. The day of the presentation make sure to look in the camera and not at the screen. Your audience is of course the camera.

Online presenting can help those who are nervous standing up in front of an audience to present. It is much easier talking to a camera and screen than a room full of people. However, there is the downfall in that you cannot read your audience. There is no way to tell if you need to expand on a point or not. This is the same with the questions. There is no way to look at a person’s face and see if they understood the answer or not. 

It is easy to get nervous about all the things that can go wrong or might happen with presenting. At the same time, it is very rewarding when they go right. By making a successful proposal, preparing well, and communicating with co-presenters, presenting becomes less fearful and more challenging. A challenge that can be very rewarding.

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