presenting librarian

Once glance at my c.v. shows how loathe I am to present. Public speaking. What to say? We have an ambivalent relationship.

This one time, at writing camp–and this was just a few years ago, so I was fully adult–my haiku was selected for our culminating showcase of writing talent in the house. This meant that I should read it in front of all the workshop participants and community members in attendance. I probably cannot find it anywhere now, but it was an exercise to imagine yourself in 5-10 years as a writer. I thought I’d have a stalker, and I the haiku reflected my being stalked via a bird/birdwatcher relationship.

My stomach boiled and roiled between the time the event began and when I read my piece.  I visited the bathroom three or four times, positive that I would soil myself. I didn’t. Thankfully my reading was early in the evening and I very much enjoyed sitting back and watching all the other writers sweat it out with their lengthy pieces.

Since then, I rarely present. I don’t worry about it anymore. It’s no big whoop. But I refrain, just the same. Old habits, you know? And actually, this was one of the areas of improvement that I came up with at my last annual review: Present more. Write less. Bah. That last bit won’t happen. Isn’t happening. But I shall present more. Have a great idea or two for my state conference next April, but won’t share those until closer to the date.

Then there was all the LI/BI I had to give when that was part of my job description, early on, as a newbie librarian. The mere idea of getting up in front of students and blathering on about databases or the catalog ruined the evening before. I stressed. I burnt out quickly with the LI/BI and was a firm adherent of the “it’s a waste of time” school of thought on the subject.

“Let’s just make a video, pop it in, and let them watch LI/BI in the classroom,” I said.

I cannot pinpoint when the change occurred. I just don’t sweat it anymore. I decided not to let the idea that I must get up in front of people and talk to them bother me anymore. Perhaps it is age. I’m not as shy as I used to be. And rather than hiding behind a book–my strategy in many social situations for years–I actively seek conversation.

One of the best exercises I recommend is, rather than you and your book taking up a tabletop, find a spot at the bar and rub elbows with a stranger. Ian and I started doing this when we didn’t want to wait an hour or more to dine. Sit at the bar. Have a drink. Talk to strangers. You never know how much fun you might have or what you’ll learn. This works better in urban areas, possibly. I don’t really try it so much at home. You know, that whole baby in a bar bit doesn’t go over too well.

There were several points to this post. First, to provide my wishy-washy personal history of presentation avoidance, so that you can see where I was and how I’ve evolved. Second, to tell you about a presentation I jointly made this summer. And third, to point you to a fabulous presentation resource if you don’t know it already.

I’ve piddled with online tutorials a bit. Amy and I started working on them and the next thing I knew, she signed us up for a presentation at the Regents Online Degree Program (RODP) Summer Academy for librarians. It was “Best Practices for Creating Online Tutorials.”

What’s a best practice? Oh, I’ve heard the term bandied about, but really, how can you determine that, really? With that in mind, I jotted down some notes and worked on the presentation part of the thing and Amy created the tutorial. We practiced our presentation together and read over our notes and divvied up which slides we’d speak about. We gave the presentation twice.

I always feel like presentations are on the fly/by the seat of my pants, because you never know what your audience will do, and it’s much the same for the pc, overhead projector. Actually, it went rather well, other than not having any time to set things up before the group came over to hear our spiel.

We got it done. Yay. Then the next day there was a problem: I lost my USB drive on which the presentation lived. No problem, I thought, because I’d uploaded it to slideshare the night before.  I had a contingency plan. But, ooops, yeah, there was a problem: The pcs at that institution wouldn’t download flash and so I couldn’t use our slides.

Amy had an older version of the presentation on her USB drive. The slides were all out of order and we fumbled around horribly. We finished early. There were a few questions. Librarians are merciful. They asked good questions and made us feel better.

The USB drive, which had a lot more than just work crap on it showed up about a week or two ago. Amy found it under the floor mat. It was well-hidden and didn’t make a peep during her first sweep. But losing it was so sad. I had a difficult time coming to terms with what all I lost. But I came to terms with it, and then it’s here again. Weird.

Okay, so if you hadn’t noticed, brevity is not my strong point.

The almost last thing–I know, I said there were only three, but I’ve decided to add a fourth–is that you should read the book Presentation Zen. Garr Reynolds offers simple tips to make your next presentation effective and memorable and not just another mind-numbing PowerPoint snooze-fest.  And read the blog, too. One of the best things I learned–after the fact–is that you should have a max of 10 slides. I’ve never been a fan of PowerPoint anyway. It’s overused, abused, and just ugly as sin. You know what I mean.

Here’s what I learned from my failures and I hope that you’ll remember them when planning your next presentation:

  • Generate back-ups in various formats. Don’t rely on one source alone. My notes saved my tail and kept me on track, but if I’d covered all the bases and sent Amy the updated version of the presentation it would have made our second presentation so much better.
  • Present with a partner. Giving a presentation alone is exhausting. Dividing up the slides with Amy saved my voice, energy, and sanity. Each of us spoke on our areas of expertise and didn’t fumble around to make ourselves sound like we knew it all.
  • Water is essential. Take breaks. Take a drink or two, and begin again. This helps if you have a partner, otherwise, just hope that your audience is patient with you.
  • Present examples and ask for feedback, or call it teamwork (yuck!). I scoured the web for bad examples of online tutorials. After explaining the tenets of online tutorials (keep it short, grab their attention, don’t waste time, break it into smaller segments, practice your script, and edit) we showed them an online tutorial (it was for Jing, I believe) and asked what they didn’t like about it. This reinforced their learning and took up a bit of time; we had an hour to fill.
  • Allow time for questions and answers.  Or announce upfront that they are welcome to interrupt and ask questions  as you proceed.
  • Breathe. Seriously,  it’s not that difficult. Calm down. Slow down.
  • Project authority. Don’t apologize for things like the run in your stocking or your regional accent or when you lose your USB and blame your sub-par presentation on that. This devalues your professional identity and cache as an authority. You’ve got to pretend you’re a rock star librarian to make everyone else believe you’re a rock star librarian.
  • Thank your audience. Be gracious. Tell them what a pleasure it is to speak to them today and how grateful you are for their time and attention.
  • Ask for feedback. Create a quick survey to see how effective your presentation was, and if the feedback is constructive, or not, for that matter, then you can implement those ideas and modify your next presentation.
  • Give take-aways. As simple as a business car, but go a step futher and list your 5 best practices or bits of advice on its back. Or, give an unusually-sized handout, something other than the typical copier paper print-out. Packaging makes an impression. Don’t forget to share the presentation on SlideShare and tell them how to locate it.
  • Provide a sign in sheet. Automatically follow up with an email to give your audience the SlideShare url and to thank them again for their attendance. Following up is a great way to build your professional network and to position yourself as an person they may contact for future presentations, etc.

What are your best presentation tips? I’d love to know them. Do share.

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2 thoughts on “presenting librarian

  1. Pingback: solitary librarian « adj.librarian

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