Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Shy Librarian's Guide to Presenting

My readership varies. There's friends, family, librarian colleagues that I know and that I don't know. If you'll indulge me this one, I'm gonna speak directly to one particular group this time: those of you who have thought about presenting, but thinking about actually doing it is just one big NOPE.

And everyone, I have a confession: I used to be really pretty shy. No, really.

Throughout my twenties I had a major learning curve. As an educator, I attended a lot of professional development. You would think, since educators, like, know how brains work and everything, professional development about engaging instruction would be, you know, engaging instruction.

It wasn't. Quite a few were more like this than I care to admit. If it makes you uncomfortable to watch that, imagine sitting through 2.5 hours of it.

I got sick of complaining. I wanted to do something. Be the change, and all that. But I just couldn't talk in front of groups of adults. I got super nervous and seized up. PROBABLY because I had been such an insufferably critical audience member; I understand that now. But also, because I was mostly just kinda shy.

Just sitting by myself in my apartment, 2007
There's a few people that I can count on to say "how can you do that?" whenever I talk about presenting. It's gotten me thinking. So if you've got this great stuff going in your library and you're thinking, "how can I do that?!", you're in luck. Here's a few tips to get yourself on track to being able to talk in front of people who've already graduated high school.

1. Practice speaking in front of people and to strangers at every opportunity you get.

Just siting on the computer while people are over, 2007.
You know in grad class when you're doing a group project and the teacher asks for someone to summarize your thoughts for the class? Or when someone from your department has to speak at your staff meeting about what you're up to? Or when someone has to give the closing announcements? Or when someone in your family has to go ask the guy at the grocery counter where something is? That is now you. Every time. Be the first to volunteer. Everyone else (if it's anything like my grad classes) will be so relieved they won't even debate it. Face it, you would have just sat there all averting your eyes away from each other anyway until someone finally cracked. You just saved yourself 90 seconds of the most awkward silence you'll ever experience.

The more you speak in front of people, the better you'll be able to channel your energy. The nervous feeling I used to get has lessened, but hasn't yet completely gone away. Now, however, instead of trying to not be nervous (which, come on, just makes you more nervous), I think about how pumped I am about the presentation and how fun it's going to be to share my ridiculous slide deck with everyone and this is going to be the greatest 15 minutes/45 minutes/half day of my entire week. After all, I spent a lot of time preparing it; it's gotta be good, right?  This is the place that is not really all that far away from where you are now (I was telling myself not to be nervous about a presentation as late as 2012). If you start being the One Who Speaks Up now, who knows? Maybe I'll attend your conference program someday.

2. Submit a proposal about something that makes you feel like an expert.

Just not engaging in the conversation, 2008.
Everyone has something that they're an expert in. You just have to find out what it is. And the thing you are an expert in-- the thing you will talk anyone's ear off about-- will be the easiest thing for you to present about. That's because you'll go up there knowing you can answer any question thrown at you. You'll know that you can teach people something. More importantly, you'll know you have information that others do not have, that they WILL have after something you said.

When I first started in librarianship in 2011, I had 2 presentations lined up within a month. One of them was on content-area read-alouds, and the other was the very first thing I ever said about the Boat takeover. The first was a presentation to teachers on education-related things, which is what I had been doing for the previous 6 years of my life. The second was a presentation to librarians about education-related things, and I hadn't really presented to librarians ever before. Guess which one I was less nervous for?

Granted, anymore I'm poised to run a class for librarians about education-related things. So I've gotten over that and feel like an expert in it, thanks to great feedback these posts have gotten from the librarian community. If I don't feel like an expert in something-- and there's a LOT of somethings-- I'll defer presenting to someone who is one. If you name a subject in librarianship, I could name you at least one person who seems to know more than I'd ever care to learn about it; and I have no hesitation recommending them if I don't feel confident speaking on something. It's all about making sure the audience gets the most out of it. And the presenter not freaking out because they don't know the answers.

3. Dress for your best self.

WTF am I even wearing, 2005.
(okay, some things never change)
So now you've done it. You practiced speaking for a bit, you got the nerve to submit a proposal based on something you know your stuff about. And it got accepted. So you've been preparing your slide deck and your presentation is tomorrow. WHAT DO YOU WEAR?!

I'm going to go off the beaten path a little bit and say that, while your first impression means a lot, the reason that it does is your look should reflect your authentic self. When it doesn't, people feel betrayed. And so, you should wear whatever makes you feel best. I used to wear blazers at all my presentations until they got too big for me, and I hadn't bought any new ones until like yesterday. Rather than wear these oversized blazers to "wear a suit", I've worn a cardigan in the past year instead, and lived to tell the tale. Never in my adult life have I willingly worn tights, so I would never choose to wear them to help me feel my best during a presentation. But I know many people who feel awesome in dresses and they rock them, too. The audience can feel it when they're presenting.

Another thing I always wear when I'm presenting is my work lanyard. Yep, even when the presentation is hours away from work. That's because on my work lanyard is my LEGO Chewbacca, and everyone needs a sidekick. It helps me to remember that even though I'm presenting, it's just another day at work.

4. Get your gameday strategy.

Just posing with no one, 2008.
There are some reasons why I grew up kinda shy, and one of those is definitely that I grew up with a stutter. While I might stutter like once or twice a week anymore, I don't want that to be during my presentation. Additionally, growing up near Detroit, I learned to talk really, really fast. It's just how people talk there. When I moved to the South I slowed myself down, but there's still times when I have to repeat myself. 

So my strategy on presentation days is to do everything I can to get up there and be understood. Here it is:
--I listen to "Mushroom Story" by Todd Snider, a hilarious  story about him turning from a football player to a burnout in one day. Listening to his cadence, and where he emphasizes words, has made me a better presenter. He talks slowly, and pauses a lot, and you still want to listen to him.
--I spend extra time on my hair and makeup. This not only helps me feel my best, but doing makeup for me is a really relaxing activity. It's like art.
--I don't have any caffeine until after my presentation. This is sometimes really hard, because I love my caffeine, and sometimes my presentation isn't until the afternoon. But one thing that I've found is that if you're feeling lethargic from no caffeine, you have no opportunity to be hyped up for your presentation until your presentation starts.
--I make sure to drink a bunch of water. Without it, your voice will start to give out, even if you're cool with giving a presentation.
--I do something related to Not My Presentation. I line up some tweets for the brewery, or read a non-library-related article, or hang out with my cat, who doesn't give a crap that I presented today. I talk to someone about their day. Something to remind me that I'm more than just this one presentation.

Because in the grand scheme of things, we're all more than this one presentation, and "librarian" is just one thing we are, and life goes on.

What are some tips you have for new presenters? Or, if you haven't presented, are you gonna try now? ARE YOU?!

IF YOU ARE, and want some cheerleading through the submitter process, get at me at brycedontplay at gmail dot com. 

1 comment:

  1. This is great advice! And I think it is important to be able to say to yourself "Hey, I've been a librarian for a while now, I totally know stuff that's worth sharing with other people!" So often we focus on what we don't know or what we'll learn about when we have that miraculous free time, rather than thinking about all the awesome stuff we have accomplished. And I think as professionals we have a responsibility to share what we've learned with others.
    I think that presenting as part of a group or panel makes it slightly easier, too. I worked with 2 colleagues to present at a state conference, and having those people to bounce ideas off of and working together to refine the presentation made the whole deal more feasible. Each of us could focus on the part that we knew the best and tag team answer any questions at the end. Knowing that I wasn't up there at the front of the room alone made a huge difference! While I can't say that I loved, loved, loved speaking in front of a room of my peers, I do think that I would be more likely to volunteer to present again knowing that I survived it the first time :)