So You Think You Can Present

2016 became the year that I jumped head first into presenting in the library world.

2016 also became the year that I got a major ego check in the library world.

And yes, those two things are related.

When I was asked by the Three Rivers Library System to speak about Summer Reading Programs, I freaked out a bit, but I had faith in my skills. How hard could presenting be for me? After all, I have a theatrical background, I don’t get very nervous in front of crowds, and I have lots to share. So I agreed.

^^^^^
This poster for the event was the best thing about the event. Truth.

The “presentation” happened, and I was not happy with it.  However, I chalked it up to a combo of fibro flaring which led to lack-o-focused preparation. Needless to say, I was grateful that the attendees hadn’t paid for the experience of watching me ramble my little head off.

Cut to about a month later.

As part of being this year’s Chair of the School, Children, and Young People’s section of the Nebraska Library Association, the Chair of the Public Library and Trustee section Pat Leach worked with me to create a mini-conference event. Pat had helped me feel welcomed at my first NLA Board Meeting (where I had been shaking in my shoes), and I was excited to work with her. So, when she asked if I knew of someone who would present in one or two breakout sessions, I volunteered. I was excited to visit different regions of Nebraska, try out a different presentation/redeem myself, and just get to know more Nebraska librarians.

This post won’t take into consideration the Guerrilla Storytimes because they aren’t presentations per se.  I mainly moderated the time and read question prompts – attendees created the content.

It was completely unintentional, but what this experience afforded me was basically a presentation boot camp. After all, I got to watch the keynote speaker give the same presentation three days in a row. I watched how she worked the crowd, kept things moving, and handled technical hiccups.

Looking back, I can confidently say that the librarians who attended my first Welcome presentation would not recognize the presentation as being the same one I gave two days later.

Let’s break these vastly-different-yet-the-same presentations down, shall we?

Now, I know that I am one to sometimes, er, be over-dramatic in my retelling of things, but in this case? It is 100% plain truth that it was terrible. I don’t know that I’ve ever been so shaken to my core about anything performance-wise before. So, please learn from me and do not make my mistakes.

This time around I had written out a much more in-depth outline of the presentation to help keep me on track. I had even created a basic “menu” for people to take notes on. However, I never actually went through some practice runs of my presentation. If I had, then I would have realized some important things. Mainly, that my laptop was suddenly struggling with playing videos. It would freeze up my whole system. Yeeeeeaaaaaahhhhh…

So there I am, with four audience members in this nice conference room, and I am blathering on even worse than I did in my Summer of All Fears program. And that’s when it happens – nope, not the laptop (not yet) – two of the four people start talking during my presentation. And these are two ladies who work at the same library – so it wasn’t like friends who hadn’t seen each other in months. I had never imagined in a million years that any library worker would be so rude. And attendee #3 was texting on her phone the whole time. Attendee #4 was the only one who seemed to care that there were words coming out of my mouth.

I really debated whether or not to share that information since it would be pretty dang easy for those two librarians to recognize themselves (assuming that they’ll ever read this). But, you know what? I hope that they feel some level of shame for their behavior because it was so incredibly rude. It absolutely crushed me, and I didn’t have the tools to know what to do about it.

And yes, the grand finale of my presentation was a video. And yes, my laptop froze. And finally one of the talking ladies seemed to take notice as I’m basically reenacting the video’s highlights and offered to let me use her laptop. So I played the video and kept a brave face on as I wrapped things up, though all I wanted to do was go into a bathroom and cry.

Being the analytical person I am, I had spent the rest of the day trying to break down how things broke down. I decided to put the video first since it really clearly describes what I’d be talking about. I also decided to ask Pat about what to do in case of audience rudeness. Pat’s sage advice for what to do with this apparently common problem was to 1. ask a question of one of the ladies to try and break up their chatting, and if that doesn’t work, 2. ask them to take their conversation elsewhere.

It was then that I also realized that I could be taking notes on how the keynote speaker handled her presentation. So, on day two I focused my energy on that.

To say that I was terrified of presenting the very next day would be an understatement. I was trying to fake it until I made it, and that never really happened. I had lost my confidence, but I was determined to make it better than the day before. It also helped that I was with Pat, because if I’d been travelling on my own, I likely would have been wallowing in despair.

Anywho, here’s the breakdown of my experience:

I really liked having the video play first. It ensured that there wasn’t anything wrong with that library’s projector system (because if there was, then there’d be time to ask someone for help). I had also added more examples from my library.

Things were going okay despite my lack of confidence, but then I noticed it: there were people SLEEPING in the audience. It was after lunch and because I had shown the video first, I had dimmed the lights. I really should have brought the lights back up after it played.

But you know what? I discovered my first “audience angel” in the crowd. This librarian was in the front row, and she was giving out such positive and supportive vibes that I wanted to stop everything and give her a hug (which I practically did after I was done). She made me reflect on how I am as an audience member, and I think that from now on I will try and be an angel in the audience for speakers. I mean, I’ve always thought of myself as a good audience member, but I never thought about giving back to the presenter in as simple of a way as smiling at her as she spoke. Darn tootin’ I’m doing that from now on.

Overall, the biggest takeaways from this presentation was that I needed to figure out how not to ramble (because whereas the earlier portions of the presentation were better, the ending sort of derailed and I was left rambling). I needed to find a kick-booty ending statement and leave it there, even if I had more ideas on the topic.

I also realized that I needed a Powerpoint presentation, and I needed one bad. Fortunately, it was the final leg of our journey, and I’d be home that night. So I stayed up late and created a presentation that would allow people to look at it and not stare me down for the entire length of my presentation. And ohmygosh a slideshow was exactly what I needed to focus my topics.

The intimidating thing about this final presentation was that it was basically in my backyard: I knew at least half the people attending, and others I knew by reputation. Eep! But I really upped my “fake it ’til you make it” attitude, and went into a reverse-denial mode. None of these people knew what had happened on the previous days, and they deserved to get the best that I had to give.

Was it perfect? Nope. The biggest issue was that there was a problem with the Powerpoint presentation. The fonts were all whackadoo, and I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t be able to see the notes I had made under each slide. A friend told me later that the way to avoid the Powerpoint issue was to save the presentation as a pdf – that way everything’s locked and loaded.

And I could figure out the notes issue on my own (whispers: put them on notecards).

The night before I had a fabulous realization (if I do say so myself): I could throw Mardi Gras beads into the crowd at the end – which I did. It was a BLAST for everyone, and bonus? They wore their shnazzy necklaces afterwards, making people who went to the other presentation jealous (heh).

And you know what? I actually got applause at the end.

What?!

I was actually stunned – I’ve never received applause like that at any of my presentations. And let me tell you what: I loved it in an incredibly relieved way.

Now here’s the funny/sad thing that I realized while looking back at these three presentations: if I had given Presentation #3 on day 1? I would have thought it a failure. So, even though I went through the hecky-pooh, I ultimately achieved my goal after the first presentation: to make each following presentation better. And by golly, I’m proud of Presentation #3 – goofs and all!

And you know what? A day later an amazing online librarian friend asked if I’d work on a presentation with her for another state’s annual conference. I said “HECK YEAH! BRING IT!”

UPDATE: Our presentation at the Nevada Library Association’s Conference was AMAZING!!!!! We spoke to a standing-room-only crowd and it went smooth as butter. I highly recommend partnering up on presentations because you have one another to lean on when presenting. So have hope! You can do this!

So there you have it: a tale of the same presentation given three days in a row.

How about y’all? Any tips for us presentation noobs? Any tales of terror and/or speaking redemption you’d like to share? Please do!

7 thoughts on “So You Think You Can Present

  1. It is so fearless of you to share this experience!!
    Tip: I’ve learned that what I need is everything written down– I literally write my way through a presentation, then make the slides off that. I don’t always say things exactly I wrote them, or I’ll make a note to tell a story without writing it down; but writing down everything helps me visualize me actually presenting it, AND I’m able to see what the flow is like. What questions are attendees asking themselves? What misconceptions need to be addressed? My recent preconference began with me writing the middle as the beginning, but turned out I needed an extra hour of stuff to prepare the participants for the heart of the matter.

    As for a horror story: right after my first panel for a statewide library conference, I attended a session that my director gave on presentation mistakes to avoid. I had done them ALL!! And she was there to witness it! (She was super nice about it, though).

    • Oh my gosh! Thank YOU for both the tips, and the horror story. Hopefully you look back and can laugh at that. I’m not quite to the point of laughing at my experience, but I know that eventually I will.

  2. I always find it helpful when I’m attending sessions or webinars to really listen and observe just like you;re doing. It really helps me see examples of great prezi skills (knowing the subject you are speaking on; great eye contact/involvement with your audience) AND things to avoid (sighing after a particular difficult part of the prezi; speaking way too fast; going overtime w/o leaving time for ?s or next speaker set-up). And like any skill, the more you do it, the more comfortable it becomes! Hope to hear about MANY more presentations you give.

    • Thank you for sharing such great pointers! I had no one following me this time around, and I was ready for the presentation to be so over – so overtime wasn’t a concern, but I’m glad to know that’s important for future ones :)

  3. You brought up a very good point about being a good audience member — I’ll try to remember that at future conferences!

  4. Pingback: Links of the Month – May 2016 – Teen Services Underground

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