Earlier this year I attended my first ever conference, now I’m getting the chance to write about presenting at a conference for the first time.
I am writing this for any librarians (or other GLAMRs) out there who might be reading this and think, “I could never do that” or “I could do that, why haven’t I?”. Maybe there are people reading this interested in presenting at a conference and not sure where to start. This is the best conferencing advice I have so far (after completing only one, I am now an expert 😉).
My first experience presenting was at the Oral History Australia conference on a panel and my next one is in two weeks’ time at ALIA’s Library Technician conference present by myself. Next year I am presenting at VALA 2018 with my boss. The completed OHA presentation was on the Voices of the Hunter oral history project.
Below is a photo of my co-presenters and our panel Chair. Left to right are Alistair Thomson (Chair), me (Paige Wright), Rosie Heritage, Tyler Hersey and Lyn Keily. Rosie started the panel by introducing the oral history collection and it’s creator, Jack Delaney. Lyn and I talked more about the collection, data and how we enrich and provide access to the collection through our Living Histories @ UON site and through community outreach. Tyler discussed how to examine data from site traffic and use that to connect with audiences better. Lyn, Rosie and I worked together on the Voices of the Hunter project and Tyler works for NZMS whose community engagement platform Recollect runs the Living Histories @ UON site.
So how did I get there?
The first step is getting your abstract accepted and I have some very particular advice about this:
If one of your peers from another institution, library, whatever dropped by to see what you do at work, what would you tell them about your job? Is there anything new or exciting you want to share? The thing that you want to share with everyone about your job is the thing you should be writing an abstract and giving your presentation about. What is your story? It could be a story of success or a story of failure, people are interesting in hearing both at conferences. You don’t have to present Research at a conference but you can if you want. Sometimes you present first and end up doing a research project later (see Annelie de Villier’s experiences).
Also for a first-timer, why not present as a duo or part of a group? I found I was very comfortable presenting alongside my colleagues for the OHA conference. The amount of work you have to do in abstract writing, paper writing, and presenting in a group is less than if you had to present by yourself.
Once you’ve found the topic you want to present, then find a conference to suit. My first approach to abstract writing was to pick a conference that I really wanted to go to and make up something that I thought people at that conference would like to hear. Guess what? That one was not accepted because it wasn’t ‘real’, I wasn’t connected enough to what I wanted to say.
Instead of looking at conferences related to your particular GLAMR field, why not try a different one or one that would suit more than one profession. The OHA conference is an example of one that is attending by GLAMR people from many different types of institutions. You can also go the other way and try to find the conference that most specifically suits your nice, such as mine as a library technician. In any case, both of these are smaller conferences and I would suggest STARTING SMALL. It’s less pressure, less people and overall a more comfortable atmosphere.
I also want to point out the importance of knowing your conference. Do you have to write a peer-reviewed paper? Do you have to write a paper at all or just do a presentation? Find this out before you say ‘yes’ to presenting as it can make a big impact on how much time and work it will take you to prepare for the conference.
Building professional-level public speaking skills has been something I have worked on for years. In the lead up to this, I was given many opportunities to present to groups at workshops and events, and even presented to my colleagues at a university library staff update. All of these have helped build my presenting confidence but I still get nervous. One of my work mentors gave me some really great advice on this she said, “Just remember, you are the expert on this. They are not listening to you trying contradict you are prove you wrong, they just want to learn from you.”
One other piece of advice I can give is the more preparation you do, the better your presentation will be. Go over your slides, again and again and again. Practice them in front of people. Write notes on your Powerpoint (you can see these during the presentation).
This first conference experience has been so positive. Everyone has been wonderful in telling me and my co-presenters that they enjoyed our session. Also, it was great getting feedback on the presentation on Twitter. I was so flattered that someone posted a photo of me presenting, it felt wonderful that others were so interested in a project that I had put so much work into.
One of the most helpful things I did in the lead up to my first conference presentation was to attend a VALA webinar on writing and presenting conference papers. You can still see the content of the webinar here. They outline some excellent do’s and don’ts of presenting and, unlike myself, the individuals speaking in the webinar have years of conference presenting experience.
So get out there, build your skills, write an abstract and if it’s not accepted don’t take rejection to heart (I didn’t).
FYI – Just in case you didn’t know, presenters are required to PAY to go to the conference, just like everyone else, but usually at a discounted rate. You might be able to get your employer to pay for the conference fee out of their PD fund (it’s worth a shot?).
Will I have even more advice after my presenting by myself at the Lib Tech conference? Tune in, in about two weeks’ time for the answer.