Shuffling back from Buffalo

Do you ever have that DOH! moment hours or days after a conversation, where you realize just what you could have said? That happens to me a lot after presentations and Q&A sessions.

I flew to Buffalo on Monday to give a talk on alternative careers for librarians at the University of Buffalo, and one of the questions in the Q&A portion was whether nontraditional careers were generally open to new grads, or whether they require you to build up more experience first. My answer at the time boiled down to “it depends,” some careers being very open to new grads, while others, like, say, striking out on your own as an info broker, require some pretty solid experience and contacts. What I should have added was: “But you can, and should, start working towards that goal now” – whatever that goal might happen to be. You can do a lot of things right out of school (or while in school), ranging from the simple (researching the industry/ies you’re interested in moving into) to the next steps along the road (volunteering, taking classes, going on informational interviews, spearheading projects, building up contacts, writing…). At ITI, I’ve worked with people who are writing books just a couple of years out of grad school. (It took me until 3 years out, way back when, but I’m a slow bloomer :) !) Any career goal, alternative or otherwise, will be easier to meet the earlier you get started.

On another note, while we’re talking about presenting, a couple of weeks ago Steven Bell posted Too Much Presentation Pressure over at the ACRLog. He posited that

Perhaps we’d be better off to lower our expectations for our conference presenters. We absolutely have a right to good presentations, to be engaged, and to participate. We should be the recipients of well thought out, well planned and well coordinated speeches (I still recall a presenter who had five minutes of time left, was on slide 42 of 67 slides – we had a slide handout – and cheerfully mentioned it was his first time using PowerPoint and it looked like he wouldn’t finish all his slides – in a way a big relief). On the other hand, most academic librarians might do one or two presentations a year at most; many do less. Like so many other things developing as a great presenter requires practice. One or two presentations a year just won’t get you there.

Anyone who’s sat through a bad — and I mean bad presentation might argue on the side of pressure. But there is a LOT of room between Steven’s example of Stephen Covey and being a decent library conference or workshop presenter, between awful and “great.” I pity the poor people who sat through my first talk oh-so-many years ago, but learned from that and moved on — I’m no Stephen Covey (or Stephen Abram, for that matter!), but I won’t bore you with droning PowerPoint bullet points, either. I think we should be able to agree on a bare minimum floor for conference presentations: 1) Don’t read your bullets, and, 2) Present on something you’re excited about, so you can share that excitement with others.

Bell talks about pecha kucha and other similar trends in toward more informal, interactive presentations, which can work well for some topics — he also suggests

…we can rethink what it means to deliver a library conference/program presentation. I’ve been thinking it should be more like blogging. Blog posts aren’t expected to be highly polished and edited forms of writing. They should be rough around the edges. It’s a way to get out ideas that are just forming, and to allow the community to react through commentary – which helps to better shape the ideas in the long run. Why can’t our presentations be somewhat the same. Let’s encourage librarians to focus on getting out the ideas, telling the story and getting audience reaction, rather than emphasizing the quality of the slides/visuals and presentation style.

This sounds more to me like what the unconference model has been doing, but I haven’t been lucky enough to attend one — anyone else? At Librarian by Day, Bobbi L. Newman references Bell in Presentation Pressure? Too much? Not enough? in noting

So do I think there should be more pressure for good presentation skills?  In a perfect world where we all had all the time we need to do all the things we want to – yes.  But in the world we have where, we’re all doing too much and struggle to keep up – my answer is no.  If I have to choose, I’ll choose that brilliant, innovative, and forward thinking people keep doing the brilliant, innovate, forward thinking things they are presenting about,  rather than spend their time polishing their presentation skills.

What I’ve found is that the brilliant, innovative, forward thinking presenters have a leg up anyway — it’s a lot easier to present on something you’re passionate about, and if you think of presenting as giving you the opportunity to share that with others, it becomes a lot less scary.

And, while we’re still talking about presenting, another thing that struck me at Buffalo is this: One of the students I was talking to mentioned that at least one librarian presenter type was unwilling to come to the university to talk to students, serve on panels, what have you. This is something I’ve run into before — places where I have presented have started off with an apology, or mentioned they’re glad I was willing to come, because so-and-so other person “won’t talk to students” or “won’t present to paraprofessionals.”

I can’t think of any response to that but: WTF? What is wrong with this profession when this sort of elitism is seen as either natural or acceptable? For the record, you all, I love talking to student groups. And paraprofessional groups. And LTA classes (Hi, CoD!). And, anyone who sees speaking to a given group as beneath them? Probably not worth listening to in the first place.

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  1. Caveat Lector » Blog Archive » On presenting:

    [...] Singer Gordon alludes to a bloggy back-and-forth about conference presenting. I agree with Rachel in sensing a substantial excluded middle here, enough that I want to pick this [...]

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