Monday, April 7, 2008

How to present at a conference

The first time I had the opportunity to present at a conference, I was asked to present. In my area, we have a technology conference for librarians (Netspeed) and my presentation was one of three student presentations that were selected for that year. I was really excited, since it would be my first opportunity to present but I was also excruciatingly nervous because I was a terrible public speaker. I prepped my slides, asked about the requirements--would I need to bring my laptop? prepare my own handouts?--and showed up in my Sunday-go-to-meetin'/interview clothes.

I was abysmal.

But I learned a lot from the presentation: the importance of rehearsing (I did hours and hours worth, but I hadn't practiced my skillz enough yet, so my presentation was lacking), how to deal with a crowd and answer questions. I also saw that many other presenters were plagued by the same anxieties that I experienced, but that many attendees were very gracious and kind. (They can also be cut throat and mean, but these are the rare few, so don't get knicker-twisted about them.) I also learned that I would have to practice my public speaking: twenty hours on the topic but not dealing with my anxieties wasn't enough. I have since presented at almost ten other conferences, not to mention other events and workshops, and have improved each time.

Beyond a sentence on your resume, there are enormous benefits to presenting at a conference:
  • Presenters usually get to attend the conference for free. Since conferences usually include a career fair, you score 1000 bonus points for getting the Big Boss.
  • Most conferences have a website where past presentations are stored. This does wonders for your Google juice.
  • If you have good evaluations, you can keep them and add them to your portfolio. If you have bad ones, you can burn them and dance around them chanting, whatever turns you on.
  • You can add your presentation to your personal portfolio.
You can get on a conference panel how I got on a panel: I was asked. This is the nicest strategy for a rookie since they will help you with some of the most difficult aspects of getting on the itinerary--applying on time and getting accepted--but, wallflower, I advise not waiting for an invite. Look at some of the conferences where you could speak and apply--prior to the deadline. You can also visit some of your professors and ask about upcoming conferences and ask them if you feel some of you topics would suit/be adaptable for the conference.

Most deadlines for presentation submissions are about 2-3 months before the conference takes place and the bigger the conference the longer the lead time. If there is no extended call for submissions, do not apply. The deadline is the deadline, especially for big conferences. Keep looking for a suitable venue for your topic and find another way to express yourself professionally.

A presentation is, of course, the brass ring, but a poster presentation or a place on a panel is just as worthy--especially if you are an unknown quantity. It would be great if there were more slots reserved for students and invitations sent out generally on the new librarian list serve suggesting that students apply. It isn't enough to ask professors to suggest students--they seem to keep tapping the same students each time they get an email. Maybe conference organizers will see my plea and respond. Heck, most libraries collect comic books, so someone listened to my pathetic begging.

For upcoming library-related conferences, check out the page compiled by Marian Dworaczek from the University of Saskatchewan, as well as ALA and CLA, of course. And don't talk yourself out of it with, no one will want me. Apply.

No comments: