Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Thing 15 part 2 - Top tips for presenting at events

University of Oxford - the last room I presented in
Although I've always enjoyed teaching, I get incredibly nervous before I speak in public. I'd been wondering about presenting at an event and it all seemed to come together in 2009. Meredith Farkas posted an excellent blog post about trying new things and pushing your boundaries and it really had an impact on me. I'd been chatting to my then boss about what challenges I wanted to accomplish next, and we'd come to the conclusion that as I loved teaching and loved attending events, I should try presenting at an event. At around that time I spotted the first New Professionals Conference advertised which was asking for proposals from first-time speakers. I was amazed (and terribly apprehensive!) when I discovered I had been chosen as one of the speakers. It was a really great experience; I didn't realise until the night before when we met together for dinner that all the speakers were first-timers. I think that fact really helped us bond - we were all nervous but wanted to support each other and it was great knowing that there were at least 8 other faces in the audience wishing you the best. I felt physically sick for most of the day, but I felt such a buzz after I had presented. It felt great to share my passions and experiences with my peers and hopefully they learnt something from me. I got lots of comments and questions from people in the break afterwards which let me know they were at least listening!

Since then I've spoken at a number of other events; some that I have submitted a proposal to, others I've been invited to speak at. I'm by no means an expert, and I still get incredibly nervous, but I learn something new each time I present. Here's my top tips for speaking at events:
  • Research the venue, room layout, technical facilities, and anticipated audience size to inform your presentation style and technique.

  • Tailor your presentation for every new audience.

  • Arrive early to ensure you can introduce yourself to the organisers and check the setup.

  • Be respectful to the organisers and stick to your allotted time when presenting.

  • If your timeslot is more than 15-20 minutes, make sure you schedule in some activities or discussion time to break it up for your audience.

  • Save multiple copies of your presentation on multiple devices. At the last event I presented at, I presented from my iPad but I also had copies of my presentation on Slideshare, Dropbox, my email account, the organisers email account and a USB (.ppt, .pptx and .pdf versions) - maybe a little too excessive but as all librarians know LOCKSS (lots of copies keep stuff safe)!

  • Embed your fonts if you are using PowerPoint (there's nothing worse than discovering the PC doesn't have the correct font and it has changed it which has affected the layout too).

  • Give yourself time for networking if you can, particularly after your presentation as people may well have comments or questions.
What next?

I'm currently preparing my first international conference presentation at Internet Librarian International 2011, which I'm really looking forward to. I'm presenting a topic I haven't yet presented on (productivity tools for librarians) which should be good as it's something I'm really interested in - I love a good to-do list! It's not until the final day of the conference which is a bit of a shame (I tend to prefer to get it over with so I can relax and enjoy the rest of the event!), but hopefully I can keep my nerves at bay.

In my current job role I'm no longer directly involved in teaching, so I like to try to find ways to satisfy that side of me by speaking at professional events. I particularly enjoy group workshop type events, but I think I'm getting better at the large groups (though I find that a lot more difficult as you can't connect with people as easily). I'm definitely going to continue to present if I can and might include it in my upcoming review at work.


  1. Really interesting post - and great tips. I'd agree with knowing the set up of your presentation. When I did one last year, the layout of the room was not what I had imagined it to be. Luckily I got there early enough to see other people presenting so I could see how the room worked.
    Just a quick question - how do you embed fonts on PowerPoint? I've had in the past where formatting not the same so how do actually do that?

  2. Thanks Anneli :)

    There's a guide showing how to embed fonts on the Microsoft support website - I had intended to link to it but forgot to include the link so thanks for the reminder!