Thursday, 30 December 2010

12 days of Christmas - Post 4 On conferences and presenting

Frantic day today and had planned to blog twice but this one took longer than I anticipated!

My first conference paper was in 2005 at neXt 2005: ALIA National Library and Information Technicians Conference and focused on creating partnerships with Council departments to facilitate community engagement. I had done a lot of work at my previous workplace and built sustainable partnerships with Council’s Maternal and Child Health Unit and Kindergarten Unit and thought this conference would be an ideal forum for sharing knowledge with others. The buzz i got from presenting was overwhelming (we wont talk about the nausea that was enveloping me 5 minutes prior to my talk :) ) and made me start to think on how to better my presenting skills. I started to observe presenters and noted their styles, what I liked or didn’t like. I took note of the way they interacted and whether there was something in the way they presented that I wanted to emulate. I had three that I particularly admired – Gill Hallam (Queensland University of Technology), Roxanne Missingham (Parliamentary Library) and Chris Kelly (Brimbank Library Service).

Since that first conference presentation in 2005, I have presented at many other events and conferences, including the Learning Communities Conference, NLS2006 and IFLA last year and picked up many tricks along the way. When I was asked to give a talk for the Victorian New Graduates Groups on Presenting to an Audience, I pulled everything that I had learned together and was surprised at what it actually took to make a presentation work seamlessly. I thought I would share my learnings here.

First of all, you need to think about what is important to you – what do you want to achieve from presenting?

Do you want to engage with the audience?

  • Are you happy to read your paper out loud and get it over with?
  • Do you want to stimulate discussion and debate?
  • Do you want to be remembered?
  • Once these are identified, work out how you can achieve them. I personally feel it is very important to engage with the audience and to remember the message being given. Make it look as though talking to an audience is something that happens naturally.

Engaging with the audience

  • Start off with polling the audience – ask a question or two – this can be a good lead in to what you are talking about, without starting cold.
  • Speak to the audience, not at them – try not to read your paper word for word. My presentations are made up of 3 parts, my actual paper, to be published, my notes for the presentation and my slide show.

Read your paper out loud?

  • As mentioned above, try not to read your paper to your audience – looking down at pieces of paper will not help you engage with the audience. I developed a prompt system that had a print out of a slide on the left hand side and some brief notes, in a large font, on the other. I used a large font so I wouldn’t have to focus too much on my page and so I wouldn’t be caught out if I had to put my notes on something quite low.
  • Practise talking your paper in your head with your slideshow. Notice I said ‘talking’ not ‘reciting’. Practice as though you are actually talking one on one with someone so it sounds more natural. This will also make you feel that you have identified with the audience more.

Being remembered

  • You really want what you are presenting to be remembered. The abstract is the first part that will attract people to your session – make your session representative of what your paper is, and take out key points, rather than just reading it out – this way delegates will go to the full paper and read it. This also makes it easier to not go over time.
  • Leave some time for questions at the end to reinforce your interaction with the audience.

Summing up

Before the event

  • Ask yourself – what’s important to you – what do you want to achieve?
  • Observe presenters
  • Prepare brief notes based around your slideshow
  • Practise talking your presentation in your head

During the event

  • Poll the audience – this will ease you into your session
  • Refer to your notes to prompt you along
  • Look at the audience frequently
  • Leave some time for questions

After the session

  • Leave some way for delegates to be able to contact you

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