public speaking

Do you do conference talks and library events in work time?


As of this week I've gone part time! Only a little bit part-time - I still do 90% of full time at York. That leaves me 1 day off in 10 to do freelance work. So now the vast majority of my public speaking happens outside of work-time, but it wasn't always that way, so I feel like I can objectively write a post about the thorny issue of doing talks and workshops in work time.

I've only ever worked for two libraries. One didn't allow me to do much in the way of CPD things on work time (I took annual leave to do a lot of talks, prior to 2011) and my current employer does allow me to. The first employer's argument was basically, what do we get out of it if you're off doing a talk? My current employer's argument is, we want people out there representing the University, talking about what they're doing. I can see both sides of the argument.

For me there are several reasons why libraries allowing employees to speak at events in work time is a good idea. It helped my professional development a lot - I learnt about areas of librarianship in more detail by virture of having to do enough research to present on them, and it boosted my confidence. I also got to hear a lot of other presentations at the events I was speaking at, so my knowledge and understanding grew. And I've talked a lot about what we do at York, and that's led others to talk about what we're doing here too. It's also made me a happier employee. I'm more contented knowing we're encouraged to get out there and do stuff, rather than frustrated about having to use holiday to speak at conferences.

There's another side to this too, which is that people who present at events are constantly keeping their hand in, and learning, about presenting and teaching. There's nothing like doing something regularly to make you feel more comfortable with it, and you don't get that 'I need a few sessions to get back in the groove with this' thing when October comes and all the teaching starts. Several things I've developed as part of my wider workshops I now incorparate into my information literacy courses at York. So the external and the internal feed each other and both develop.

Ultimately allowing people to talk at events can make them not just happier in their roles but better at their jobs, so I hope that in the unlikely event I ever get into some sort of management position, I'll let people out of the building so they can spread their wings...

I'd be interested to hear from staff and managers for their perspectives on this.


10 non-standard tips for public speaking!

Old-school presentation image  

I teach a full-day Presentation Skills course for the British Library, among others, and I recently sought feedback on it from someone I trust. The thing he wanted more on - and it was one of those 'it's obvious now they say it' moments - was presenting itself, the process of it, rather than just preparing the materials. There was indeed a section on this in the training but it wasn't very long, so in order to improve the course I've read up on it a bit more; I learned a lot of useful things (and had others I already knew better articulated to me) so I thought I'd share some of them here.


1. It's better to know the subject than the presentation. Learning anything from memory is really hard. But so is looking at notes, or reading presentations out from a script. If I try and learn a presentation I get worried - I'm aiming for something so specific, there's a feeling of pressure around getting it right, and a feeling that if I forget something the whole house of cards will fall apart. I prefer to only speak about stuff I know a bit about, and just use the slides to reinforce key points and basically prompt me to talk about certain aspects of a topic, as appropriate to that particular audience. This is much more relaxing than worrying about remembering particular phrases etc. It also means you're more flexible - things can even be tackled in a different order based on what the audience wants, for example.

In short, you can't be derailed because you're not on rails. That's a very reassuring feeling.

2. Imagine your audience leaving the room (after your talk!). It's often very hard to know where to start when creating a presentation - the default position is 'what do I know about this subject?' but actually that's the wrong way around most of the time. The more pertinent question is 'What do the audience want from this subject?' - if you imagine your audience leaving the room after you've spoken, what have they learned, what do they know now, what did they get out of it? Think about what is important to them in that moment, and build the presentation from there - if necessary going and doing more research beforehand, so you can talk more authoritatively about what matters to them.

3. The rule of three - there might be something in it... I've heard many times now that we remember things most easily in groups of three. There's a lot of it about - 3 act plays, stories with a beginning, a middle and an end etc. Presentations-wise, it's relevant because the audience will likely only remember 3 things from your presentation, so you need to make sure these are the most important three! If you're completely stuck for a structure, try the 3:3:3 method - three main parts of your presentation, each divided into three sub-sections, and if necessary each of those subsections divided into three as well.

4. Store your presentation in the cloud. Of course every presenter takes their presentation along on a USB stick but USB sticks do break sometimes, and they're small and easily lost. So a sensible back-up plan is to store your presentation in the Cloud, and of course the easiest way to store your presentation in the cloud is to email it to yourself. (Then it's backed up twice! Once in your inbox, once in your sent box. :) )

5. Have a one-page cheat sheet. Part of presenting well is being relaxed, and a lot of being relaxed (for me, certainly) is knowing exactly what your doing with the logistics of the day. So make a one page document with EVERYTHING you need to know in it: presentation start time, room number, directions to the venue, contact name and details, train self-ticket machine reference number, etc - print it out and carry it with you, and email it to yourself so you can check it on your phone. You're much more likely to arrive relaxed, on time, and focused.


6. Look everyone in the eye, then pick your favourites to come back to... This is particularly useful for nervous speakers. Public speaking is about communication, and communication is better with eye contact. So I will try to literally look every member of the audience in the eye at least once, at least as far as I reasonably can. (After 5 rows or so, it's hard to be specific.) During this time, I'll notice a few people who are particularly receptive - they're nodding emphatically, or smiling at what I'm saying - and I'll come back to them throughout the talk, as a form of encouragement... I don't get nervous anymore, but even as a non-nervous person I like to see people on my side. (The flip-side of this idea is to work on the more indifferent members of the audience - or even hostile, but that doesn't come up too often in our industry, thankfully - by focusing more explicitly on them.)

7. Remember if people are looking down at a screen and typing, it's a compliment. I can imagine that it can be disconcerting if you're not a Twitter user, and you see people looking down at their phones rather than up at you. It must feel like kids ignorning what you're saying and texting their friends. But it's a good thing! They're sufficiently invested in what you're saying that they want to broadcast it to their network on Twitter - it's also a way for them to make notes at the same time. And of course, that means your words are reaching a bigger audience, which is excellent.

8. Have a Plan B for your intro and your outro. It sounds obvious but knowing what your opening line is going to be is quite important. Sometimes people decide to with something like 'Hello everyone, my name is Ned, I'm from York' but then the person introducing them says 'This is Ned, he's from York' so you really can't use that one... So know what you'll say if your planned opener is ruled out for whatever reason. The same goes with the closer - if it's covered in the questions for example, or if you finish surprisingly early and need some more material to call upon, have a relevant topic in mind in advance.

9. Listen very carefully, an introvert will say this only once... Lots of people reading this will be introverts; I'm one, certainly. A characteristic we share is only saying stuff once - if it's said, it's done with, we don't want to say it again. I feel embarrassed telling a story to someone if I know I've told it to someone else, even if the two people are completely unconnected! But in presentations we have to fight that instinct, and make sure we say the really important stuff (main arguments, big statements, statistics, quotes) at least twice; perhaps in different ways but at least twice nevertheless.

10. Think in tweetbites. You thought it was enough to think in memorable soundbites! Not anymore. For the maximum impact, your most important statements needs to be tweetable so that your presentation is amplified beyond the walls of the room you're in. You've put hours of work into it, so why not double, triple or otherwise exponentially increase the audience for your key messages? Think in quotable, tweetable chunks (as long as that's not actually to the detriment of your presentation, of course...).


Is there anything else you'd add? I've love to hear from you in the comments so this post becomes more useful over time.

More tips

You can find all sorts of presentation tips online - the following three articles were particularly useful in assembling the list above: 30 quick tips for speakers; Compulsive obsessive details will save your neck; and the Introverts Guide to presenting.

As the title suggests, these are non-standard tips for public speaking - which is to say, beyond the obvious ones everyone knows such as not facing away from the audience etc: for more 'nuts-and-bolts of presenting' advice, and more on creating materials, check out these previous posts:

Plus there's also this early blog post on: tips for first time speakers.

Good luck!

Presenting opportunities at library events, and how to get them

The Short Version of this post 

Want to present at library events? Want to know how others go about getting speaking engagements? The basic answer is, it's who you know. Don't despair though - it's not a closed club or a clique. You very quickly get to know people by putting yourself out there, answering calls for papers, organising events yourself, and blogging so people know your views and interests. 

I asked people on Twitter how they got their library speaking gigs - it was a 'tick all that apply question'. A massive 69% of respondents have got speaking engagements through someone recommending them: this is the most common route. The next most common was knowing one of the organisers (59%); then answering a call for papers was next (53%). The other significant number of votes was for getting asked off the back of other speaking engagements (51%). So really, once you're in the loop, you're in the loop - do a couple of talks and the whole thing self-perpetuates and you'll probably end up being asked to do more. 

For a more in depth look at all this, read on. 

The Long Version of this post

If you're professionally active and interested in librarianship beyond just your own job (and I'm presuming you wouldn't be bothering with this blog if that wasn't the case!) then you might be wondering about speaking at library events: conferences, open days, symposia, training days etc. This post discusses how other information professionals approach doing this - how do you get to talk at interesting events? 

Presenting is something I'd completely recommend doing, and I know a lot of others feel the same way. It's not as scary as you might think (and it very quickly gets even less scary for a lot of people), it can be really exhilarating, and it's great professional development. Presentations are an increasingly important part of many library roles, so it allows you to put a key skill on your CV. Just being on stage to talk about a subject is enough to really focus your mind on learning more about it, so you become more engaged and more well-researched as part of the process of preparing your talk. Plus of course it gets you out there, allows you to meet interesting people, makes networking a lot easier (people come up to you) and you may be able to build a reputation which leads to more interesting stuff. 

The most obvious way of getting yourself on a bill somewhere is to apply via a call for papers. There are loads of these across the course of the year - subscribe to the A Library Writer's Blog and Dolores' List of CFPs blogs to receive regular alerts, and eventually something relevant (and possibly local) will come up; these blogs also contain calls for book chapters and articles. Another obvious way is to join a professional body - CILIP, the SLA, ALA, BIALL, etc etc. As I've said before, it's a great way of allowing you to get involved with stuff which you might not be able to do as part of your current job (but which might help you get your next job..). 

How it's worked for me

I looked back over 26 events over the last 2 years that I've either done or been asked to do but couldn't (or am booked to do later this year). The route of the opportunities were as follows:

  • Knowing the organiser(s): 7
  • Recommendation: 7
  • Reputation: 6
  • Via my Twitter account / my blog: 2
  • Answered a Call for papers: 2
  • Was there for work: 1
  • Don't know how they got my name: 1

. Some provisos and caveats: 'Reputation' refers to things like being asked to present the Echo Chamber talk with Laura Woods at Umbrella, because the organisers knew of our previous talks on the topic. So I don't mean that I got booked for my reputation! Just that people knew I (or in this case Laura and I) had talked on the subject or related subject before. Also, the twitter / blog category overlaps with the reputation and the knowing the organiser categories. It's all quite fluid and not as black and white as presented above.

Anyhow, clearly knowing people is useful - both organisers, and people with clout who recommend speakers for things. What often happens is that organisers of an event are organising it in their own time and they really want to get it sorted without too much fuss. So if they have a list of people they know are fairly reliable and have spoken at things before, they'll go right to that list. (There's a danger that this approach can lead to a stale or repetitive round of speakers at library events, but that's a debate for another day.) What I'm trying to say is: in a lot of cases you don't have to be the best, or the most knowledgeable, or the expert in the field - it's sufficient just to be okay at it and then people will come back to you as an easy and reliable option... You just need to take that first step on your own, and make something happen.

How it's worked for others

I ran a quick survey via twitter - so the usual disclaimer about the sample being skewed by their very 'being the sort of people who use twitter-ness' applies... I asked people to tick all that applied in terms of ways they'd got speaking gigs - here are the results from 68 respondents: 

Graph showing 'reccomendation' as the most common route for getting library speaking opportunities

The 8 votes for the 'other' categories were mostly what I would classify as 'Knowing one of the organisers' so in actual fact it's more of a tie between that category and 'Recommendation by someone' than is indicated above. Apologies for my slightly woolly categories, and thank you very much to everyone who filled out the survey and retweeted the link!

To give this a little bit of context, the ages of the people responding to this were as follows: 

  • 69% were aged 26-40
  • 24% were aged 41-60
  • 4% were 60+
  • 3% were 18-25

. So for the most part, the twitter poll mirrors my own experiences - it really is a case of the people you're in contact with being the key. That's why networking is so important (both in person and of course online). That said, I honestly believe networking is most effective if you approach it with the question "What can I do to help people?" rather than "how can I develop a network to help me?" - I know that sounds a bit twee but it really does seem to be the case that if you go out there solely with the intention of looking for opportunities, they may be slower to come to you. 

Some tips and other resources

Just briefly here's some related info on a variety of topics. 

Saying no Saying no is really, really hard - particularly to exciting opportunities. But there comes a time where taking more on will actually be bad for you, because to prepare well for a speaking engagement takes time, so it's very stressful if you don't have enough hours available. It's really okay to say no, particularly once you've got a few talks under your belt - in my experience people are generally very nice about it. 

Referring If you can refer the organisers to someone else, do so. Don't just refer at random, but if you know someone who could do a really good job instead of you, then pass on their name and email address to the organiser - it really helps the organiser (they can always ignore the referral, but often they're very grateful) and of course someone you like may well get a great opportunity from it. I once passed on something I couldn't do and recommended someone else - the person ended up doing such an amazing job that they were way, way better than I could've been, so I was really pleased they ended up doing it! I learned more from their presentation than I would've done from researching my own. 

Money There are people who make good money from speaking at library events. I am not one of them. I've only ever been offered one paid key-note, and I don't mind that at all - the fact that your travel is paid for (some people will speak at events for which their travel isn't covered, but that's not something I personally do) and your attendance at the event is paid for is great in itself, because you get to attend something interesting for free. So, don't expect to get paid for a long time - there isn't a lot of money floating around in library-land, and you'll normally have to settle for doing it for expenses, for the experience, and because it's fun. Plus it helps out the organisers out. 

Plus it goes without saying... You'll get more new invitations off the back of previous speaking engagements if you're prompt, courteous, enthusiastic, clear in your communication with the organisers, stick around for the rest of the day wherever possible, don't constantly refer to 'technical problems beyond my control' throughout your presentation, and all the other stuff you know already...

Links Elsewhere on the blog, check out this guide to submitting a proposal, and this guide to first-time public speaking, plus these polemical slides on the basic rules of presenting... There are also links to other people's articles on the same subjects, within those posts.

Over to you So, any more tips for the would-be presenters out there? Please leave a comment and help expand this guide. And if anything I've said doesn't chime with your own experience, I'd love to hear about that as well. 


 - thewikiman

Stop BREAKING THE BASIC RULES of presenting!

Public speaking and giving presentations is becoming more and more important in many career paths. There are nervous public speakers, confident public speakers, and many people who are making the journey from one to the other. But ALL of them could do with avoiding breaking just the most basic rules of presenting - it's amazing how often one or more of these will crop up at a conference, training day or event. I hope this is taken in the spirit it is intended. :)

Stop Breaking The Basic Rules of Presenting (click through for transcript via Slideshare) 

View more presentations from Ned Potter
Incidentally, this is really aimed at people who habitually do all this stuff, without really knowing they do it. If you already know these rules, then you can probably break them and still make a great presentation!



Read all the guides I've ever written (to Prezi, Twitter, Public Speaking, Evernote, Netvibes, etc etc) linked from one page.


Fail or Prevail: Top Tips For First Time Speakers


Fail or Prevail Poster on the tube

In the run-up to the New Professionals Conference next month, a few people have asked about sources of advice about presenting. I don’t claim to be an expert in this by any means  -  I’ve only presented at a handful of events and there’s loads I need to work on. (Not least of which is the fact that my voice doesn’t project too well, so I almost never get to present in anything like my natural way of speaking because I’M TOO BUSY TRYING TO MAKE SURE PEOPLE CAN HEAR ME. Happy days.) But I do go to a lot of events and see a lot of presentations, and anyone who does this pretty quickly gets to know what works and what doesn’t.

I should say, before I go any further, that this is just my opinion. This isn’t me with my “Ned Potter, New Professionals Conference Organising Committee” hat on; this stuff applies to all presentations, generally. It’s me with my usual “thewikiman spouting off about stuff” hat on – you certainly don’t have to do any of the stuff I’m about to say, if you’re presenting at NPC2010.

For me this whole thing divides into two key areas, plus general stuff.

Presentation Style

  • Reading it out = fail. If you’re going to read your presentation out, you need to be really good at reading stuff out. 9 times out of 10, unless you’re delivering a paper at an academic conference or something very precise of that nature, presentations with notes sound better than presentations read in full from prose. Stuff you write and stuff you say out loud requires different words, different phrases, and a different style. I originally intended to read my paper out last year, then I tried it a week or so beforehand. I panicked – I just could not make it sound interesting, or dynamic, or natural. It took a while to put it into note form – so if you do plan to do this then start the process early…
  • Saying out loud the exact same stuff that’s on the slide = fail. Admittedly there are times when this can be useful – statistics, and quotations, are times when I like to reinforce what I’m saying verbatim with words on the screen. Otherwise, your voice and your visual materials should compliment rather than duplicate each other. People will read your slide in their heads quicker than you can read it out loud anyway. Also, don’t turn your head and read the slides off the screen – you won’t believe how much this affects whether or not people can hear you. You have the laptop or whatever you’re using for the slides in front of you, so glance down at that if you do need to read stuff such as a quote or statistic.
  • Matching style to context = prevail. Things that work well in a seminar situation don’t always work in a big hall full of people, and vice versa. After New Professionals last year, I was feeling pretty confident going into the CILIP Graduate Day – I was delivering an improved version of the paper that won me a prize. But although the content was improved, the style wasn’t quite right and I don’t feel I did a very good job – my presentation was well suited to being delivered to 100 people in a big room, and less well suited to being delivered to 30 people in a smaller, more informal setting. I can’t even really put my finger on what was wrong with it, but I do know that if I had my time again I’d rewrite it for a more intimate audience.
  • Practicing in a meaningful way = prevail. There’s no point in practicing your presentation in your head. You need to say it out loud, in a voice that will carry. This changes some phraseology, how long it takes to perform etc. Leave gaps for taking sips of water, for pauses to collect yourself, and for the inevitable moment when you can’t pick up a page of notes on the first three tries, or pick up two pages at once by mistake. You really, really, have to practice it exactly as you will do it on the day, except not in front of a hundred people. Even if you feel silly. It’s worth it, honestly. If your spouse / partner / house-mate is going to laugh at you practicing at full volume, do it when they’re out (or leave them).
  • Timing your presentation to be exactly right, then reducing it by 10% anyway = prevail. There is some ancient Law of Presentations that says it’ll take longer on the day than it did when you rehearsed it. I practiced my presentation for NPC2009 and got it down to the exact 20 minute slot I had to fill, it was spot on. I spoke really slowly and left plenty of time for pauses as noted above. And still, at the conference itself, I ended up skipping a slide entirely (and I only had about 9) because I was running short of time. Get it so it takes exactly as long as it should do, then go through and ruthlessly cut out 10% of filler. It’s better to be under than over, and the chances are you’ll end up with a more focused and better presentation anyway

Presentation Materials

  • A gazillion slides = fail. Generally speaking, fewer slides is better.
  • More than a small handful of bullet points per slide, plus having any unnecessary animations = fail. You really don’t want more than five bullet points on a slide, it gets too cluttered, small, and hard to read. Just spread stuff across two slides if necessary - or even better, just write less stuff.  Similarly with animations – unless particular animations serves a purpose, don’t use them. Having your bullet points bounce in from the right of the screen, or unfurl like a blind, is old. Also, studies have shown that Power Point animations that feed in the bullet points one-by-one actually lull the brain into a non-receptive state, as it expects to be spoon-fed thereafter, meaning people remember less of your presentation. I was told that on a PowerPoint course*, so that makes it FACT. *(Yes, I went on a PowerPoint course. I was young, and had work-budget left to spend on self-development.)
  • Making an effort with PowerPoint = prevail. PowerPoint is so easy to use, many people don’t look beyond its basic templates. But they’re pretty ugly. I was talking to Buffy Hamilton about this and we agreed there’s really no excuse, anymore, for not making an effort – it takes a couple of minutes longer to prepare a much, much nicer ‘zen’ style presentation. Have a look at one of Buffy’s examples, or Bobbi Newman’s, or Helene Blowers'. The essential principle is, you have a CC image (there are literally millions on flickr, of course) which serves as the background for your slide, then you create some kind of text box and put the key point in it (or just type straight onto the pic). No fussy slides, no bullet points, no naff-looking templates – just the key message, and a picture which tells the story. It’s really easy to do.
  • Exploring alternatives to PowerPoint = prevail. Of course, you don’t have to use PowerPoint at all. There are plenty of alternatives now which look fabulous but are very easy to use – have a look at Prezi (which I’ll be using for own presentation this year - very much a work in progress at the moment -  along with some zen slides too), or Ahead, or They make you look awesomely professional with very little effort, and we can all enjoy that!

And in general…

There is a whole lot of common sense stuff which everyone says, everyone knows, and still people quite often forget to do.

  • Get familiar with the facilities available to you = prevail. Email the organisers and ask what there is. Of course there’ll be some kind of PC with PowerPoint and a projector, but will there be internet access on that PC for you to log in to your online presentation software? Does it have Office 2007 or will you have to make sure to save your slides as .ppt rather than .pptx? And talking of PowerPoint – if you use this, don’t save your file as ‘Conference Presentation’ or the name of the event. Everyone does that. When you arrive, you’ll probably transfer your presentation from your USB stick onto the PC everyone will use to present on – in the heat of the moment of change-over, from the previous presentation to yours, you’ll find yourself staring at 8 icons on the desktop all called the same thing and probably have a stroke from all the panic. Save your presentation as your name, even though that’ll seem silly at the time when you’re on your own in your room…
  • Get familiar with the people you’ll be working alongside = prevail. If there’s a meet-up / tweet-up the night before, get involved. If the event on the day starts at 10am, get there at 9:15 and set up your stuff, then go and speak to the other people who are there early. Chances are they’ll be either running the event or they’ll be fellow presenters – it’s great to get to know these people beforehand, as it’ll help you feel more comfortable later on the stage. Also, say hello to the person doing the sound if you’re mic’d up – they can make or break your presentation, so go and say hi even if they’ve got scary beards, like wizards, and look like they hate you.
  • Negating the impact of your words by saying ‘um’, ‘like’ and ‘sort of’ a lot = fail. Unlike in TV dialogue or books, people in real life say ‘um’ a LOT. In fact, perfectly normal people say ‘er’ as much as ‘the film comedy nervous person who says er a lot’ says er, if you listen. That’s fine, we all do it. But when you’re presenting, you need to have absolute conviction in what you’re saying, be confident that it doesn’t need to be qualified or mitigated by any indecision, and OWN it so much you don’t ever have to fall back on saying ‘sort of’ to buy yourself some time to remember what you’re saying.
  • Starting big! = prevail. So many good books or films have complicated back stories to tell, yet they still manage to start with a bang. It’s the old, ooh look someone’s being garrotted before the opening credits, and then after that it says ‘five years earlier’, trick. If you have to do a lot of setting up to make your point, open with a bold statement first, then go back to the beginning and do the back-story. So let’s say you’re talking about The Librarian of the Future. You could say, “libraries are changing, this is why it’s important, here are some trends, we need to adapt” blah blah. OR, you could say “The librarian of the future will work in the cloud. He or she will not be employed to work in a building, but rather will work collaboratively with colleagues from around the world to provide 24hr rolling information services to online subscribers” or whatever – THEN go back to the start and give them all the context.
  • Not following your own advice = fail. I’ve just read all that back and quite a lot of it I didn’t do last time I presented. Sigh.

So there you go. For tips on speaking generally, I thought this article was really good – The Introvert’s Guide to Speaking.

Good luck!

-          thewikiman

p.s since writing this, I’ve read 30 quick tips for speakers, which includes this one which I think is a great point, and that I hadn’t thought of: don’t apologise for stuff the audience won’t know is wrong. If you come to a slide and something mysterious has happened – ie a graphic has disappeared, or whatever – they’ll only know it’s a problem if you make it a problem. Just recompose yourself and move on without it. This is another piece of advice I’ve failed to follow in the past! I say stuff like, “ooh, that’s weird, erm.. not sure what’s happened there! Heh-heh! Seems to have been some kind of problem, the video I’d embedded has gone! I wonder what’s happened there..” SHUT UP THE WIKIMAN! You buffoon! Generally speaking, even if you do clearly have to apologise for some kind of disaster, doing so once is preferable to doing so multiple times.

p.p.s Plus that same article also has ‘always repeat the question back to the audience so they can hear it’ which I should have put in, too.

p.p.s See all the guides to everything that I've ever written, in one continually updated place, here.