Career Strategies for Librarians
Presenting with Confidence: 10 Tips for Librarians
by Robin Ewing
According to The Book of Lists, people are more afraid of public speaking than heights, spiders, or even
death. However, presenting is something that most librarians do at some point in their careers. Maybe it’
s a presentation at a state or national conference, maybe it’s a five-minute talk about a new database, or
maybe it’s a presentation during an interview. Most librarians won’t have the luxury of taking a public
speaking course, so I’ve listed ten tips that will reduce the stress of presenting.
Prepare now; don’t wait until the last minute. Finishing your preparations early gives you time to practice
and to solicit feedback from others. While preparing, consider what handouts you want to distribute. Do
you want to use PowerPoint? If you decide to do so, I recommend consulting Steven Bell’s PowerPoint
and Presentation Skills Resource Page for tips on creating an effective presentation. If you plan to use
PowerPoint or the Internet, have a backup plan in case you can’t use a computer or access the Internet
the day of the presentation.
You’ll need to start with an introduction that tells the audience what you’ll be speaking about. Organize
your main presentation into three main points. The three points compose the middle section of your
presentation. Three points create a nice rhythm and linger longer with the audience. Your points can be
arranged in many ways, but I suggest using a chronological or topical pattern. The chronological pattern
is a good choice if your main points can be presented as a sequence of events over time, such as
covering the history of an initiative at your library. The topical arrangement works well when all of your
main points are equally important and can be presented in any order. For example, I’d use this
arrangement for a presentation on the challenges facing librarianship, which many employers assign as
a topic for interview presentations. To wrap up the presentation, conclude by reviewing what you’ve
talked about. This sounds repetitive, but the repetition creates a rhythm to your presentation.
Practice out loud and standing. Reading your presentation to yourself at your desk will not prepare you
for delivering the presentation. Time yourself. Is the speech too long or too short? The goal of practicing
is not to memorize your presentation. I suggest using note cards. Use a separate card for each section
of your speech and only write the key points for each section. As you practice, your presentation will be a
little different each time, but practicing your speech allows you to develop a rhythm and also alerts you to
anything that doesn’t sound good out loud. Additionally, if you decide to use PowerPoint, you need to
practice using your slides in order to change slides smoothly. I even note on my cards when to move to
the next slide.
Find your own style. Your style will develop as you give more presentations. Whatever style you adopt,
you want to be enthusiastic. This doesn’t mean you have to be a performer; just be excited about your
topic and find a way to communicate your enthusiasm to the audience.
Examine your presentation site. You may not be able to review the room before you start preparing, but
you need to look at it sometime before speaking. What are you looking for? Notice the layout, lighting,
seating arrangement, acoustics, computer setup, and projector system. Is there too much sunlight for
PowerPoint slides to be read? Do the windows have blinds? Are the chairs in a circle instead of facing
the presenter? Is the room cold? Hot? What about acoustics? Will you need to project your voice more
than usual? Will you need a microphone? I advise practicing in the room if possible.
Budget your time. Don’t go over your allotted time, especially if you’re part of a panel presentation. I can’t
stress this enough: going over your time is unprofessional. The more time you leave for discussion, the
better. Your audience wants to hear what you have to say, but they also want to express their thoughts on
Review your presentation and preparation. Did you cover the most important aspects of your topic? Do
you need to create handouts? Handouts provide a way for the audience to share your presentation with
others. Include your name and contact information on handouts; you can also use them to identify the
sources you’ve used. If you’re using PowerPoint, review your slides for accuracy and spelling. As with
handouts, provide your name and contact information on the title slide.
Connect with your audience. The audience wants you to succeed, so making a connection is easy.
Involve them by asking rhetorical questions. Another way to connect is to make eye contact with people in
different parts of the room. Avoid constantly scanning the audience as this will make you appear shifty.
Facilitate the discussion after your presentation. Remember that audience members want the
opportunity to comment on your presentation and to hear what other people have to say on the topic.
When leading the discussion, repeat questions so that the entire audience can hear what was asked. Of
course, repeating the questions also gives you time to frame your answer.
Breathe deeply before starting your presentation. A deep breath enables you to start your speech without
squeaking. A deep breath also helps to calm you down. I talk fast even when I’m not nervous, so I make
notes on my note cards to remind myself to breathe.
One Last Tip
Get a good night’s sleep. You’ll have the energy to deliver a dynamic presentation worthy of your
Asher, S., & Chambers, W. (1997). Wooing and Winning Business: The Foolproof Formula for Making
Persuasive Business Presentations. New York: Wiley.
Bell, S. J. (2004). End PowerPoint dependency now! American Libraries, 35(6), 56-59.
Germano, W. (2003, November 28). The scholarly lecture: How to stand and deliver. The Chronicle of
Higher Education, p. B14.
Lynch, P. L. (1985). Surviving the Q & A period. Training & Development, 39(6), 32-33.
Schmidt J. J., & Miller, J. B. (2000). The five-minute rule for presentations. Training & Development, 54(3),
Statz, S. R. (2003). Public Speaking Handbook for Librarians and Information Professionals. Jefferson,
About the Author:
Robin Ewing is Assistant Professor and Reference Librarian at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota.
She received her MLIS from the University of Oklahoma in 2001.
Article published Nov 2004
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