Career Strategies for Librarians
The Librarian's Guide to Developing Presentation Skills
by Jennifer Osborn
Many new librarians feel that they lack the skills and confidence to give truly effective presentations.
Library and information studies prepare you for many of the jobs in the library world - cataloguing, book
selection, database searching - but there is rarely much emphasis on presentation and training skills.
The odds are high that you will need to develop these skills for most jobs, and you will need to develop
them fully. Whether you are expected to train a group of library users in the use of a database, or stand
up at a departmental meeting to present your team’s project to the rest of your work group, you need to
be able to speak confidently and effectively in front of other people. This means acquiring or improving
presentation skills, either on the job or in other areas of your life (such as volunteer work, community
work, further study and training).
One of the major barriers to doing this, though, is a natural reluctance to work on presentation skills.
Many people feel nervous and uncomfortable when they have to speak in front of an audience; several
studies cite "glossophobia" (the fear of speaking in public) as one of the major anxieties experienced by
people in all professions. (Try typing "public speaking and fear" into Amazon and see how many titles
come up, including a book called How to conquer the fear of public speaking and other coronary
threats.) But if you want to be successful as a librarian - and certainly if you want any kind of leadership
or management role - you need to learn how to give excellent presentations and training sessions.
Here are some simple steps that you can take:
Step 1: acknowledge what you are already doing
Presentation and training skills are an extension of your communication skills: speaking, listening,
responding to people, answering questions, giving information. Remember that these skills are on a
continuum: if you can speak effectively to a small number of people (a sports team, a work group, a
committee) then you can learn to speak well in front of a larger audience.
Step 2: learn from other speakers
Look out for the good presenters in your organization - the speakers who behave naturally and easily
when they are giving a presentation. Watch them; it’s as if they’re talking to a group of friends rather than
to an audience of strangers. They smile; they make eye contact; they move easily; they use gestures
confidently. Remember that these people don't have any magic tricks that they rely on; they have learned
how to do this. It's an acquired skill.
At the same time, you can learn about what not to do. There are (unfortunately) plenty of ineffective
speakers out there: people who mumble, avoid eye contact with their audience, or rely on technological
aids like Power Point instead of speaking well. Look at Marie Wallace's entertaining LLRX.com article
"Twelve Sure Fire Ways to Torpedo Your Presentations" for more ideas on this. If a good speaker makes
you feel discouraged ("I'll never be able to do that"), a bad speaker might inspire you ("I can do better
Step 3: take people on tours
This is a good exercise for shy or nervous speakers. One of the most daunting things about speaking in
front of an audience is that everyone is watching you – looking at you, focusing on you, waiting to hear
you speak. But if you are taking a group of people on a tour – around your library, your workplace, your city’
s museum, your local community centre – then they have a lot of other things to look at, as well as you!
Giving a tour is a great confidence-booster for a speaker, because it enables you to practise all of your
presentation skills without being the centre of attention. Another advantage is that you can move around
freely, always a good way of dissipating nervous energy. And you don’t have to worry about forgetting
where you are in your talk because your surroundings are the visual cues and prompts that keep you
going. (“Right, now we’re in the 800s in the library. I need to talk about the literature collection”).
Step 4: give a demonstration using a computer
Again, this is less demanding than just standing up and speaking because you are not the sole focus of
the audience’s attention; they’re also watching what’s happening on the computer screen. Librarians
have plenty of opportunities to ease themselves into presenting and training skills in this way: showing a
group of library users how to use a catalogue, a database, a search engine on the web.
Step 5: get some training
Once you have gained some confidence by practising your presentation skills, a one-day workshop or a
series of sessions with a professional speaker will make an enormous difference. A qualified trainer will
help you with your clarity of speech, tone, breathing and gestures. He’ll also be able to give you tips on
preparing your presentation material (ideas about structure, language use and style).
You will have the opportunity to give a speech or presentation and get feedback from your teacher and
your audience. Since all of the audience members are also course participants, they have to stand up
and speak, too; so the whole thing is like a support group for speakers. You’re all learning together.
You can find “public speaking” workshops through training organizations, educational institutions, or
your employer’s Staff Development programme. There are also specific organizations like
Toastmasters, Penguin and Rostrum (in England, New Zealand and Australia).
Step 6: speak for 2 minutes
As soon as you can do this after your training, give a 2-minute talk to a group of people. Find somewhere
familiar and comfortable to do this: a regular staff meeting? a committee meeting at your local sports
club or community group? Prepare what you’re going to say, rehearse it beforehand and deliver it on the
Step 7: speak for 5 minutes
Repeat Step 6, but for a longer period of time. In this step, make sure that you stand up in front of your
audience, especially if you remained seated during your 2-minute talk. It’s fine to be sitting down to give
a short, informal talk, but you also need to feel what it’s like being on your feet. Apart from anything else,
you breathe more easily and gain more vocal power this way! And after you’ve done this short
presentation, think carefully about how you went. Did you make eye contact comfortably? Were you happy
with your introduction and your conclusion? What would you do differently next time?
Step 8: give a half-hour presentation
Learn from your mistakes and successes with this -- what works ("They understood the point I was
making at the beginning, they asked good questions about that afterwards") and what doesn't work ("I
hadn't prepared well enough, I went overtime").
Step 9: do it again
All presentations, and all presenters, get better with experience. Do it again and again and again.
Step 10: do some reading
Your own experience will be your best teacher, but there are many other resources out there for you as
well. I've included some of them in my bibliography.
Belben, C. (2003) Making a gift of yourself: preparing for successful conference presentations. Teacher
Librarian, 31 (1) , 12-15.
Humes, J. (1991 ) The language of leadership. Melbourne : Business Library.
Malouf, D. (1988) How to create and deliver a dynamic presentation. Brookvale, N.S.W : Simon &
Statz, S. (2003) Public Speaking Handbook for Librarians and Information Professionals. Jefferson, N.
C. : McFarland.
Walters, L. (1993) Secrets of successful speakers : how you can motivate, captivate, and persuade. New
York : McGraw-Hill.
Marie Wallace writes excellent articles on the many facets of "how to give presentations", in her "Guide
on the side" column in LLRX.com (a free Web journal for "legal, library, IT/IS, marketing and
administrative professionals ") -http://www.llrx.com/
About the Author:
Jennifer Osborn has followed her own advice and worked through this ten-step programme for
improving presentation skills. She is a Reference Librarian and Staff Development Co-ordinator at the
University of Adelaide Library in South Australia, where she gives presentations and training sessions
on a day-to-day basis. She is also a member of Rostrum S.A.
Article published August 2004
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.