With June comes the ALA Conference (except for Chicago years), and when it ends that also signals a close what I would call the library â€œpresentation seasonâ€ for both academic librarians who present and those who attend. While there are programs throughout the year, I find that the months between April and June bring the heaviest concentration of programs. ACRL chapters are having their spring programs, information literacy conferences are being held, there are many library staff development programs and quite a few other regional and local conferences from which to choose.
It also means that many of us are experiencing our roles as presenters and attendees, where we prepare and deliver presentations or we are on the receiving end as attendees. Did we make the best of our opportunity to present, and what did we learn from the experience as a presenter or attendee? While I gave a few presentations, I was also learning from other presenters who demonstrated new ideas and new techniques with their programs. With the end of the presentation season just ahead, we will soon have time to reflect and think about what we can do better or differently to improve our presentations.
Some good advice comes from Dave Paradi, a blogger and author who specializes in consulting with others to improve their presentations, although he mostly concentrates on PowerPoint and using it for more effective communication. In a recent post he shared some ideas that made good sense. The gist of the post is that presenters start their preparation by creating the visuals that become their slide presentation. Once the presentation starts to take shape, the presenter becomes personally invested in slides and it becomes difficult to make changes, and almost impossible to scrap it and start again with a completely different approach. He writes:
Why the resistance? Because they are heavily invested emotionally in the slides they spent so much time creating. It is human nature to resist changing something that we put a lot of time and effort in to…there is no way we are just throwing it out and starting over again
Paradiâ€™s advice for avoiding the emotional attachment trap is to adopt a different way of creating presentation visuals. He suggests that presenters start their presentation preparation away from the computer. He believes it is better to:
Start by thinking about the goal of the presentation â€“ what do you want the audience to know at the end of the presentationâ€¦The structure of the presentation can be done on a whiteboard, pad of paper, or, my favorite, sticky notes so I can move them around
When beginning a new presentation I tend to follow Paradiâ€™s suggestion to start away from the computer. I will either develop a rough script for my presentation or sketch out my ideas as a way of determining what the three or so main concepts or themes are. Then Iâ€™ll work on fleshing each of those out and building in more detail. Hereâ€™s an example of some rough sketches of new presentation on which Iâ€™m working.
You may argue that ultimately it is better to avoid using traditional slide presentations all together, and I would tend to agree. Iâ€™m not opposed to using PowerPoint. Despite some recent criticism , PPT is only software and itâ€™s up to each presenter to use it to achieve the outcomes of the presentation in a way that makes for a good learning and program experience for the attendee. The best presentation advice Iâ€™ve heard is that you need to begin with a passion for the audience, and a desire to make the presentation about them. Iâ€™ve been experimenting with a variety of techniques, including storytelling (with mixed results), my own hand-drawn sketches (a love it or hate it proposition for some), video that I mix and then integrate into the slides, and more conversation with attendees when it fits. Between that variety of techniques I’m hoping each attendee will believe I’ve designed the presentation with their needs in mind.
One presentation I attended was a nice combination of using Prezi and hands-on activity. Another presentation I attended was based on the Garr Reynold’s style of using images alone or with a single word or short phrase. Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ve seen many presentations in this style as it has grown in popularity in recent years. But other than a few clever photos, I found myself paying little attention to the slides at all, and instead found the speakers were doing quite well just sharing what they knew. For me, the images became a distraction and did little to communicate ideas or engage me. This was a case where no slides at all may have been better, but I suspect, as Paradi suggests, that the presenters were quite heavily invested in their slides and likely thought of them as absolutely necessary for the talk.
Whether you did the presenting or the attending, think about using the summer months to practice new presentation techniques or focus more on the preparation process. If you are heading to ALA, take special note of the presentation techniques and look for new ideas. If you see something of interest, take time to ask the presenter about their methods. The best way to become a better presenter, besides getting as much authentic practice as you can, remains observing others, spotting good technique, viewing videos of great presenters, and then learning how to adapt those techniques to create your own unique style of presenting.