Better Writing And Presenting

Academic librarians often seek publishing and presenting opportunities. Whether one is on the tenure track or just wants to communicate his or her message, good writing and speaking abilities are important skills in the academic librarian’s toolkit. Based solely on anecdotal evidence I’m going to say that as a profession we tend to publish and present to a greater degree than colleagues in other sectors of librarianship, particularly in scholarly journals. This is owing, to some extent, to our engagement in an enterprise in which publication and presentation are valued accomplishments – if not requirements for professional longevity. So who among us couldn’t benefit from some good tips to improve written and oral communication.I came across two sources of good advice this past week.

John Scalzi, proprietor of WHATEVER, offered a list of ten tips for better writing. Some of them are plain old common sense, such as use punctuation correctly and check for spelling errors. Others are simple but important reminders about keeping writing simple by opting for shorter sentences over ones that go on endlessly. Perhaps the best advice is to “speak what you write”. His point is that if you write something you should read it back to yourself. If what you speak is hard to understand it’s time for a re-write. Even scholarly pieces need to read well, and long winded sentences populated by impressive sounding words contribute to the general lack of readability in some of these articles. This list obviously struck a chord with many readers as there are dozens and dozens of comments to this piece, many with additional ideas for better writing.

While its tone is more rant than gentle guide, ConDogBlog‘s Alan Levine’s post on “Presentation As Conversation” is a good reminder for any of us presenters that we have to engage the attendee as quickly as possible. You may have some great ideas to pass along, but if you bury them in the last ten minutes of the presentation, the audience will have tuned you out long before you get there. While the bulk of the post addresses the value of a presentation that is mostly a discussion with the attendees rather than “a lecture inflicted onto an audience”, I think the best advice is:

And if you must take the lectern, and if you must drill us with powerpoint, please, please, please heed Levine’s Law: START WITH THE DEMO! — do not use 90% of the time for background, rationale, theory, reference, pictures of your kids, yadda yadda, get to the stinkin’ demo! Show us the demo! Excite us, entice us, but please do not be playing Killing Me Softly With Bullet Points. There has been sufficient carnage already.

I would certainly like to see more members of our profession taking that advice to heart for their library conference presentations. There is plenty of information freely available for improving presenting skills, so if you are planning on presenting soon – be you a novice or veteran – take a look at what’s offered. It can only help you to do a better job, and your attendees will be grateful.

2 thoughts on “Better Writing And Presenting”

  1. I agree with the need for less PowerPoint! As a recent grad of library school, I was veritably inundated with slides during my courses. I remember one course in which I was required to give a presentation – and nothing in the syllabus said that we HAD to use PowerPoint – but I was the only person who didn’t.

    I think the main rule for any sort of audio-visual enhancement to a presentation should be that it actually enhances the presentation. A PowerPoint slide is great if you need to display a photograph, graphs and charts, or information that you are not going to detail to a great extent in your verbal presentation. However, if you’re going to talk about it, and you reinforce it with a written handout that people can refer back to after the presentation, it isn’t really necessary to have the printed information displayed on a screen.

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