Several years back, I was wanting to attend a local technology conference. My district is pretty strict on paying for conferences and I’m pretty cheap, so a colleague encouraged me to submit a call to present to try to get free registration. I had nothing to lose, so I wrote something up, and it got accepted!
I was incredibly nervous, but trusted my gut and things went pretty well. The positive feedback encouraged me to try again and I did. I wish I could say that every presentation I’ve done since then has been a hit, but that would not be true. I can say that I have done enough conference presentations that I’ve become an authority on what NOT to do.
Title Is Important
Choosing your title is very important. Don’t try to be too clever. It needs to be very clear what you will be presenting. If attendees are scanning through topics, they will stop at the ones that really catch their eye. If the title is vague, chances are they will pass it over. Be specific. Instead of “21st Century Skills and Research” try “Using Google Docs with Middle School.” That way there is no mystery.
Know Your Stuff
When you know your topic, presenting is easy. You won’t need a cheat sheet or note cards.
Keep Your Topic Narrow
When I see topics like “30 tech tools in 30 minutes,” I turn around and run. This presenter is trying to impress you with their wealth of knowledge, but it’s a farce. Nobody can master 30 of anything. It’s better to introduce one topic and dig deep. No one has time to sift through loads of lists and resources to teach themselves after the fact. Give attendees a chance to try out something new that they can take back and use tomorrow.
I’m not a fan of flash drives, so I usually use online tools to create my presentations. Once I couldn’t get the wireless up and I was about to go down in flames! At the eleventh hour, a trusty friends came to my rescue with a hotspot and saved the day. I now have a hotspot on my phone and I’ve used it on a number of occasions. Also, be sure to make sure you have any adaptors, power cords, or speakers you might need just in case!
Plan for Different Learning Styles
We try to keep in mind different learning when teaching children, but some of us still plan a lecture when we plan for adults. Teaching strategies that work well with little ones are usually very effective with adults. Grown-ups work well in collaborative groups with hands-on activities too!
Keep It Digital
School librarians are instructional coaches and digital leaders in their schools. Model Future Ready Librarians by going paperless and offering rich, digital content. Also, don’t supply a list of websites. Share one short link to your presentation (bit.ly is a good example) and embed all of your resources. Make it as easy as possible to navigate.
Share your contact information before, during, and after. Twitter is an easy way for attendees to reach out to you later. If you don’t do Twitter, you should try it. Business cards are good too. You can print them yourself, but companies like Vistaprint run specials that are really affordable.
If attendees follow you on Twitter, follow them back and thank them for coming. Share out your resources digitally through email or social media. Collect contact information in a Google Doc (pass around an iPad) and share the links immediately following the conference. People appreciate a personal touch.
Take time to reflect upon the experience. If you get feedback, listen to it and learn from it. Make note of what you could do differently and do it next time. Make note of the experience and keep evidence for your portfolio. Presenting at conferences is great for the leadership component of your evaluation!
Finally, put yourself out there. And have fun with it. You have nothing to lose. Meeting new people leads to new connections and new opportunities. You never know what doors might open.
Author: Sedley Abercrombie
Sedley Abercrombie is the current past president for the North Carolina School Library Media Association. She is also the lead library media coordinator for 32 school libraries in Davidson County, NC as well as an adjunct instructor at East Carolina University.