A note on presenting

Last week I presented at a forum – regular events which my workplace organises, on the significant project I’m currently working on. The audience was over 130 people and included some of my work colleagues, the State Archivist, as well as other records and information practitioners and managers. This presentation wasn’t so much a big deal as it is expected of me in my role to do presentations, participate and coordinate meetings, etc, but I couldn’t help but notice a few things had evolved in my presenting skills over the years. So I wish to take a moment to reflect on the road so far.

The audience I presented to last week was probably the biggest since my very first conference presentation in September 2011 – the 5th New Librarians’ Symposium where I presented my findings of an independent research project about new information professionals creating a personal learning network (PLN). I had a roving microphone attached to me and a podium with somewhere to place my notes. I remember supporters being in the audience, including my boyfriend who managed to sneak in the back (sorry, organisers!). I also remember David Lee King and how nervous I was to be presenting to such awesome people in the profession. I had rehearsed a number of times with a mentor and the presentation went reasonably well. The support I received in the safe environment was humbling and put a smile on my face.

Presenting at NLS5

Presenting at NLS5

The set up last week wasn’t much different, but it was recorded. I have been fortunate in taking up opportunities to practice presenting through my studies, research, work and professional involvement, such as speaking to newbies in the QUT LIS course. Developing presenting skills has certainly been a journey of finding out what works and what doesn’t with my unique presenting style.

Between then and now, some things have improved or have tweaked while others haven’t changed. I’ll start on the improvements.

  • I’m okay with pausing if I’ve lost my spot in the notes. I don’t panic so much. Or at least I didn’t at the forum last week. Presenting is not a race and I’ve learnt the audience won’t know I’ve lost my place if I take regular pauses and speak at an even tone and pace.
  • I almost have preparing my notes down to a fine art. I’ve been fortunate so far to not have a situation where I have nowhere to place my notes. Perhaps that’s my next challenge. I prefer to use index cards for my notes, one for each slide or point. If I fill an index card with notes and need more space, I’m talking too much and I can estimate I’ll go over time. (Going over time by the way is something I consider unprofessional.)
  • I’m okay with being recorded. It doesn’t fill me with extra dread when I’m told the presentation will be recorded and made available elsewhere.

And now the things that haven’t changed…

  • I still move and wave my hands around. It actually helps me to keep a level of clarity on what I’m trying to say. I prefer a roving microphone for this purpose.
  • I still say ‘G’day’ to the audience. Yep, even in front of the State Archivist. I like to think it puts both myself and the audience at ease. (I hope it says) I’m approachable and not a stiff. I like a conversational style while also being professional. Almost as soon as I left the podium last week (we broke for morning tea), I had a lady come up to me to ask a question. I was happy to help.
  • I still get incredibly nervous, though I’m usually okay after the first few slides. If someone tells you presenting gets easier over time, in some ways this is true. Presenting gets easier when you hone your style and prep. But the nerves will likely stay.
  • I’m still more nervous presenting in front of colleagues and peers than strangers. The size of the audience doesn’t bother me. It’s who I know is there watching me.

The changes I have seen over time has also been due to coming into my own as a professional. I’ve experienced a shift over the last 12 months. I’ve slowly learnt that ‘yes, I am a professional, knowledgeable and my opinions are valid and worthy of consideration’. Basically this means putting on the ‘big girl shoes’, standing on my own two feet and owning what I have to say. By doing and feeling this, I’ve felt more confidence going into a presentation.

Presenting isn’t something many people tend to enjoy. I’m one of those people. As a kid, I was more than happy to make a fool of myself in front of people (and I still do this sometimes, but to save face and hide my nerves). But something changed in me during my mid-teens and I’ve found presenting to be daunting ever since. These days I think of presenting as sharing ideas. And I’m certainly passionate about that. I’d suggest trying that perspective and see if it changes your outlook on presenting.

On a final note, no one can read a heap of blog posts, books, etc on presenting tips and then magically turn into a fabulous presenter. It doesn’t work that way. Being a fabulous presenter means having taken the time to practice and tweaking the tips you’ve read about until you find a rhythm you’re comfortable dancing to.

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6 thoughts on “A note on presenting

  1. Thanks for this post, Alisa. I’ve had to do more and more presenting the further I get into my career. I don’t find that lots of practice has made it any easier, but like you, I now know that if I am well-prepared and can push through the first couple of minutes I will be OK. I’ve also learned that podiums are really good for hiding shaking hands! One thing that I have found helps me a lot is to focus in my preparation on the needs of the audience – to find out as much as I can about who are they, why are they there, and what can I tell them that will interest or excite them or help them in some aspect of their work. I always tell myself that people are there because they are genuinely interested to hear what you have to say (not because they want to jump up and point at you and yell ‘That’s rubbish!’) and that makes me feel calmer. Your point about pausing is a good one! And I reckon focusing on breathing deeply for a minute or two before you have to get up helps as well – I am pretty sure my brain has been starved of oxygen in some of my presentations, which is not really ideal :-)

    • I completely agree with you regarding preparation for the audience needs. I also like to break down my presentations into key messages, things I need to get across to help inform the audience on something. Great tip on the breathing! I need to practice this more, I think. Thanks for reading! :)

  2. I always enjoy reading your posts Alisa! And your presentation at the forum was great – both content wise and in presentation style. The other tip I have been given for presentations is to hold something in one hand. Whether it’s your prompt cards, slide changer/pointer or pen. It can make you feel less self conscious with your hands when presenting, especially with a roving microphone. Its one reason lots of newsreaders hold a pen when they read the news. But that’s just my view….

  3. Great post Alisa :) I really like your point about the nerves not going away; it gets easier, but the nerves linger (which is probably a good thing – that adrenalin!) I’ve done a few presentations now too (most recently, last week my graduate speech to 800 people in Auckland town hall!), and I find I’m also getting more into the swing of things. Looking forward to presenting at ALIA Biennial in September – are you going to be there?! :)

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