10 Things I've Learned Presenting at Library Conferences


10 Things I've Learned Presenting at Library Conferences, by Michael Stephens, a librarian, technology trainer and author living in Northern Indiana.
1. Always be prepared.
2. If presenting in a track, try to be present for the other speakers.


There are plenty of stupid questions.

Actually I think that "stupid questions" are a Zen Librarian kind of thing. Whether or not a question is stupid depends on the mind of the questioner. That is, the stupidity of the question is not dependent on the form of the question, but on the intent of the asker.

For example, consider that much hated (although not necessarily stupid) question, "Where are the encyclopedias?" If I ask that question, it's because I'm in a strange library, and I know that I need an encyclopedia to answer a question. If the average reference patron asks that question, it's probably ... "inappropriate".

I've never encountered a stupid question during a speech to library people. Hostile questions, yes (rarely). Challenging, thoughtful questions, yes (frequently).

More to the point: Questions that indicate that I completely forgot to explain something essential, define an unusual term, or whatever. Those are "stupid" questions in one sense: If I wasn't showing a mild amount of stupidity as a speaker, those questions wouldn't be necessary.

That's true too. To be honest, putting my above comment aside, I don't think I've ever been asked a truely stupid question at the reference desk either. I have been asked questions that indicate a lack of knowledge about either the subject area of the question, or the organization of information, but that's to be expected, since the patrons aren't experts (otherwise they wouldn't have to ask the questions).

Beware the post- presentation podium lurker that took copious notes.

Conspicuously wave your AA boarding pass from your shirt pocket as you as unplug your laptop with your foot. (any decent hotel should have floor mounted power outlets) Leave the projector for hotel maintenance. Jacket over shoulder to serve as a fabric barrier for any inadvertent eye contact as you trot to catch an old phantom friend stage left.

Consider a pencil in the mouth too. It can save a few seconds and provides a wonderful prop to avoid congratulatory pleasantries employed only to trap one into a looooonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnngggggggggggggg conversatio

2. If presenting in a track, try to be present for the other speakers.

In addition to allowing you to dove-tail your material with info covered at previous sessions in the track, this advice has another fairly pragmatic side effect. Since tracks often stick with the same room all day, you get to see any technical glitches ahead of time, and hopefully avoid them. Usually, this is just a matter of "Ok, I need to set my laptop's network connection up for DHCP, instead of the pre-set network configuration we use in our library's conference room.".

I have to say I was asked a pretty stupid question today. A patron walked right by a bank of computers and asked me where the computers were. That was pretty dumb. But it is finals week here so we'll cut them some slack.

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