5 Tips for Conference Speakers

By , August 24, 2012 10:07 am

by Karen Helde

When I was invited to be a speaker at the 2012 AALL Annual Meeting, I hesitated for a few days because (1) I was scared, and (2) I hadn’t budgeted to go to Boston.  Once I decided that nervousness was a lousy reason to say “no” to opportunities, I tackled the second problem by applying for a LLOPS grant.  I’m very grateful to LLOPS for awarding me that grant and giving me the chance to take on this personal and professional challenge.  My program, titled iCan! Empowering Librarians with iPads and Other Mobile Devices, was part of the joint AALL/ILTA track that ran throughout the day on Monday, July 23rd.  It attracted about 240 attendees eager to hear about ways for librarians to lead the way as mobile technologies enter the legal workplace.

Presenting a program requires a lot of work before the conference ever starts, but I thought I’d share my tips for what you can do once you’re actually on the ground in the host city.

  • Talk it up.  When you meet new people and are comparing conference plans, tell them you’ll be speaking at a program.  It’s a great conversation starter and sometimes a point of connection.  If you’re catching up with old friends, make sure they know too.  You’ll get lots of interested questions and encouragement.  If nothing else, you’ll make a few people happy by allowing them a “better you than me!” moment.
  • Scope out the competition.  When attending programs prior to your own, dedicate some of your attention to what works and what doesn’t work.  Notice how speakers use microphones, podiums, seating arrangements and AV equipment.  Does their Q&A approach work well?  How smooth are the introductions and transitions?  You probably can’t rewrite your whole talk at this point, but you might see a few areas to tweak for improvement.
  • Practice and prepare.  My talk was in pretty good shape before I left I for Boston, but I still ran through it on the plane (under my breath so as not to make any air marshals nervous), in my hotel room, and in an unoccupied corner of the convention center the morning of my program.   Also, figure out what soothes your particular butterflies and find a way to do it.  Some people are calmed by deep breathing and meditative stillness in a quiet place.  Others feel better if they can work off some adrenaline with physical activity like a brisk walk.
  • Dress the part.  Wear something that makes you feel confident and professional, but relaxed.  You know your own tolerance for walking in heels, arranging scarves or carrying off a handlebar mustache.  This isn’t the time to try something new.  Bonus tip:  If you’ll be using a lavalier microphone, wear something that has a pocket or belt to hold the transmitter.  Otherwise you’ll end up holding it in your hands like I did.
  • Have fun.  Even if public speaking is scary, at some point it will hit you that it’s kind of cool to have a room full of people interested in what you’re saying.  Enjoy that moment, as well as the conversations and connections that follow.

One Response to “5 Tips for Conference Speakers”

  1. Mary Whisner says:

    Nice post, Karen — great, practical tips!

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