Canadian Association of Law Libraries 2013 Conference - Being A More Effective Presenter
I will get to some of the main workshops on issues such as licensing and website/database redesign later this week.
Right now, I want to discuss a presentation yesterday afternoon by Kate Bligh, a Montreal-based theatre director, dramaturg and teacher. She gave a presentation on how librarians could become more effective speakers and trainers. It was called "Coping With Interruption and Interaction in an Era of Social Media".
She broke her talk down into 3 parts: body language and interactions with the audience; gaining and retaining attention; and structuring content.
The body language component was the most surprising because most of us are unaware of how we move our bodies when speaking.
Bligh summarized her advice by saying body language must be open, visible, strong, symmetrical and with appropriate arm gestures.
By open body language, she meant avoiding hiding behind a podium, crossing arms, not directly facing the audience. Any closing of the body, for example, by clasping hands in front of the body or folding arms sends an unconscious message to listeners that you are uncomfortable and they become more aware of your perceived nervousness or lack of confidence, So arms open, be visible (standing if possible facing the audience).
By strong, she meant avoid leaning on or against the podium or table, You might think this makes you look laid back and comfortable. Unconsciously, listeners may think you are unable to "support" what you are saying. She had many other suggestions as to how to comport yourself physically that all reinforce a message of openness and confidence (even if you do not feel that way).
In terms of how you speak and articulate, she cautioned against long run-on sentences. Do not use AND or BUT. Stop, breathe and start a new sentence. Use clear, short sentennces. Occasionally stop and ask for questions. Bligh explained it is OK if your request for questions is followed by silence. The audience is thinking. If you tend to speak in a monotone, this can be unlearned. Consciously decide to change your pitch slightly when introducing a new idea or tangent. Practice alone by singing melodies.
Eye contact: share it, Bligh said. Be like "a butterfly in a bush". Do not focus on one person, make your eyes wander in a friendly way to different people - they will look back at you. And do no stare at bothersome or annoying people because this means you have given over control to them. Smile from time to time, plan (plant) some questions here and there.
Her second theme was about gaining and retaining attention.
At the outset, ask trainees what they need to learn or identify those needs for them: "This is important because you need to know this for your assignment".
Also, depending on the audience, you should signal your expectations and provide ground rules. Bligh deals with many Millennials in their early 20s, a generation used to being distracted and - according to her - not always good at self-discipline. She insists in her classes that everyone turn off cell phones and laptops and tablets and refuses to start until everyone complies. She explained that Millennials often are very appreciative when someone lays down rules for them.
Finally, she offered a few simple tips on structuring content: offer a minimum amount (do not hose them with a flood of info - they will be overwhelmed, you will panic about running out of time). Reduce content to 3-5 points. And tell them what you plan on telling them; tell it to them in those 3-5 points; and then tell them what you just told them. End off by asking them to suggest a few things they have learned.
And there you have it: you made an effective, memorable presentation.