Presenting Your Best Self

Library school is full of presentations. Whether it’s a short, informal talk or a long, detailed speech, I’ve had to give some kind of presentation for almost every library school class I’ve taken. Partly just a given in academia, frequent presentations will also be a reality for many of us in our future careers. LIS professionals are often expected to speak eloquently and concisely to everyone from peers to administrators to the general public.

Over the last few semesters, I feel as though I’ve learned so much more about presenting and presentation styles from my LIS peers and professors than I ever did in undergrad. Thus, I thought I’d share a little of their collective wisdom; some of these things seem fairly obvious, but many have changed the way I present myself and my information to others.

Must it always be a PowerPoint?
When planning a presentation, you always have to decide what, if any, visual aids you will use. “Presentation” has almost become synonymous with “PowerPoint,” but it doesn’t have to be! PowerPoint is a very useful tool, and it can be great for a lot of situations, but it shouldn’t be the only weapon in your arsenal. When you find yourself slipping into the same old PowerPoint layout, consider mixing it up with something more dynamic like Prezi.

Cut the amount of text in half; better yet, throw it out altogether
Crazy, right? Except it’s not. I recently had to help craft a group presentation for a marketing course. I was ready to plug away with some standard Title/Picture/3-5 Bullet Point slides. But one of my group members (who, it comes as no surprise, is already working in a management position at an academic library) insisted on minimal text. And when I say minimal, I mean very lean. We ended up only using images, a wee bit o’ text, and a lot of Smart Art (PowerPoint’s infographics):

Instead of reading or otherwise heavily relying on our PowerPoint, we used it as a visually pleasing aid to the bulk of our presented information, which was spoken. The feedback we received was very positive.

Infographics are your friend!
Infographics, when used appropriately and effectively, are such an attractive and informative way to convey statistics, which can often be dry and boring. Use whatever tools you can find and create responsibly! (There is nothing worse than an inaccurate, vague, or otherwise confusing/misleading infographic. Be careful!) Check out these 10 best tools for creating infographics to get started!

Can you ever have enough backups?
We’ve all heard it before, but we can all stand to hear it again. Back up that important presentation material. Put a copy on a thumb drive, put a copy in your inbox, put a copy on the cloud, have a copy on paper. Nothing says “I’m unprepared!” like a last minute tech emergency, even if it isn’t your fault. This goes double for presentations that are part of job interviews.

Know your stuff, no matter what
If the unthinkable happens and you can’t access a single backup, you should be able to present without a single aid. This may be tough, but you should know it backwards and forwards. This is good practice even if a catastrophe doesn’t occur; if you know the material inside and out then you’ll be less likely to rely on your presentation aids and more likely to seem confident and prepared.

A handout is never a bad thing
My instructional design professor loved a handout. She could not get enough of them, and for good reason – they appeal to visual/textual learners, they’re great for audience note-taking, and they give the audience a takeaway that they can refer back to. The crafting of an attractive, informative handout is its own art, but can definitely be very impressive, especially to potential employers.

Consider sharing
Have some really cool presentation slides or handout? Consider putting the pdf up on your blog or sharing your slides on something like SlideShare. Find a way to share your awesome work with the world and provide a way for your audience to follow up on your information after the fact.

Have any other tried and true presentation wisdom? Share it in the comments! And good luck with all of your presenting endeavors!

7 replies

  1. You alluded to this in the post, but I think that it’s worth spelling out: the best presentations are the ones made by a group (or an individual) that has taken the time to practice giving the presentation. These dress rehearsals give you a chance to get feedback and also help you work through any stage-fright you may have. It’s absolutely worth doing!


  2. I recommend Toastmasters to everyone who needs some fine-tuning with their public speaking skills. I’ve been a member for years (after seeing far too many bad librarian talks and conference presentations). It has done wonders for my ability to speak professionally.


  3. I second the minimal text idea. The moment an audience sees long block of text, you start losing them. This is especially true if your presentation is just you reading that text. If you need a script to feel more comfortable, have it in your hand, not on the screen!

    Also, I LOVE Prezi. The times I’ve used it, I’ve gotten nearly as many questions and compliments about Prezi as I did the content of the presentation. However, definitely have a backup ready when using Prezi. If the computer you’re using doesn’t have an internet connection, or has an old version of Flash, you can be sunk.


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