I am not exactly a novice when it comes to academic conferences. Not only have I presented and won statewide awards (twice!) before, but I also have experience from the logistical side of things. I have planned and executed a statewide conference for a group of 200. Needless to say, this is water I’ve swam in before. However, just recently, I’ve gotten a (metaphorical) splash of icy cold water right across the face on this topic.
It all started in the form of an email that started with “Congratulations!”. Sounds pretty good, so far, right? And it is. Don’t get me wrong – I am truly excited to be presenting at the MidContinental Chapter of the Medical Library Association’s (MCMLA) 2019 Annual Meeting. After all, I’ve presented at conferences before and I’ve never hated doing it. But presenting at MCMLA will be my first foray into the world of librarianship conferences. It feels like a weird combination of first day of kindergarten nerves – “Will anyone at the conference like me and actually want to talk to me?” – and the confidence of senior year – “Been there, done that.”
This is all to say that now I occupy an interesting nexus point between experienced presenter and totally newbie. I know what to expect in general, but I also know that I will be stepping into a completely new professional world of people who don’t know me and don’t know my work. I have the benefit of having a basic idea of how conferences work, but I completely lack knowledge of the nuances that separate one conference from another.
With this unique perspective in mind, I want to share three tips that I have come to abide by when it comes to conference presentations. While these tips may seem obvious to the more seasoned reader, they will hopefully help those completely newbies or those, like me, who may have some experience, but are entering the world of information science professional conferences for the first time.
1: Find a place
When learning to swim, there is no reason to start in an Olympic-size pool, right? The same idea applies to conference presentations. Start at a local level. At a local conference, there will be more friendly faces and you will most likely have a “home field” advantage. While you might be racked with nerves, you can still remind yourself that you know your environment and the people in it. Just as importantly, perhaps, is the fact that there is a shorter path between your presentation and implementation of your ideas from your presentation in real-life practice. You might strike a chord with a colleague from the next town over, and, before you know it, you have an email saying that your ideas are the exact solution they’ve been looking for. Nothing can make you feel better than that after a conference. The same thing can happen at national events, but it’s less likely and almost certainly less quickly.
2: Find a partner
There is zero reason why you have to tackle a presentation of this magnitude by yourself. Think about the professionals you’ve interacted with, and, if you are a student, think of who has given you advice and, perhaps, played a role in helping you with assignments. This is how I found my most recent co-presenter. Almost a year ago, for my Foundation of Library Science course, I was required to interview a librarian. I greatly enjoyed my conversation with that librarian and eventually asked her to collaborate with me on our upcoming presentation. It’s amazing what a quick 30-minute conversation can lead to! Not only did I find a professional role model, but I also found someone willing to help me expand my interest in health librarianship.
3: Find a particular topic
Let me state this upfront – you don’t have to love your topic. It’s great if you do, but just having a general interest that can propel your research and help you develop an interesting presentation is enough. In many ways, where you present and how you present will shape your presentation topic almost as much as anything else. It’s also (more than) okay to reach out and ask if someone you would be interested in working with is interested in presenting with you and then hatching a plan together. That was my recent experience and the very reason I am writing this post! Again, find a topic you think is important and the rest will follow!
I hope these tips and my experience are helpful to all your future conference endeavors. I hope to see you soon, presenting your brilliant ideas for an enraptured audience, at a conference near me!
Nick Dean is a first-year master’s student in the School of Library and Information Management (SLIM) at Emporia State University. Nick currently works as an academic advisor at a medical school in Kansas City.