Archive for April, 2013

Earlier this week, I gave my first ever formal presentation at the SLA Europe, BIALL and CLSIG joint Graduate Open Day.

The History

Now, you may know that I am a rather shy person. At school I never used to answer questions in class, and if I was asked to speak I would shake like a leaf. Any opportunity for public speaking I used to actively avoid like the plague. I even remember badgering my brother to ask the ice-cream man for my ice-cream as I was too shy to ask him myself. Now, it is safe to say that I am not naturally a good public speaker.

Bashful the dwarf

Bashful the dwarf

During my undergraduate degree of Philosophy and Literature, we were never asked to give formal presentations, but only to lead seminars with our initial thoughts on a literary work or thinker; which I thought was wonderful at the time as I hated public speaking. I didn’t mind this so much as to me it wasn’t a formal presentation, and so I can be fairly talkative in group meetings at work and so on. Again during my Masters in Library and Information Studies at UCL, I only ever had to give one formal presentation where I was in a group of 5 and had to speak for precisely 2 minutes. For the whole of 2 minutes I just read from a page of notes, and made sure I looked up at the audience once in a while. So my experience in presenting and public speaking was virtually non-existent. So last year, when I was asked to co-present at the BIALL conference at 2013 I thought it was too good an oppotunity to miss, and it would be great to get some experience by presenting with someone else, who could always take over if I decided to die of humiliation, collapse on the floor and crawl out of the room. I also thought that as it was so far in the future, I didn’t need to worry about it. It’s surprising how quickly time flies.


So about a month or two ago, I was asked to speak at a Graduate Open Day which I thought would be the perfect warm up practice to public speaking. I would only need to speak for 30 minutes (including time for questions) and the audience was the most unscary, nice audience you could possibly ask for.

In preparing for this presentation, the first thing that I did was ask for help from a professional. Now luckily for me, working in a corporate law firm, we have a fantastic number of resource available including a great HR department with an excellent trainer. So I attended a training session on presentation skills; this covered what makes a good speaker, how to design a good presentation, how to present the information so that the audience takes it in, what kind of language you can use to make information come alive and so on. I have put below the most important points I took away from the session:

  • Think about your ending – what do you want your audience to do on leaving? Do you want them to be enthused, to take further action, etc? Keep this purpose in mind in when creating your presentation, and ensure your ending will leave them witha high energy and  feeling enthused, if that is what you are aiming for.
  • At the beginning, do something to grab their attention. Use a surprising picture, a quotation, etc.
  • The rule of 3 – always have an odd number of bullet points on your slides, as your audience will take them in easier. Also, try and keep the information on your slides as simple as possible, with as small a number of bullet points as possible – ideally only 3 per slide.
  • Bring information to life by telling a story – this will make the information more memorable, and can also give the audience a taste of your personality. If you can, use sensory language to really make the story come to life.

So with all of these tips in mind, I first wrote a list of things I wanted to cover in the presentation, created a hairline structure, and then with the structure in mind I wrote out a full script of what I wanted to say in an ideal world where I had a photographic memory. Using the script, I then filled out my slides with the important points, making sure there was always 3 or 5 points in each slide so the audience could take it in more effectively. I am not saying this is the right way to create a presentation but this was how I did it.

So, I had a presentation, but what do I do next?

Despite every inch of me screaming no, I contacted the trainer at work and asked if I could run through my presentation in front of him. I ended up running through it on 3 separate occassions, roughly once a week in the 3 weeks leading up to the Graduate Open Day.

During the first session, the trainer videoed me presenting the first 5 minutes. It became apparent that my hands didn’t know what to do (my arms were down straight by my sides, like the trained irish dancer in me, but my hands were twitching and flapping like they wanted to move as I talked!), and that I liked to sway as I spoke, which can be extremely distracting for an audience. So I repeated the first 5 minutes, this time starting with my hands looseley held in front of me in front of my chest, and standing on a piece of paper so I could hear if it rustled (if I swayed). I repeated the first 5 minutes over and over, and by the end had become much more relaxed. But there was still a long way to go. At the end of this first session, I decided I could attempt to go through the 30 minute presentation. But about 7 minutes in I stopped and basically gave up. I had lost my train of thought, had got on to the wrong slide and had basically panicked and felt that I really couldn’t continue.

Practice in the mirrorSo with this rather traumatic experience in mind, I practise it every night for the next week without fail in front of the mirror. Working on my hands and mentally slapping myself on the wrist if I swayed. I also used a timer on my phone, consistently taking 34 minutes say all I had to say, and I had my laptop to show me the slides as a prompt, trying not to use notes. However, the trainer had advised me to add notes to my slides and print these out (1 slide and accompanying notes per A4) as he felt I may need them as a security blanket.

The second session with the trainer, I managed to get through the whole presentation. Although there was a marked improvement in that I was now talking with my hands, and not swaying (yay!), it only took me 23 minutes. 23 minutes! Where had a whole 11 minutes disappeared to? Obviously I was speaking really fast, and I had noticed that at various points throughout I was running out of breath, which made my voice sound shaky. I also had a few moments where I got stuck trying to turn my notes over, which distracted my train of thought.

So my trainer gave me some very constructive advice regarding my slideshow; making my life easier for myself by just putting a screenshot of Twitter instead of using a link to the external website (during the run through I had panicked and lost the slideshow when I had the internet browser open), and advising me to introduce some statistics to emphasise some of my points. He also said to add sticky tabs to the notes to make them easier to turn over, and to just practice speaking extra slowly at home.

Again, I went home and practised, and practised, and practised. I still tried to do a full run through in the mirror once a night.

In the third and final session with my trainer, I ran through the presentation with no mishaps in 24 minutes. I was still speaking fairly fast but not noticeably so, and I was obiovusly missing out a few unimportant bits that I usually included in my run throughs at home. But I was fairly happy. As I knew the presentation inside out I could do it without notes, with the slides as my only prompt. Getting to this point was something I never could have imagined for myself, knowing my natural shyness and hatred of public speaking. This was a HUGE achievement for me.

Judgement Day

So, we now come to the morning of the Graduate Open Day. I looked at my notes once in the morning, and then didn’t look at them again before the presentation. My thinking was that whatever I didn’t know now I was not going to take in, and I was confident that I knew my stuff. I think I may have heard some general advice before that it is actually a good idea to give yourself a break mentally before you go up to present, but I couldn’t say where I heard this.

I gradually got nervous throughout the morning, and when I reached the venue I felt a little excited. I tried to distract myself by talking to the other speakers, and by enjoying the 2 presentations that went before mine. Finally, it was my turn to get called up.

CLSIG, BIALL, SLA Graduate Open Day

Myself presenting (picture taken by Simon Barron)

Post match analysis

Now, something that myself nor my trainer could have prepared for, was the fact that my legs instantly turned to jelly as I walked up to the stage. By the I was at the front, my legs were shaking so violently thyat I was sure the whole room could see it. My worrying about what the audience was thinking of my jelly legs, actually distracted me a little from my presentation, but I don’t think noticeably so. So what I did (and I knew my trainer would have screamed at me for doing this), I half leant, half sat on the very conveniently placed table behind me. As soon as I took the weight off my legs I instantly relaxed, stopped worrying about what the audience were thinking, and got in to the flow of my presentation, using the big screen with my slides as a prompt (no notes!). The jelly leg syndrome was probably made worse 10 times worse by the fact I was wearing heels, and so I now know to wear flats when presenting! I think I also felt more comfortable, as by half sitting down I was more on their level and I instantly felt more informal. This isn’t to say I wasn’t still nervous during the rest of my presentation, of course I was! But it allowed me to relax and give the presentation as effectively as possible. I also didn’t have the problem of running out of breath or my voice going shaky at any point during, which I was thrilled by.jelly

I was initially thrown by using a clicker for the presentation (I had only ever used a laptop when practicing), but after the first few slides it became quite natural.

I was desperate to get some feedback to my presentation, as I had no idea if I looked nervous, if anyone noticed the jelly legs, and most importantly whether the presentation was actually helpful to the graduates attending. There was a nicely timed networking session immediately after my presentation, and I had a number of people come up to chat and ask questions about going in to law after library school, which I take as a good sign. People also seemed genuinely surprised when I said I was nervous, so either they are extremely good actors, or I am a better actress than I thought I was! I was lucky to have a friend attend my presentation who assurewd me that I look totally relaxed, and I would like to think he wouldn’t lie to me just for the sake of being polite. So this was a huge achievement for me – to fool a whole room of people that I wasn’t terrified of public speaking. I also had a really nice email from a vendor who attended my presentation who said, and I quote, that my presentation was “inspirational” – I don’t think I could ask for more than that!

Here are some blog posts of the day by attendees:

What next?

Now by no means am I a great or comfortable public speaker – I only did as well as I did because I practised the presentation solidly for 3 weeks, which gave me the confidence to actually go up and give it. I also had a professional trainer who was extremely encouraging, and truly excellent in the tips and advice he gave me. I think I will always get nervous before speaking, and I will definitely have to work on my jelly legs before the BIALL conference, where I will have to be standing and presenting for a whole hour! But this presentation has certainly given me a massive boost to my confidence, and I honestly never believed I could have done it.

My personal advice to fellow nervous public speakers

  • Practice makes perfect. Honestly! Know your presentation inside out, and this will give you confidence. Don’t learn a script, as you will then get nervous about missing a line out, but just know the key points you want to convey
  • If you feel you may be susceptiblke to jelly leg syndrome like myself, wear flats not heels! Make sure you are comfortable.
  • I read on Ned’s article (mentioned below) about finding a few happy, attentive faces in the crowd, and coming back to them if you need reassurance. At one point in my presentation I saw someone yawning who looked like they were falling asleep, and I instantly looked elsewhere to someone who I had noticed was smiling and nodding along throughout the whole thing. So this is definitely a tip I would recommend!
  • Read Ned Potter’s 10 non-standard tips for public speaking – and there are some excellent comments at the bottom where other people have contributed their own tips on public speaking – and I have found them very, very helpful!

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Tuesday was, of course, another very busy day, and with a rather early start at 8am! I first went to a ‘spotlight session’ called E-discovery Preparation through Information Management and Data Mapping. Now, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the content of the session was very technical and I knew within a matter of minutes, if not seconds, that it wasn’t going to be very useful to me, and I felt rather disappointed as I had woken up especially early to see it.

Now, in the UK it is not the norm to hop between sessions at a conference – I think we consider it as rather rude to do so – but I was told that in the US that it was accepted practice, and I was advised very strongly my newly made American friends at the conference to leave a session if it was not going to be of use to me. So, feeling very embarrassed and a little guilty, I left very quietly and attended a different session, which I found extremely engaging and interesting.

From Info Pro to Info Hero: 5 Easy Ways to Turn Information Insight into Insight by Mary Ellen Bates

Mary Ellen Bates' session Information Pros to Heros

Info Pro to Info Hero

By the time I got there, the room was packed and there were no seats left, so I had to sit on the floor. And no wonder this session was so popular – Mary Ellen Bates was an extremely engaging and exciting presenter. Unfortunately, by the time I arrive Mary Ellen was already on to point 3 (I spent quite a long time mentally debating whether to leave the previous session or not), but the content of her session was very applicable to the majority of information professionals, and especially to anyone who conducts any type of research for a client, and so I will summarise her presentation in some detail here:

Way 3: Know your audience

As information professionals we are comfortable with lots of data – however, we are not normal, and ,with Google and lots of white space. We need to find out about the client – how do they normally acquire and use information, and what does the information look like? What does the client really value?

Design the information for the client. Format and styling indicates value, and people often judge the authority of information on its appearance, such as if it is an executive summary or a report. This may be superficial, but it is also common sense. Also, when designing the information, think about how you can make it more absorbable.

Way 4: Tell a story… with pictures

Humans are geared to take in information through pictures; historically, we are storytelling human beings. So try and find the narrative of the information – when gathering data, look for patterns, gaps, anomalies, and trends to tell a story.

Visually, there are a number of ways you can accomplish this:

  • Slideshows – look for commonalities in information and make in to bullet points and summarise – think of it like building a taxonomy up
  • Word clouds – visualising word frequencies can provide insight to the information. It can also be good to create a word cloud as preparation for research, as they can provide you with the tone and highlight important buzzwords, as well as allow you to see real trends.

Way 5: Build a value-adding collection

This was largely a summary of what had already been said, but I am going to refer you to Mary Ellen’s website MEBaddsvalue.com which talks about various tools and techniques you can use to add value to information.

Tales from the Trenches: Contract Negotiation

soldierIn my current role I am responsible for journal subscriptions, and I think that as more information resources go online, we are going to have to deal with more and more contracts in our jobs, and so I was really interested to see what advice I could glean from this session.

There was 1 set question put forward to the panel, and then each speaker gave an answer. Much of the answers were duplicated as speakers agreed with each other, and a lot of it was fleshed out with personal stories and examples which I did not take notes on, so I am going to provide a general overview of their answers, rather than tell you what each individual speaker said. Interestingly they had vendors as well as information professionals on the panel, which consisted of Carol Ginsburg, Steven Goldstein (Alacra), Barbara Hirsh, Laurie Leichman, Bob Lemmond and Bill Noorlander.

What are your key points or goals as you enter a contract negotiation?

  • Preparation – have all of the information at hand to ensure a successful income, and have an understanding of what you want and what you are willing to pay. It is also your job to do the homework, and conduct analysis on usage and find out what it means and decide what’s important – what will be the drivers for your users?
  • Building relationships – think of this as part of the preparation process.–This is a partnership and collaboration and work must be done throughout the entire cycle, so that when it comes to negotiation there are no surprises. Remember, negotiation is only at the end of the process. Also, you must build relationships with everyone involved – what will shareholders pay? What does the firm need?
  • Control the agenda – lay out your key issues and ensure your concerns are heard clearly
  • Expand the solution space and don’t feel bound by the operating environment – dream a little, dare to ask and you get what you wish for. As long as you ask politely, you can ask almost anything! Especially if you can provide a n argument and logic for a new business model, then don’t be afraid to propose it.

Lunchtime and the best pizza in the world

PizzaThe ECCA winners decided to do a bit of sightseeing and to try some authentic and world famous Chicago pizza. It was a pleasant break from being stuck inside the conference centre all morning, and so we ventured out in to the outskirts of Millenium Park, took in the general sights and went to Giadorno’s, home to the best pizza I have ever had! Rather strangely the pizza was really thick, almost like a pie, and unlike any other pizza I have ever had, it had a thick layer of cheese first and then a delicious of layer of tomato pizza sauce on top. Certainly one of the highlights of my trip!

Having gorged ourselves on this monstrosity of a pizza (and entrusting Simon to take home and preserve the left overs for us to eat the next day), we returned to the conference centre for the afternoon sessions.

Social Media in Action by Maria Lettman

Unfortunately for me, firstly I arrived rather late as I couldn’t find the room (and being so full with pizza I couldn’t run), and secondly, I think this session was aimed at social media novices and so there was not very much new content I could take away and learn from this session. However, there were 2 main topics that I found very interesting:

  1. There are different ways of thinking of social media; you can think of it as a publishing and distribution tool, or you can think of it as tool for knowledge creation. It was using social media to create knowledge that I found intriguing, and this can be done through crowdsourcing, marrying social media data with other data to discover new knowledge, and even open source innovation where you throw information out there in to the social media sphere and see how others choose to build upon it. A principle that links with arguments for open access publication of research… but that’s a whole other series of blog posts I need to write!
  2. The idea of using social capital as rewards. In this session, the speaker suggested that to encourage information sharing, you can reward it through points, gold stars and badges on social media profiles. Now this may sound very childlike, but, for example lawyers can be extremely competitive not just with other firms but internally as well – especially with other teams and departments. So you could use a reward and/or competition system to encourage them to share precedents and know how, and obviously those who contribute and share the most, wins and possibly gets a star on their profile. Now obviously it is not the points or the stars that matter, but the fact that they symbolically represent that they have beaten others, and I think this may work in a competitive environment like a law firm.
Anneli and myself playing gangsters

Anneli and myself playing gangsters

IT Division Open House Party

In the evening we attended the infamous IT Division Open House party. It was fancy dress 1930s Al Capone themed (of course, we were in Chicago after all!) and set in the beautiful ballroom at the Hilton. Sophisticated and elegant by day, then SLA disco by night. I had been told by many, many conference attendees that the IT party every year is fantastic and it is the one time where everyone lets their hair down and have a whale of a time. I had my reservations, but it really turned out to be a spectacular evening where everyone was up dancing all night (which is the best kind of party in my opinion), and I really couldn’t think of a better way to spend my last night in Chicago.


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