by Grey Maixner, Head Editor, INALJ Vermont
Slide into Your New Job: How to Ace the Presentation
One of the most challenging aspects for someone interviewing for an academic librarianship position is the presentation. I have yet to come across someone who hasn’t had to give one, and nearly all of my colleagues, coming straight out of school, had nothing but anxiety on their way to the podium. It’s a tricky situation, as you’ll not only be interviewing the whole day, and you’ll want to prepare for that, but you’ll also have to create, memorize, then give this presentation.
There are thousands of websites that offer tips on giving presentations, from timing, how to design slides, and the kind of posture to have. Since there are so many resources out for general presentation skills, I will instead be discussing the specific troubles that can arise from presentations in the academic sphere and the nuances of those presentations.
Perhaps the most daunting task when it comes to the on-campus presentation is picking a topic. The search committee will select a broad topic, or ask participants to simply answer a question. Usually, however, these topics will be purposely obtuse, or simply vague. This is part of the presentation; it’s up to you to interpret the question or prompt, and follow it. Being able to narrow down the topic, while still keeping in the goals of the presentation, is one of the most important aspects of the presentation. As an example, I was tasked with discussing an “emerging technology,” for a presentation. This is incredibly vague and the myriad of possibilities led to a week of research before finally deciding on one specific “emerging technology.”
Once you have decided on a topic, if it’s something that you are not involved with on an everyday basis, you need to research it. Typically, before you arrive, the search committee will send out a mass email, calling others in the library to come and witness your presentation. Don’t be surprised to walk into a room with up to 50-100 people, all ready to rate your performance. With so many people, you have to respect the fact that someone will know more about the topic than you do. However, it’s more important to have key terms and jargon memorized, and be able to break down those concepts for those who are not as well versed on your topic.
Along with this, make sure you know the main questions that someone can ask you after your presentation. You will usually have to fill between 30 to 50 minutes with your presentation, then have a follow-up question and answer section. With any luck, your presentation will answer most questions, but with an appropriately large topic, then there should be some things that you simply cannot cover in that time. Anticipate these questions as best as you can.
Naturally, the most important part of a presentation is to practice, practice, PRACTICE. You want the presentation to look absolutely effortless, which will require you to know your slides forwards and backwards. Plus, if you practice in front of friends, you will gain the added benefit of them coming up with questions that you didn’t think of yourself. Also, give yourself adequate time between first showing your presentation to friends or colleagues, and your actual trip. You will most likely want to make changes. “The best laid plans…” after all.
Something that I would always suggest, if it is at all appropriate, is to bring a tangible object. This means to bring a prop or summary that you can pass around or show immediately after the question and answer section of the presentation. Often times the audience can be caught off guard with your presentation, and when immediately prompted with questions may not have any. Giving audience members a reason to come up and meet with you, such as to see an object that illustrates your presentation, is an excellent way to make your presentation more memorable. You not only humanize yourself, but can also take any other questions they may have, face to face.
Finally, remember your confidence. You made it this far in the interview, and everyone in the room is rooting for you. They want you to succeed. With these tips (and PRACTICE), you can feel confident that you will be leave them wowed.