Conference Session Proposals and Presentations: Less Complicated than You’d Think

by Claire Schmieder, Head Editor, INALJ New Jersey

Conference Session Proposals and Presentations: Less Complicated than You’d Think

Claire.SchmiederDuring the first week of June, I attended my third New Jersey Library Association annual conference. The first time I went, I was a student; the second time, I was a job seeker; and this time, I was a gainfully employed person.

One thing I noticed during my first two NJLA conferences, and pretty much any other conference I’ve attended, is that they’re primarily for people who are already working. This makes perfect sense, of course, but it can leave student and unemployed attendees feel a little bit…lost or out of place. Happily, (please excuse the broad generalization here) librarians are some of the friendliest people out there, and that helps considerably. And, the NJLA conference is a fairly student/new professional friendly event with scheduled evening meetups specifically for those folks.

Even so, I really wanted to see an actual session for students/new professionals that wasn’t centered on interviewing or resumes. Not that those sessions aren’t helpful – they certainly are. But, given that there can be a fairly wide gap in between earning an MLIS and full-time employment, those session often provide advice that’s been heard over and over again. That’s why I decided to propose, and then co-present, a session on professional development for people on the job hunt.

Getting a proposal in was the first step. This was a little less mysterious since I am currently an active member of NJLA’s Professional Development Committee (PDC). Each of the NJLA committees submits conference proposals to yet another committee; this final committee reviews each proposal and then accepts or passes on it. I had the support of the PDC– the group helped me fine-tune my initial idea through in-person discussion, provided feedback on a couple drafts of my proposal, suggested I find a co-presenter, and officially sponsored my session proposal before it went to review.

Before the proposal was truly written, I found a co-presenter – former INALJ Head Editor and ALA Emerging Leader Julie Watson. I put out a call on Twitter and Facebook about looking for a session partner and Julie responded right away. We created an outline of session topics, wrote and reviewed the actual proposal, and submitted it to the PDC. Then we waited. Review took a couple of months and we found out in late winter that our session was accepted.

Over the spring, we used Google Drive documents to make notes, divide the topics, and stay organized. We emailed a handful of times over the spring about the presentation – I set a deadline to have the actual presentation drafts done since I was in charge of having the presentation ready and on-site during the conference. We worked remotely, which went smoothly; it wasn’t necessary for us to sit down face to face and work on the presentation, although we certainly could have if we lived closer to one another. On the day of the presentation, I made sure I had the presentation saved on my computer and on a USB drive (just in case) and I printed out our handout. We planned and prepared well in advance, so everything went smoothly on the day of. Overall, my very first conference presentation was a positive experience and I’m looking forward to future sessions.

The two takeaways here are:

You can (and should) propose sessions for professional conferences. If you have something valuable to contribute and/or if you spot a gap in topics being covered that you’re able to fill, then you should propose a session. The worst thing that can happen is that your session won’t be accepted. If that happens, learn from the experience and try again at another time. Also, keep in mind that speaker selection for individual conferences can vary widely – those run by professional organizations (e.g. ALA, NJLA) sometimes (but not always) require that you be a member; more general conferences (e.g. Computers in Libraries, Internet Librarian) do not have any such requirement.

Presenting at conferences isn’t necessarily complicated or scary. If you are speaking at a conference, then prepare gradually in advance. By the time you’re up in front of a room full of people, you’ll know the presentation cold. Use the opportunity to work on your public speaking skills and ask for feedback when your presentation is over. Prepare for potential technical difficulties by saving any files in various places (email attachments, on your desktop, on a USB drive) and familiarizing yourself with the technology you’ll be using during the presentation (projectors, remotes, laptops that don’t belong to you).

Go forth, propose, and present!