I’ve reached the point now where I’m presenting enough to get a sense of when I’m doing well and when I’m failing miserably. And I obsess over the bad presentations. They swim into my consciousness late at night when I’m trying to fall asleep and I cringe as though they happened earlier that day and not months or even years prior.
The worst one, I think, was at ALA. I was the chair of a YALSA committee that sponsored a panel presentation on book trailers, so I was moderating the panel. A group of four people sent me their PowerPoint slides and I mashed them together on my Mac. But when I got to ALA, I panicked about using my Mac with an adaptor (this was a few years ago, so please forgive me), so I transferred everything to a PC laptop…which meant that none of the videos played. Or rather, they played for ten seconds and then froze, which is almost worse. Since the presentation was ABOUT videos, this was pretty bad. So bad, in fact, that during the presentation itself–with a packed audience, by the way–I made reference to weeping, curled up, in the corner. Everyone assured me that it was fine, but I knew better and I really did want to disappear.
I gave another terrible talk at a YALSA pre-conference event, when I for some reason spaced out about the fact that I was speaking to teen librarians (really?!), and I focused way too much on services to children. I was talking about a program that I have mostly used with elementary-aged kids, and I didn’t have the foresight to adapt my presentation for those working with teens. It wasn’t until the very end, when someone ased about teens in my Q&A, that I realized my blunder. Ack.
I was late for a webinar once, so not only did I not show up until ten minutes in, I was also out of breath. So I sounded almost strangled as I talked, and I never got over being flustered at being late. That’s one webinar I will never listen to!
At another event, non-ALA, I was on a panel, and because the panel was speaking in response to a keynote–a keynote I hadn’t seen ahead of time, because it was itself unplanned–I was unprepared, inarticulate, and, frankly, dull. The only thing that people seemed to take away from my remarks was that I allow students to be loud in the library….not exactly the message I was aiming for. I am not good at speaking off-the-cuff.
The thing is, I consider myself to be a pretty good public speaker. When I’m prepared, I seem to have the whole thing under control. I can connect with the audience, and make them laugh, and be fairly articulate from memory (I saw a wonderful presentation recently that was read entirely from a written speech, and while it was lovely and interesting, I find that far less engaging). And, to be honest, I love giving presentations. For a socially-awkward introvert who will avoid parties at all costs, there’s something about standing in front of a group of people that I find incredibly appealing.
So what goes wrong at these awful presentations? Well, sometimes it’s just bad luck–the traffic on my way to the webinar was unusually bad. But more often, it’s bad planning on my part. And sometimes, it’s just that the audience and I don’t connect. You know when you’ve got an audience loving you. You can feel the energy coming at you on the podium. Other times, it feels like you’re speaking into a vacuum. But even so, there are times when I think everyone hates me and then people come up to me after and tell me how useful my talk was. So, you can’t always tell.
Why am I writing about this? It’s not to convince people not to accept my conference proposals. It’s because I need to come clean. We all make mistakes in front of crowds. I remember attending the SLJ Leadership Summit in 2011 and running into a speaker right before she went on stage. This librarian is extremely well-regarded–some might even consider her a bit of a celebrity in the school library world–and she was nervous. Very nervous, in fact. I was astounded by that. But it also made me feel better. Because I get nervous no matter who I’m talking to–a huge group at a national conference or a tiny group in my own school–and it was nice to know that I’m not alone, and that even the most practiced speakers get the pre-show jitters.
Speaking in public is fun if that’s the kind of thing you like to do, but we all have bad performances, and many of us have to run to the bathroom six times before we go on stage. It’s OK. I will keep trying to give presentations, and I’m sure I will have other sub-par performances. But what I’ve learned from the bad presentations is extremely valuable. Here’s what I’ve got:
- Make people laugh by laughing at yourself. It diffuses tension and makes you human. Acknowledging that something isn’t working or that you’re frustrated or flustered can go a long way toward breaking through the roadblocks that are tripping you up. For example, I am going to acknowledge that I just mixed my metaphors. See? Doesn’t that help?
- BE PREPARED. Read over your slides ten times if you have to. It’s not to memorize the information, but when you get up in front of the crowd, chances are you have memorized some of it without even meaning to, and when you get nervous or have a quiet little internal freak-out, autopilot will kick in.
- Re-read the description of what you’re doing before you start making your slides. This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you put in your proposal (or get asked to do something) six months before you actually give the presentation, your brain may mess with you and get you to believe your’re presenting about one thing when it’s really another. Stupid brain.
- Test your tech. Duh. And have a contingency plan if something doesn’t work. This may be distracting people and running out the back door and straight into a bar. Or, maybe it’s holding up your iPad and being extra charming in your delivery!
- Shake it off. If your presentation sucked (and it never sucks as much as you think), get over it. Analyze what went wrong, try not to read the tweets about your talk, and move on. Try again. People won’t remember your mistakes like you will. And there’s nothing like a great presentation to erase the memories of a bad one…unless you’re trying to fall asleep.
I recently wrapped up a project with our third grade classes using Zooburst, “a digital storytelling tool that lets anyone easily create his or her own 3D pop-up books.” The site has been around for a while–in fact, it was named an AASL Best Website for Teaching and Learning way back in 2011–but this was my first time using it. It was very easy for me to create a class and student accounts using the Premium account, which costs $10/month or $50/year. With young students, this was absolutely necessary since they don’t have email addresses.
Once each student had an account, it was simple for them to start working. The students were learning about different African countries and were tasked with writing a story about an animal or animals from the country they’d been assigned.
Zooburst creates pop-up books. When you turn the page, the images on the page pop up in 3D. The images can be rotated, resized, or moved anywhere on the page. Students can either select an image from Zooburst’s media bank or they can upload their own. Additionally, with a premium account, teachers can create a custom database of images for students to use.
Once the images are on the page, students write a narrative for the page itself, as well as add dialogue for each character, if they choose. They can also customize the background and the page color, and they can add background elements. And finally, students and teachers can comment on each book. The books can be embedded into a website or simply emailed home to parents.
Check out our third graders’ books here!
Just a quick post today to tell you how much I love Astrid. This productivity app and website is extremely effective and useful. With Astrid, you can create multiple lists, which can be anything you want. I use Astrid when I go to the grocery store, but I also live and die by it at work. I can sort items by priority or due date, and I can add collaborators for every task in any list–or add a collaborator to an entire list (my husband, ahem, is on my “home” list, which is a list of chores). When I complete a task, I check it off, which feels great…and if you check off a lot in a day, Astrid tells you how productive you are!
Astrid is a bit bossy at times. It sends reminders to your phone. Excuse me! You said you would vacuum! Sometimes I feel like Astrid is my mother, and I get a little annoyed. But ultimately, I appreciate the nag. After all, I clearly need the help.
I also like that you can create repeating tasks. There are certain things I do every week, every day, or every month that I like to remember. I can add notes for each task, too, so if I’m half-done with something, I can note that.
And finally, like all awesome things, Astrid has a Chrome add-on! Turn any website into a to-do item. And with the add-on, when you open up Gmail, an Astrid box appears that allows you to seamlessly add to a list. (You can also forward your emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Hooray for efficiency!
(PS: Astrid was acquired by Yahoo! last week. Some Astrid users are concerned that our beloved app will go away or change. Stay tuned, and I’m hoping for the best.)
Similar to the presentation I gave at the CASL mini-conference, but now with links and some new tools to try.
My students made this hilarious video for National Library Week using an iPhone and iMovie.
Lately, there’s been more drama than usual in our library. At the moment, one of my students is swapping some diamonds—yes, diamonds—for a hefty amount of railway ties. Another is secretly plotting to swipe an unsuspecting classmate’s body armor. And a group of friends can’t believe their luck: they’ve just stumbled across a trove of valuable chests in an abandoned mineshaft.
Well, since my current job is being posted online as a vacancy (APPLY!!), I guess I should share my news. I am leaving Hamden Hall at the end of the current school year. I will be starting at the Ethel Walker School this summer as their Dean of Digital and Library Services.
It’s really hard for me to write about leaving Hamden Hall without getting too emotional. I am very, very sad about leaving. I am going to miss my colleagues and my students terribly. I feel as though I’ve grown so much as an educator in my three years there, due in great part to the mentorship and friendship of Lorri Carroll. But really, so many people there have touched me in various ways, both professionally and personally. I have been so lucky to be a part of that warm, supportive, and student-centered community.
I am SO excited, though, to be joining Walker’s. It’s a beautiful school with a stunning library, and everyone I’ve met has been so kind and positive. I am moving on campus–into a dorm!–with my family, and we couldn’t be happier to be rejoining a residential school. I have very fond memories of my time as a dorm parent at Wilbraham & Monson in western Massachusetts, and I know this will be an equally amazing experience.
This will be a chance for me to continue to grow as a librarian, and to push myself even further as an educator. I can’t wait to give my all to this exemplary school, and to help further the Walker’s mission through developing a 21st century library program that supports student learning and exploration. Thank you, Walker’s, for giving me this incredible opportunity!