Thursday 10 January 2013

Public Speaking for the Terrified!

Anyone who knows me in real life will know that I am not what you would call a natural public speaker. The thought of standing up in front of more than two people terrifies me to my very core, never mind having to sound intelligent in front of a room full of every librarian in my organisation! So when I was asked to be part of a panel discussion at yesterday's libraries @ cambridge conference I said yes with more than a little trepidation. However if 2013 is going to be my Chartership year I had better learn how to push my boundaries and there's nothing like jumping in at the deep end!

Having never done anything like this before I did what any good librarian in this situation would do - I started to research tips on how to be part of a conference panel. I found a couple of reassuring resources but most focused on how to chair a panel discussion rather than how to be part of it, so I thought I would use this post to share a couple of tips for other first timers:

  • remember that you have been asked to contribute, so someone thinks you know what you're talking about even if you're less than confident. You must have done something to make them think this so try not to stress too much about how little you (think you) know about the topic
  • try not to over prepare (also advice I give to people attending job interviews). It's a must to do some preparation but don't over think it. Have a list of bullet points rather than a totally planned speech which can sound a bit robotic 
  • on the flip side, don't go in totally unprepared. Meet up with your fellow panelists and talk about areas you think might come up. You could even assign areas to talk about, giving you a chance to feel a bit more prepared on a smaller slice of the overall topic
  • remember to talk to the audience not just your fellow panelists, especially if you're responding to an audience question. And don't do that thing where you imagine the audience naked - never a pretty image!
  • at least attempt to look like you're enjoying yourself, even if you're not. Remember the conferences that you have attended where the presenter has looked totally bored and you have tuned out as a result? If you don't look interested in what's happening then the audience definitely won't be
  • be yourself, in terms of both personality and dressing. Dress smartly but comfortably rather than trying to 'dress to impress'. If you wear something you're not used to then you will feel uncomfortable, which means that you will look uncomfortable
  • don't give long-winded and technical answers. People will tune out. Remember a really bad panel session that you have been to where you understood nothing? Don't copy that
  • the audience is not out to get you or trip you up with horrible questions, they're probably just glad it's not them on that stage! If you do get asked a question it's because you made enough of an impact with that person that they felt they needed to respond. If you don't know the answer then say so, you can always look into it and follow it up later. No one is expecting you to have all the answers
  • if you have a last minute panic and end up rocking in a corner before the session remember that it's only an hour out of your life. Try to think of it as a conversation with other people interested in the topic rather than a scary experience (something else which works for me in job interviews). Audience members wouldn't be there in the first place if they weren't interested in what you have to say!

Being involved in a panel discussion is a way to ease yourself into public speaking. You're not up there on your own giving a paper and you can share the responsibility for questions with others meaning that you're not totally put on the spot. Taking part in a conference is a great opportunity and will look good on your CV in what is an increasingly competitive job market. It might take a lot of convincing (never mind a couple of stiff drinks) to get you up there but I promise that it will be worth it in the end. If all else fails remember that if I can do it, so can you!

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