Best Practices for Presenters
Thank you for presenting. This page offers tips and tools that can help you make the most of your presentation.
Thank you for investing your time and expertise in the American Library Association by being a presenter at a conference or other event. Your contribution will have a positive impact on libraries around the world.These guidelines are based on feedback from your ALA colleagues and input from professional adult educators. With thanks to Learning Round Table (LearnRT) members Maurice Coleman, Jill Hurst-Wahl, Pat Wagner, and Brenda Hough for preparing the guidelines.
Creating Your Presentation
Ensure that you know who your program is for and what the expectations are of the group that invited and/or is hosting you. For example, is the program targeted to librarians or paraprofessionals? Directors or technicians? Academic or public libraries? Big and urban, or small and rural? Is this intended to be a how-to session with practical solutions and lots of takeaways, inspirational, or theoretical?
Write a title and description that accurately describe your session. Provide outcomes that pinpoint what you expect participants will be able to do after the program. Remember, professional education is “how-to” education; not just “learn” or “understand”, but more about “apply” and “implement”. What will change because of your presentation?
A presentation is not a lecture. Plan ways to be interactive and engaging. There are many ways you can engage the audience.
- Ask questions that can be answered with a raised hand, applause, or shout-outs.
- Ask people to share their examples. Let the audience be part of the program. Many of the participants will know as much or more about the topic as you do; their stories will provide reinforcement for points you are making.
- Suggest questions that participants can discuss with the person sitting nearest to them.
- Provide a simple questionnaire that participants can fill out and report on in the session.
- Welcome dissent so you can shape your content on otherwise unspoken concerns. Presenters are asked to frame discussions as openly and inclusively as possible and to be aware of how language or images may be perceived by others. See ALA’s Statement of Appropriate Conduct for additional information.
Practice and get feedback! Best practice suggests collaboration. Drafts and feedback can help refine content and the flow. Fresh eyes can catch typos and mistakes that might undermine the credibility of the presentation (including slides and handouts).
Include resources for learning more, such as books, authors, websites, and organizations. Every presentation should be considered the beginning for new learning.
Devote time to preparing and practicing. A presentation that is put together quickly at the last minute and not rehearsed will not feel polished or professional.
- Make and double-check the arrangements for your presentation, including the printed session description.
- Ask for the equipment and setup that you will require.
Own Your Space
- Arrive early so you can understand (or modify) the space.
- Be willing to use the entire space. Don’t be afraid to walk around.
- If the equipment you expected is not there, ask for it.
- Do not cram your content. You cannot give a 90-minute presentation in 40 minutes. Create a script outline that leaves time for introductions, transitions, exercises, questions, and the unexpected. A 40-minute presentation may actually allow for only 25 minutes of material.
- Don’t read your slides or script. Don’t be monotone or monotonous.
- Be prepared to be flexible.
- Show your personality.
- Engage the participants, including those in the back row.
- Have a conversation with them and make eye contact with them.
- Make sure that they can see and read your slides.
- Be sure to leave time for questions.
- Use your slides as your guide and as a way of focusing your audience. REPEAT - DO NOT READ FROM YOUR SLIDES!
- Limit the amount of text on every slide. Consider the 10/20/30 rule of PowerPoint, which states a PowerPoint presentation should have 10 slides, last no more than 20 minutes, and contain no font smaller than 30 points. Alternatively, use only five ideas/words per slide.
- Use images/graphics to explain ideas and engage the participant emotionally. Make sure any charts or visuals can be understood. Determine if you have the ethical and legal right to use the image, and abide by the author or owner’s restrictions. Avoid assuming that “fair use” will protect you. Creativecommons.org is one accepted source of information on practical copyright guidelines.
- Rather than having a lot of text on your slides, create a handout.
- Save your presentation and test it. Use basic, easy-to-read fonts.
- Know that you don’t have to have slides.
- Don’t let the audience’s activity distract you.
- Know that not everyone is going to like you. Let superficial negative comments roll off your back.
You and Your Reputation
- You are representing yourself and your organization (even when you say that you are not).
- Don’t take yourself too seriously.
- Don’t be afraid of failure.
- If yo/u mess up, know that every speaker does. (We proudly own our failures!)
Learn to Improve
- Have someone record you, and then listen to it or watch it. What do you need to do differently?
- Talk to others who have given presentations. What has worked for them?
- Go to other people’s presentations and learn from what they do.