What skills do you develop from presenting at a conference?

25 01 2013

In October 2012 I travelled to Delhi, India to present at two international conferences.  It’s been three months since I returned, so I thought it was about time I look back on that experience and what I’ve learned, personally and professionally. 

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Be determined, assertive and prepared to blow your own trumpet. 
I am naturally quite shy and don’t relish being the centre of attention.  But having to submit an abstract, secure funding, apply for a visa, travel overseas to meet new people and present in front of hundreds of international delegates required me to be more assertive and outgoing than I usually am.  It made me realise how passionate and determined I am deep down.  Integral to this was the belief that my ideas and work are worthwhile and something that other people would want to hear about.  For someone who sometimes struggles with self-belief, it has been a big milestone for me.

Venturing outside libraryland can be an effective marketing tool.
I’ve presented at library conferences before, and been quite active within our regional library network.  But this conference was the first time I’ve presented at international conferences to delegates outside libraries or medical education.  It was a totally different experience and allowed me to have conversations that I’d never normally have; I spoke to doctors from India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka about what it means to be a Clinical Librarian in the UK.  It was encouraging to encounter a large amount of interest in the concept of having a librarian on a ward round amongst the people that I spoke to.  Since my return I’ve spoken at regional meetings about my experience in India, and had extremely positive and encouraging feedback from my employing organisation about the trip.  As a result senior managers and clinicians now know more about how the library can support patient care, which is a really positive outcome.  The trip did involve a certain amount of PR (photos and news items in newsletters etc.), which made me feel a little uncomfortable at times, but in terms of marketing the library service it did the job.

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Preparation is more crucial than ever when presenting at an overseas conference. 
I am someone who likes to be organised, so I rehearsed my presentation repeatedly before arriving in Delhi and spent many hours tweaking the presentation with my co-presenter.  I also produced and filmed a short video of my work on the ward round in Critical Care which I incorporated into the presentation.  Since I was also presenting a poster at a second conference in Delhi, I also had to design, print and organise funding for that too.  I hadn’t really appreciated how time-consuming the preparation was going to be, and it’s certainly something I’ll be more realistic about if I ever get the opportunity again.  However, it paid off and both the oral presentation and the poster went smoothly.  It is true that accomplishing something like that gives you a buzz and motivation that continues long after you return to work. 

Distance gives you the perfect opportunity to reflect.
I found that being away from work, but engaging in professional activities, and travelling with colleagues, afforded me some valuable time to consider my career from a distance.  Usually when I’m travelling abroad I’m on holiday and trying to forget about work!  This was quite a different experience; I brainstormed project ideas with my colleagues on the plane journey, discussed health information issues with senior doctors and I used hotel room time to write a reflective log.  It felt at times like an intensive professional development bootcamp!

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International collaboration can translate into local learning.

 
Even thousands of miles away from home, I picked up new ideas and learning that I am now using back at work to develop my own practice.  I’ve changes my approach to several projects at work and begun to develop services in different ways as a result of knowledge and learning that I picked up while I was in India, and I feel I have a deeper understanding of evidence based practice in a global context.

I sincerely believe that presenting at a conference is a fantastic way to develop a wide range of professional skills and knowledge.  To illustrate this, I’ve summarised the range of activities and skills that I feel I have developed as a result.

Activity Skills developed
Abstract submission Abstract writing, poster design, use of film and media 
Preparation and organisation Negotiation, influencing, selling, writing sponsorship applications, budget management, Powerpoint, teamwork, time management 
Conference attendance Advocacy, communication, public speaking, promotion, networking 
Return to work  PR, marketing, presentation, report writing, reflective writing, evidence based librarianship 

Have I missed anything?  I’d be interested to hear from anyone who can suggest any more skills to this table.

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A tale of two Prezis

22 01 2013

I’ve been using Prezi for a while now for teaching and presentations.  I thought it would be useful to reflect on two particular occasions when I’ve had varying degrees of success with Prezi.

A while ago I was asked to speak to a group of doctors on how to search for healthcare research evidence.  I delivered a Prezi titled, ‘Searching for evidence the easy way’, and covered a range of resources, from UpToDate to NHS Evidence to Google.  This was the first time I had used Prezi for any sort of training session, and I found it quite unnerving to deliver training without using handouts.  Usually I’d give participants a copy of my Powerpoint slides to accompany the session, but with Prezi there’s no way to give a copy of the presentation (that I know of!).  I suppose this did prevent people from reading ahead, but on the other hand some people were furiously scribbling notes because they had no accompanying handout to take away.  I’d be interested to know how other people have approached this problem.  In future I think I’ll prepare an accompanying handout that lists the key resources that I want to signpost.

Despite that, I felt that the Prezi was successful.  It was a nice sized group and they could all see the projection screen easily.  In preparing my Prezi I had put quite a lot of thought into the structure before I started creating the Prezi, which I think helped to ensure that it flowed naturally.  However, I did use one of the Prezi templates which on reflection wasn’t very inspiring.

For my second Prezi, I presented at an external meeting to a much larger group of librarians.  I presented a report of my recent conference trip to India.  Since this was an external event, I had a few anxieties about the IT set-up, which I don’t usually have with Powerpoint.  I had several back-up options including my own laptop which I wouldn’t normally take with me.  I had no need to worry, since it worked perfectly well using the IT provided.  The main difficulty was that I was expected to stand at a lectern to speak, which gave me no visible view of the laptop screen, which was on a table faraway to my right.  Hence an attempt to present without being able to see what was happening on screen (unless I turned my back to the audience).  This really threw me, and I struggled with the flow of my talk, feeling myself stutter and hesitate. 

However, I had designed my own layout this time, so I felt that my abilities in designing a Prezi had progressed.  The presentation featured a lot of photos which lent themselves well to a Prezi format (hopefully it wasn’t like a slideshow of holiday snaps!).

I will continue to use Prezi, since I think it has several advantages over Powerpoint.  Each time I’ve used it, my audience has been more interested, enthused and curious about the presentation format.  It certainly helps your presentation to stand out.  It also gives me greater flexibility in designing the structure of a presentation; I don’t have to follow a linear structure as I would in powerpoint. 

Although it takes me a lot longer to prepare a presentation, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since the thought and effort that have gone into it do show in the end result.  The main downsides for me are not having accompanying handouts and the worry over IT capabilities when presenting at an external venue.  Those issues aside, I am a self-proclaimed Prezi convert!