Presenting to my peers

Late last term, I was given an opportunity to present a training session to an audience I don’t usually teach – other librarians. The British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL) were running a training event on business information for law librarians. Much of the focus was on supporting law firm librarians, but one strand was aimed at those in academic libraries. I had been invited to present this after an old colleague suggested my name – I’ve been a law librarian for fifteen years off and on, and was the Business Librarians Association (BLA) training officer until recently.

I found myself more nervous than I would have thought. Although I have often presented at conferences, this would be the first time I was actively presenting an external training session to other librarians. Impostor syndrome raised its head. “What if they already know more than me? What if I’m somehow suddenly wrong about everything I thought I knew?”

I was helped by discussing the event and audience with the organiser, Rob Turner. This set expectations for what I would be delivering, and at what level to pitch my content. I could also draw on my experience organising – though not presenting – a similarly-themed training event for the BLA earlier in they year.

The event itself, at the University of Law, was a success. My part in it? A partial success. The centre-piece of the afternoon was a practical workshop with a group exercise, based on the real-world company research experience of librarians at Pinsent Mason’s, a “magic circle” law firm. I learned a lot, and enjoyed the research process as our group produced post-it note bullet points on the current situation at Glaxo SmithKline.

Sandwiching this was a talk on changes at Companies House and my session. I’ve posted before about adjusting timings on the fly. As it happened, I needed to shorten my piece on this occasion, as the workshop overran. My planned hour had already been reduced to forty-five minutes some weeks before the event, and with hindsight I wasn’t confident enough to cut any content. I think if I’d been presenting to students, or even academic staff, I would have been able to drop some of the material. As it was, I had possibly over-prepared. I had wanted to make sure that they were getting their money’s worth, so I had prepared a quite dense session covering business students and academics, a range of online resources, and “tricks of the trade” to help non-business specialists supporting that subject. I had also prepared a short demonstration of an introductory training session as I might teach it to new undergraduates.

The teaching demonstration had to go. That was clear. I had taken the opportunity to speak with the other presenters. One positive thing was that one of the trainers from Pinsent Mason’s had seen from my slides (which we had shared beforehand), and was pleased that I would be giving an overview of some of the free resources that they use.

I had realised that the audience on the day was mostly composed of law firm librarians, and was wondering how relevant my session would be. The BIALL representative said that it would still be relevant, as many people are currently considering a change of direction from practice to academia. This meant I was able to angle my talk as an introduction to the field for outsiders, but did make me aware that I couldn’t assume common knowledge of academic library practice.

The session itself went quickly from my perspective. I kept to my timings, but by moving quicker than I was comfortable with. I did have an issue at first with voice protection. It was a big teaching room – bigger than I am used to – and I was using a monitor on a lectern at the front. With hindsight, I should have used the time when we were setting up to test how audible I was at the back of the room.

My session included some interactivity. I used Sli.do for simple polls near the start of the time to engage interest early. I came back to the poll results a few minutes later to keep the momentum going. I had still set myself a lot of ground to cover, though. I would have designed the session differently had I been starting with a forty minute slot.

Following on from the workshop wasn’t bad – I was able to make my session entertaining enough, and I think the audience enjoyed a less demanding end to the afternoon after the frantic rush to simulate researching to a deadline. The same techniques – questions, humorous asides, trying to use interesting and relevant examples – that work with students also worked with librarians.

there was a reception after the event, which provided an opportunity to invite feedback. I got the impression that my piece had been enjoyable, and there had certainly been a lot of note-taking visible as I spoke. As subject librarians, as support professionals, it is easy to overlook how much we learn about our subjects and the tools we teach.

With hindsight, I would have liked to have known in advance that the audience would not be the even mix of academic and professional librarians that BIALL had expected. Perhaps I could have anticipated this. If I were to be asked again, I would be more flexible in the content I was ready to offer. I would also be more confident in teaching to my peers.

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