Why presentations by librarians often stink…

While preparing for a workshop with other librarians in my area, we’ve been discussing how much material to cover in our allotted time period (3 hours). I’ve been arguing that “less is more,” to quote Mies van der Rohe, when it comes to how much material to present and suggesting that we seriously curtail the number of topics to cover.

Audience members are not empty vessels waiting to be filled up during a presentation–they want to learn something, and attempting to cram anything and everything into a short time period is not going to be successful for either the audience or for the presenters.

One of the librarians indicated that they only needed thirty minutes for a particular topic since they could “…talk really fast.” Sigh. How much do you think the audience is going to learn if the presenter is speaking rapid-fire and not giving the audience time to process the information presented? (The answer is: pretty much next to nothing.).

Our workshops and conferences are not going to improve if we don’t start putting the needs of our audience first, instead of our needs or the “needs” of the material.

Presenters and instructors need to vigorously edit their presented content, and I mean vigorously. Edit, edit and then edit some more. Present only the most important information during the presentation, then provide additional detail in handouts for the audience to take away and read at their leisure. Believe me, you will be doing your audience and yourself a favor.

You can read Chapter 1 of my book for more information about how people learn (and I mean really learn), or you can read Cliff Atkinson’s excellent book on PowerPoint presentations, now in its second edition. (Honestly, if you read nothing else, read Atkinson’s book – it will change your presentation style forever.)

Bottom line: a presentation or a workshop is not an opportunity for you to “talk really fast” and slam the audience with reams of content. It is an opportunity for you to help your audience learn the basics of your presented content, and to inspire them to seek out more information on it, either through handouts, a post-presentation website, or a blog.

Now, go forth and present!



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