Monday, 6 August 2012

Thing 15: Attending, presenting at and organising seminars, conferences and other events

This Thing is all about events—conferences, seminars, training days, unconferences, teachmeets, or anything else vaguely organised that brings people together with a more-or-less strongly defined goal of teaching, training, or sharing ideas. We’ll look at why and how best to attend, speak at, and organise events, and hopefully by the end of the Thing you’ll be motivated to get more involved in this important part of professional life.

We’ll start with the easiest of the three facets: attending events.

Hopefully it’s fairly obvious why you might want to attend events. They’re a way to learn about something that you need, or would like, to know about, and/or an opportunity to meet people it would be good to know.

Perhaps, in these straightened times, it’s worth noting that a good event will be more than the sum of its parts: you’ll come away feeling more inspired, motivated, or capable than the event the advertising blurb promised. I’ve rarely regretted going to anything, however irrelevant to my work it might have seemed at the time. I’ve definitely regretted not going to things though - it’s best to take the plunge whenever you can.

And there’s a huge range of librarianly activity going on out there - from 20-people TeachMeets to the thousands-strong ALA annual conferece. There’s sure to be something that suits you.

1. Money
I’m not going to hide the fact that many events cost money, and that some of them cost a lot of money. Most employers have restrictions on what, if anything, they will pay towards conference attendance, so it can seem impossibly daunting to try and get to some events.

There are channels that can help out, though. Your local professional body (I’m coming from the perspective of a CILIP member, but I hope it’s more-or-less the same elsewhere) may be able to help. The CILIP special interest groups and regional branches have some funds of money to help with training, development and conference attendance. Large conferences themselves will often offer bursaries to help people attend. Some of these can seem very specific in focus, or as though they’re designed for the sort of high flyer that you might not imagine yourself to be, but the awarding bodies will want *someone* to get them - so do apply. You might be surprised. (And having taken part in cpd23 will be excellent testimony to your ongoing commitment to your development.)

2. Making the most
Obviously, when you get to an event you want to make the most of the time and money that you’re devoting to it. My best advice is to (try to) relax and enjoy yourself. Don’t view it like a day at school where you have to write down as much as possible in your colour-coordinated folders. Try to take in the big picture of the sessions you attend, and, above all, talk to people. It’s not easy, but remember that they’re probably there to try and meet people to, so by striking up a conversation you’re helping them out, too! And do ask questions of the speakers: when I speak to an audience I like to hear their questions. If nothing else, it shows that they have at least been listening, and that my paper interested them enough to respond.

Jo Alcock wrote a great post about preparing for a major conference, which is definitely worth a read:


The next step up from just attending an event is to get more formally involved and to speak at it. Speaking to an audience has several benefits for your professional development and your career. By taking the time and trouble to prepare a paper you’re showing that you’re committed enough to want to share your ideas and successes with the rest of the profession. There’s a lot to be said for overtly demonstrating a generous attitude. More selfishly, you’ll be raising your profile. People will be more likely to remember you in the future, whether that’s at a job interview, when looking for committee members, or when looking for someone to write an article or case study.

1. What to speak about
You may well be wondering what on earth you could speak about. I’m strongly of the opinion that if you’re working in a professional way - evaluating your services and modifying them in the hopes of improving them, you’ve probably got something to speak to others about. Nevermind the fact that you may have done research (for an MA or other reasons), or that you may work in a library or with a collection that are interesting in their own rights.

2. Applying
There are conferences and events on every conceivable subject. Some of them invite speakers based on proposed topics, and who the organisers know in the field. Others invite applications from anyone who’s interested. Some informal events will accept talks from all comers - a great way to ease yourself in gently! Keep your eyes peeled on mailing lists, Twitter and in publications, to see what’s what. I can’t do better in giving advice on writing proposals than this post from Ned Potter:
3. Presentation tips
There are whole courses out there on public speaking and how to present to an audience, and this post would go on forever if I were to list lots of good advice here. Remember that your audience is there because they want to hear something interesting, not because they want to rubbish the speaker, and you’re more than half-way to success. Then read these two perspectives on how to present, and you’ll see that there’s no ‘right’ way to do it, and you can go with whatever suits you:
This post from Ned Potter is humorously dogmatic, but it does highlight some of the errors commonly made, so you should flick through it and make some mental notes:
And from my own dogmatic perspective, I’d advise that everyone using a powerpoint presentation learn how to embed fonts in the file. This means that even if the computer used for the presentation doesn’t have the fonts you used to make the slides, the right fonts will still be shown, thus reducing the risk of your slides looking funny and poorly designed when you stand up to speak. Here’s a how-to:


Last, and definitely not least, is organising an event. This is the ultimate events-based way give yourself sleepless nights, hectic days, and to contribute to the profession.

Events come in various flavours. There are some that happen regularly, probably organised by a committee of people from an established organisation. Under this heading I’d put IFLA ALA, SLA and CILIP major conferences, as well as smaller organisations’ annual events. If you volunteer for the appropriate committees then you’ll have opportunities to help with those. Larger conferences also recruit volunteers to help as stewards and back-room people.

But there’s room to organise your own thing, as well. Informal events like TeachMeets and LibraryCamp are created by groups of people who just happen to meet and decide that it’s a good idea. There’s no recipe, I’m afraid for how to bring together such people - I’d advise just talking to all and sundry about this great idea you’ve had for an event, and hopefully some of them will volunteer to help out!

What to do for this thing
Don’t worry - we’re not now asking you to organise a conference. Instead, think about your experiences attending/speaking and/or organising professional events.
  • What worked and what didn’t work?
  • What advice would you give to others, based on your experiences?
  • And think about what you’d like to do in the future:
    • Are there conferences you’d like to attend?
    • Are there topics you think you could talk about?
    • Is there a training/networking/sharing need in your area/sector that you could help to meet by organising something?
    • If you have a burning idea for a great event, now would probably be a good time to talk about it!
Right. That’s the end of my talk. Any questions?

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