Like Attendees, Presenters Learn from Conferences

Along with networking, professional education is one of the leading reasons to attend a conference. But attendees aren’t the only ones who learn from conference sessions—presenters learn valuable lessons as well.

“Working with my co-panelists helped me pull together my initial thoughts into a coherent session, and I was able to hear a lot about different perspectives and experiences in the process,” says Claire Sewell, who participated in two panel discussions and a poster session at SLA’s 2020 Annual Conference. “Every stage of the process of presenting—from planning to recording to responding to questions afterward—was collaborative and offered lots of opportunities for engagement.”

Marydee Ojala, who has presented at numerous SLA and industry meetings during her career, also learned lessons from her SLA2020 presentation experience.

“Always, when I put together a presentation, I ask questions of myself,” says Marydee. “Is this really what I want to say? Is what I put on the slide really true? So I’m learning and teaching myself as I go along. For me, that’s one of the most valuable pieces of presenting. It’s educational, not just for the audience, but also for me!”

With more than 100 education sessions on offer, from 5-minute “Lightning Talks” to 90-minute certificate courses, SLA annual conferences offer a multitude of learning opportunities for presenters and attendees alike. SLA2021, scheduled for August 4-13, promises to build on SLA2020—SLA’s first all-virtual conference—and deliver an interactive learning experience that lives up to its theme, Destination Everywhere.

The virtual nature of SLA2020 posed challenges even for experienced presenters who have grown accustomed to in-person meetings. “Trying to replicate [the in-person experience] in a virtual environment is something I’m still working on,” Marydee admits. “Mastering the art of reading chat comments while presenting is, for me, another work in progress. Going forward, I’m thinking of ways to involve the audience and keep them engaged.”

“I know it can be daunting to consider presenting online,” Claire says. “But the experience of SLA2020 has shown me how great this can be for learning from others and expanding your network—all from the comfort of your sofa!”

For Tom Nielsen, the biggest lesson learned from presenting at SLA2020 was related to content, not the nature of the conference platform.

“Emma Antobam-Ntekudzi and I presented a discussion-focused session at SLA 2020 that we called ‘Witnessing Whiteness in LIS,'” he says. “Our plan was to introduce the session with some ground rules, then assign attendees randomly to breakout rooms and have them discuss three questions. We then brought them back for a report and more discussion. Thankfully, each breakout group used a shared document we created to keep discussion notes. But when I saw these notes afterward, I realized we had offered more ‘food for thought’ than attendees could digest in the allotted time.”

The solution, Tom decided, is to devise a simple and realistic discussion agenda focused on providing time and space for thoughtful discussion of a few important issues. “All it takes is one good question to generate a lot of discussion,” he says.

Want to learn more about information and librarianship? Consider presenting a session at SLA’s 2021 Annual Conference. Proposals are being accepted through Monday, February 15. Prefer to write a paper? Submit an abstract to present a contributed paper.

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