By Robert Bodendorf, Katie Shepard, Brett Spencer, & Elizabeth St. Clair
Ever had shaky knees, sweaty palms, or panicky butterflies during a presentation? If we are honest, most of us will admit to suffering from stage fright at times. New librarians teaching their first library instruction sessions are especially prone to this common ailment. Many commonly suggested cures--such as downplaying the importance of the presentation or picturing the audience members wearing clown suits--are not particularly helpful to most librarians. While numerous Library & Information Science (LIS) articles have offered advice on teaching technique, only a few have dealt with the emotional storminess that comes with standing up before a group. Many librarians tend to be shy, and glossophobia (the fear of public speaking) is their most daunting career challenge. However, this problem is often talked about in hushed tones or not at all. As new library teachers suffering from stage fright ourselves, we offer some tips, using the acronym S.T.A.G.E. F.R.I.G.H.T., about weathering the wave of anxiety unleashed by performing one of our most important professional tasks.
Smile! Even if you are terrified, smile. We read a study once that said that if you smile, it can make you happier, even if you fake it. We tried it several times and, surprisingly, it worked. It may feel odd or look silly, so perhaps practice it before your session, but just put a huge smile on your face.
Talk to your audience. Arrive at the classroom early and chat with your audience whether about weather, sports, or the class material. Warming up the audience before the session will melt away their anxiety and yours. This way, there is no big "now up to the podium" moment, but only a natural segue into class time.
Avoid caffeine. Not drinking coffee before teaching has greatly reduced our jitters. With caffeine, our hearts would never cease to pound. Without caffeine, our panicky heart flutters would lessen after the first minute or two of teaching.
Give yourself little breaks during the session. One thing that took us a long time to learn is that it is okay to pause and take a breath. Standing in front of a large group of people can get disorienting. Losing your train of thought will happen, but do not let it derail or discourage you. Instead, pause, take a deep breath, and reference your lesson plan. Sipping water is a good idea too as it helps us slow down - "dry mouth" is inevitable for some of us.
Exercise and meditate before teaching. Walking to the library will help relieve some of your tenseness. Arriving early and meditating for 10-15 minutes also defends against the worries.
Focus on mastering the material rather than memorizing a script. Really understanding the information literacy methods and searching tools, instead of just practicing a lecture, really lowered our anticipatory anxiety. We found that trying to follow a strict script helped at first, but later grew into another source of angst.
Regulate your inner monologue. Starting off with a negative mindset can undermine your performance. Picture your session going smoothly and perfectly instead. Repeat an encouraging mantra to yourself. Overtake your negative thoughts patterns with affirmations of success. One powerful and positive self-fulfilling prophecy that helped us is, "You are going to do great. The students will be interested. You have spent time planning good information literacy activities. Be confident."
Insert activities into your session. Active learning boosts student retention, while also making the class more digestible for the instructor. Segment your sessions into short bursts of lecture separated by activities. Developing a stop-and-go approach to teaching helped us more easily manage our time and catch our breath.
Give personal examples. Most of us have stories about the library from our experience as an undergrad, LIS student, or library employee. Share your war stories and personal tricks. Talking about your experiences can ease your nerves by making the sessions feel more intimate and less presentation-like.
Have a lot of passion. Tap into your inner enthusiasm. Talk about what inspires you about librarianship, and your excitement will eclipse your anxiety. If you shine with enthusiasm, your audience will often reflect it right back at you.
Think about the session in a step-by-step way. When you think about the session as a whole, it can overwhelm you. Focusing your energy on one module at a time, will help you feel much more relaxed and confident.
Bonus Tip: Be Yourself!
Find a strategy that work best for you. In preparing for your first teaching session, many people will have advice for you. Everyone is different, and how you cope with teaching the first time depends entirely on how well you cope. Over time you will discover your own personal teaching style. To say "Be Yourself!" is cheesy and overused, but we think it is one of the best pointers. If you are uncomfortable lecturing, do more activities. If you have difficulty managing small groups, encourage more class discussion. These preferences will come to you with experience. Ultimately, as long as you meet the class objectives, there is no wrong way to teach. Do what fits your personality and you can't go wrong.
While there is no magic antidote, we hope these ideas will help us all find ways to survive speech anxiety. Talking about stage fright with other new librarians helps everyone by revealing how normal it is. Let's bring up this issue in more venues. By sharing our coping strategies, we can help each other teach our patrons more effectively, while reducing our own work-related stress.
Culbertson, Fredd. "Glossary of Phobias." The Vocabula Review 12.6 (2010): 1-27. Literary Reference Center. Web. 8 Aug. 2014. http://www.vocabula.com/2010/VRJune10SS.asp.
Goleman, Daniel. "A Feel-Good Theory: A Smile Affects Mood." The New York Times. 18 July 1989. Web. 8 Aug. 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/1989/07/18/science/a-feel-good-theory-a-smile-affects-mood.html.
Robert Bodendorf is a former instruction assistant and a December 2013 graduate of The University of Alabama's School of Library and Information Studies. He currently resides in Birmingham, Alabama and works in the professional development department of a law firm.
Katie Shepard is a former instruction intern and a December 2013 graduate of The University of Alabama's School of Library and Information Studies. Find her online.
Brett Spencer is an Information Services Librarian at the Gorgas Library at The University of Alabama. He enjoys collaborating with LIS students on projects.
Elizabeth St. Clair is a former instruction intern and a May 2014 graduate of The University of Alabama's School of Library and Information Studies. She currently resides in Seattle, Washington and is looking for her dream library job.