Presenting at ALA: A Great Way to Share Your Ideas

By Annie Pho

ALA Annual is the largest conference in our profession, and the experience as an attendee can be overwhelming, exhausting, uplifting, and incredible. On the flip side, your perspective can significantly shift when you attend ALA Annual as a presenter. Forget anxiety about attending a large conference, trying to meet new people, or finding the right meeting room. Now there's another reason to be nervous: talking in front of your peers. Somehow doing presentations in front of colleagues can be more nerve-racking than teaching information literacy sessions. However, being nervous about presenting should never stop people from sharing a great project they've done.

This year, I was fortunate to co-present on two panels, and it really enriched my perspective of how I see the ALA Annual Conference. There are a million activities that occur during ALA, and panel presentations are a big part of them. As a new professional, I thought I'd try to put myself out there this year by submitting a conversation starter as well as presenting on a LITA panel presentation. My goal is to try to do something that scares me every year because it pushes me to do my best professionally.

If you are interested in presenting at a conference consider some of these tips:

  • Keep an eye out for calls for proposals as early as a year ahead of time. Some ALA Divisions need to submit for time slots for their panels months ahead of time. Often, these calls are put on listservs so make sure to look out for those.
  • Have a research project in mind that you can present on. One purpose of conference presentations is to learn and be inspired by the cool projects and research our colleagues are working on. Sharing information and good ideas is what makes this profession so wonderful.
  • Present a poster if you're not quite ready to take the big stage. Poster presentations let you talk about your project while it's still in the works. It's a great way to get your research out there and also learn from your peers.
  • Practice and prepare for the big day! If you know your material well, you can give the talk in the face of tech failures or other unforeseen events.
  • Stay calm and keep talking. No matter what feelings of anxiety you may feel on the inside, it's all about how you carry yourself once you are up at the podium. Play it cool and no one will know otherwise. Pause and take a breath if you need to regain your thoughts.

Another thing to point out is that there are also different formats that you can present in. The past couple of years ALA gave members the opportunity to submit Ignite or Conversation Starters. This is a more informal way of presenting an idea and facilitating conversations. It's a nice way to lead a presentation, but not necessarily have all the attention on you since you have the chance to include audience members. If you didn't have a presentation accepted or have a last minute idea for a session, you can always take it to the Networking Uncommons, another informal space where people can get together and network or listen to an impromptu presentation.

I can't advocate enough for new professionals to get their ideas out there in the library world. As a conference attendee, I always take back so many great ideas to my own institution. As a presenter, I hope to contribute useful information or connect like-minded individuals to each other at the session. So, if you have an idea or something you want to share with the profession, please present it at the next conference!

Annie Pho is an Academic Resident Librarian at University of Illinois at Chicago in the reference and instruction department. You can find her on Twitter as @catladylib