Propose, Prepare, Present! Tips for Finding Conference Presentation Opportunities

By Kelly Robinson

Whether you are a library student looking to add some zing to your resume, or a new professional seeking to make your name in the library world, presenting at library conferences can be a fun and worthwhile experience. Yet for many, the process of finding a conference to present at, creating a proposal, and then actually presenting is an intimidating list of tasks. Adding to the stress, many new academic librarians may find that "scholarship" is part of their job description, and giving scholarly presentations are a mandatory requirement, rather than a mere feather in the cap.

Even if you aspire to someday present at ALA Annual, your first conference presentation does fortunately not have to be at a mega conference. For those looking to get their feet wet in the world of conference presentations, there are many options available. Here is a brief rundown on ways to find presentation opportunities:

1) Go local. Check out your state and regional library associations for presentation opportunities. Many state library associations have annual conferences, with some of the larger associations even offering regional and chapter conferences. Not only is there typically less competition to present in state and local arenas, but state associations are also likely to offer spots to a wide variety of librarians with differing experience levels. State associations often seek to cultivate the next generation of rising stars, and want to see you succeed! As a bonus, state and regional conferences are small, and you may already have supporters and friends in the audience, reducing the stress for those new to public speaking.

2) Start with a poster or panel presentation. Nervous about public speaking or just not sure you have enough research under your belt to talk for 45 minutes? Turn your ideas into a proposal for a poster or panel presentation. Want to present in a panel but don't have co-presenters lined up? Look for conferences where organizers will create panels from proposal submissions, grouping similar topics together. Or, look for calls for proposals to join a preconceived panel. Posters are also an easy way to turn new ideas into presentations, and give practice speaking in front of small groups of people. There are many online resources with tips for poster presentations. When in doubt, don't be afraid to contact a conference organizer to find out the poster board size and guidelines.

3) Enlist the help of coworkers. Coworkers are invaluable resources for suggestions for conferences to present at, tips for presentations, and collaboration on research. If you are new to an area and know little about the local and regional conference or meeting offerings, coworkers can usually fill you in quicker than a Google search. They may have details on meetings with unadvertised presentation opportunities, or can just advise as to which conferences have the most relevant content for your role. Stuck in a rut? Required to present? Chances are you have a coworker or two in the same situation. Ask around, and you will likely find someone willing to brainstorm presentation ideas with you.

4) Solo librarian? Make social media your coworker! If you are a solo librarian or at a small campus and do not have an army of coworkers to turn to for ideas, social media is your new ally. Presentation opportunities are announced almost daily from various ALA listservs, to Facebook and LinkedIn. From your state library association to sections of ACRL, almost everyone has a Facebook page and/or Twitter account, and uses it. Not only may you find new presentation opportunities, but a community of potential co-presenters too.

Once you have located presentation opportunities, take a deep breathe, record deadlines in your calendar, and ready your proposal. Proposals can vary greatly, but are often just a measure of following directions and thoughtfully articulating your research or presentation idea. Once accepted, congratulations! Now practice: practice in front of the dog, the bathroom mirror, your parents, friends, or willing coworkers - whatever works for you. Chances are, the more you prepare the more confident you will feel when you present. Then enjoy - whether you just presented at ALA or at a regional library meeting, you should feel proud of your accomplishments!

Kelly Robinson is a Public Services Librarian with the University of Central Florida Libraries. You can reach her at