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Publish, don't perish – Instalment 13

Presenting and publishing

Our publishing efforts mesh better with our careers as librarians when we see how writing both interacts with and directly benefits our other professional activities. One of the easiest moves for librarian authors is into presenting, whether this be at workshops, poster sessions, panel discussions or conference sessions. Publishing and presenting easily complement one another, allowing audiences to benefit from different types of learning, and allowing authors to market their existing work and glean ideas for their next piece.

Presenting and publishing can interact in a self-perpetuating cycle of goodness, allowing you to refine your ideas, build an audience for your work, think about your topics in different ways, and give back to the profession.

Getting started

Library-related conferences are always in search of speakers, workshop leaders, and panel participants on a variety of topics. Locate calls for presenters at blogs such as Beyond the Job, by following topical lists and publications, and by visiting the websites of conferences you are interested in attending.

Keep in mind that, unless you are Colin Powell, you are unlikely to get rich quick by speaking at association meetings. Most US state associations, for example, have a stated policy of not compensating members for their participation – this is one of the ways you are simply expected to give back to your local library community. Few people receive compensation for participating in the simultaneous sessions at ALA Annual or similar events, although some meetings may waive conference registration fees for speakers. So, when actively seeking out opportunities and replying to calls for presenters, you may wish to limit your responses to events you already plan to attend – or those for which your employer may reimburse you.

If you become even moderately well-known for your writing, though, whether from publishing a book or from writing a often-cited or influential article, you may be invited to present on a similar topic at conferences. If you are actively solicited as a speaker, you may receive expenses and a small honorarium for your efforts.

Published work into presentations

Not to state the obvious, but speaking makes a lot of people nervous. If you are one of these people, realize that a big part of this nervousness stems from the fear of being caught out, of pretending expertise but showing little. Speaking on a topic you have already successfully published on obviates this concern – you know your stuff, and you have the track record to prove it! If you are really concerned, start off as part of a panel discussion or by presenting a poster session, less formal options where the attention is shared.

Creating a presentation from your published work, does present its own set of challenges. When you present, you have a very circumscribed space to get your points across, and need to pare your argument down to its bare essentials. As part of a panel, you may only have 10-15 minutes to speak; otherwise you are often limited to 45-60 minutes (including time for questions). You will need to practise the fine art of focusing on one major point and its supporting arguments, never ranging too far afield or allowing your presentation to become too scattered.

Helpfully, though, presenting on your published work also allows you to incorporate material or ideas that have surfaced post-publication, letting your thinking on the topic remain fresh and giving you ways to expand on these ideas in future work.

Presentations into published work

You can transform your presentations into published work in a number of ways. Most simply, some conferences automatically publish presented papers as part of their conference proceedings – giving you the benefit of both worlds. This will be clearly explained in your discussions with conference organizers or in the original call for papers. Some conferences also ask permission to publish PowerPoint slides or the text of your speech online post-presentation – think carefully about this, because this form of "publication" can affect your chances of reworking or reusing this work elsewhere.

At other sessions, audience questions and comments can be wonderful tools in helping you refine your ideas. Attendees who might never take the time to write or e-mail an author may be quite eager to share their opinions in person, and the give and take during question and answer periods or after your session can be invaluable. As always, we work best in community with others. Presenting gives you the opportunity to reconnect with your community and reaffirm that none of us writes in a vacuum.

When you present on a topic you are thinking of later writing on, the very act of creating and giving a presentation lets you think about your subject in different ways. This can also be of tremendous help with conciseness and focus.

Last, you never know quite who will be in the audience during one of your presentations. Keep in mind that most professional journal editors, for example, also have full-time "day jobs" and attend library conferences wearing both their professional hats. Vendors, including publishers, also send representatives to relevant meetings – if they see you speak, or if they hear buzz about your presentation from attendees, they may ask you to rework your topic into an article or monograph. The information profession is a small one, and conferences are where these types of connections are often made.

Energy, ideas and enthusiasm

When you attend conferences as a presenter, you have the opportunity to expand out of your normal circle – attending meetings you would not normally go to, meeting people you normally would not have the chance to connect with.

Even if you are at a conference mainly to present, take the time to attend other sessions and interact with other attendees. Beyond renewing your professional energy and giving you ideas to take back to your workplace, conferences can renew your energy for writing as well. Other speakers will inevitably spark ideas or give you different ways of looking at topics related to your own areas of interest.

It is always good to remind ourselves that we are not alone, that we all face similar issues – and that we are writing for real, live people!