Presenter Best Practices
Thank you for investing your time and expertise in the American Library Association by being a presenter at a conference or other event. Your contribution will have a positive impact on libraries around the world.
The guidelines, tools, and tip sheets below, based on input from your ALA colleagues and professional adult educators, can help you make the most of your presentation. Thanks to the Learning Round Table (LearnRT) members for preparing and updating these guidelines.
Planning Your Presentation
Ensure that you know the audience for your program and the expectations of the group that invited and/or is hosting you:
- Is the program targeted toward librarians or paraprofessionals? Directors or technicians? Academic or public libraries? Big and urban, or small and rural?
- Is this intended to be a session with practical solutions and lots of takeaways, or more inspirational or theoretical?
- Consider asking colleagues who might be part of your audience what they would like to learn at your session.
Once you have considered how you will tailor your presentation to meet your audience’s needs, take some time to develop your content:
- Use your accepted conference proposal or abstract as a guide to presentation development. Does your presentation adequately address the information you proposed to deliver?
- Provide outcomes that pinpoint what participants will be able to do after the program.
- Remember, professional education is “how-to” education: not only “learning” and “understanding,” but “applying” and “implementing.” What will change because of your presentation?
Next, develop some active learning strategies to engage the audience:
- Ask questions that audience members can answer with a raised hand, applause, or shout-outs.
- Ask people to share their examples. Let the audience be part of the program. Many of the participants will know as much or more about the topic as you do; their stories will provide reinforcement for your ideas.
- Suggest partnered or group activities, such as questions that participants can discuss with the people sitting nearest to them. Limit activities that involve extensive movement.
- Provide reflection questions or activities that participants can do during or after the session to keep the concepts you share fresh in their minds.
Do not cram your content: create a script or outline that leaves time for introductions, transitions, exercises, questions, and the unexpected.
The content you include in your presentation should begin with the essentials. Start preparing with your designated time frame in mind—you can always add more information after you practice.
If you create a handout to upload to the conference website, prepare to make it available in more than one digital format (e.g. Word and PDF). Use your software’s built-in accessibility checkers to ensure that all those interested in your content can view it online (options include Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat).
Have a few hard copies of your slides, including at least one with larger text, available for attendees who may wish to follow along in print.
Use slides as your guide and as a way of focusing your audience. While you should avoid reading directly from the text of your slides, do be sure to describe visual data and image content aloud!
Determine if you have the ethical and legal right to use images, and abide by the owner’s restrictions: creativecommons.org is one accepted source of information on practical copyright guidelines.
Opt for descriptive summary phrases, such as “this photo of our librarian helping patrons in the computer class,” or “our pie chart, which shows that 85% of patrons claim to use our website.”
Avoid vague language like “the graph on screen” or “the first picture.”
Do your best to ensure that everyone in the presentation space able to view the screen or board can see your content:
Choose sans-serif fonts (e.g. Arial, Calibri, Verdana, Helvetica) sized 36 or larger.
Check for strong color contrast throughout your presentation: this includes all text, backgrounds, images/visuals, and data graphics. Avoid superimposing text over graphics or patterns.
Avoid distracting animations, excessive transition actions, GIFs, or moving features.
Limit the amount of text on slides, which will also help with appropriate sizing. Rather than having a lot of text on your slides, consider creating a supplemental handout.
Consider the 10/20/30+ rule of PowerPoint, which states that PowerPoint presentations should have 10 slides, last no more than 20 minutes, and contain fonts no smaller than 32 to 36 points. Alternatively, try five or fewer ideas per slide or section.
Any video content shown during your presentation should be closed-captioned.
Make and double-check all necessary arrangements for your presentation, including the printed session description.
If not already confirmed in your presentation proposal, request any equipment and setup that you need ahead of time from ALA Conference Services. Ask Conference Services if there have been any requests for interpreters or CART (live captioning).
Arrive early so you can understand (or modify) the space. If possible, set up and test opening your presentation materials with time for troubleshooting.
Make sure there is room for people with wheelchairs in the audience or around the table.
Be aware of the diverse learning needs of your event participants: not everyone will be able to see, hear, or process your presentation in the same ways. Be prepared to repeat, clarify, describe visual content, and address questions honestly.
Be willing to use the entire space. Don’t be afraid to walk around, but ensure that you will be audible to all those in the room.
Speak loudly and clearly into the microphone, if you have one: your session may be recorded, and some audience members may be relying on live captioning or sign-language interpretation.
Repeat audience questions aloud for clarity.
Be prepared for flexibility: show your personality, do your best to engage all participants, and be sure to leave time for questions or discussion.
Know that some people may arrive late or need to leave early—conferences are a busy time, so don’t take it personally!
You, and Your Reputation
You are representing yourself and your organization (even when you say that you are not).
Welcome dissent so you can shape your content to address otherwise unspoken concerns. Frame discussions as openly and inclusively as possible and to be aware of how language or images may be perceived by others. See ALA’s Statement of Appropriate Conduct for additional information.
Know that not everyone is going to like you; consider any negative commentary as potential for feedback or further discussion. Don’t let the audience’s activity distract you.
Inform program organizers or Conference Services ahead of time if you have an accessibility need as a presenter.
Don’t take yourself too seriously, and don’t be afraid of failure: if you mess up, know that every speaker does. (We proudly own our failures!)
Be open to feedback and learning from others in order to improve! Consider implementing (or asking for) evaluation for participants and review results.
Presentation Tip Sheets:
For more best practices and further resources for different types of presentations, check out the following tip sheets prepared by the 2017 LearnRT Emerging Leaders, Team F.
- Lightning Talks [Word] [PDF]
- Paper and Panel Presentations [Word][PDF]
- Poster Presentations [Word][PDF]
- Presentation Handouts [Word][PDF]
- Round Tables [Word][PDF]
- Webinars and Virtual Presentations [Word][PDF]