How to make the most of

We Librarians LOVE our professional development. I’ve certainly attended my share and presented at more than my share of local, state, national, and even international conferences (not to mention Tuesday’s library podcast debut on Circulating Ideas!). If I could, I’d probably spend a couple months a year jetting around to present and network at various conferences, seminars, workshops, and symposia (side note–this is a hint to any readers who may be in need of a speaker to go over to the contact page and take a look at my CV. 😉 ). But alas, our workloads and budgets rarely support the full scope of our conference dreams. So for the most part we make do with online conferences, webinars, e-courses, and the like. Online training events can also be handy speaking and teaching opportunities for librarians who want or need to add some credits to their resumes, but who would really rather not endure multiple days away from home to do so. However, attending or presenting at one of these online events isn’t quite as simple as sending in your registration fee and turning on your browser. In this post, I will share some handy tips I’ve learned over the years as someone who has attended and presented at such virtual events.

Tips for Attending

Attending an online conference or training event is convenient, but what you gain in convenience you can all too easily lose through distractions. Here’s how to stay focused on your professional development even in the middle of a busy day at the library.

  • Protect your time: Just because you’re attending a conference in your office doesn’t mean that you should be totally available to your team. Note the meeting time on your calendar, and either shut your door or use a meeting room to watch your online conference or webinar.
  • use social media to network: Any online conference worth its salt these days will have a hashtag, a Facebook group, or both. Use them! One of my favorite tactics is to use twitter to take notes at conferences, especially virtual ones. That way I can see what other people are saying, and it’s easy to share my thoughts about a session. Plus, you may find yourself having a sidebar conversation with another attendee about the topic of the session or conference. Guess what? That’s networking! and you didn’t even have to juggle a bad cocktail and a stack of business cards! A nice bonus is you can catch the action in other breakout sessions, and you can get the highlights without hopping from room to room in your web conferencing software.
  • make yourself accountable: It becomes more difficult to tab over to check your email if you know you’re going to have to recap your webinar or training in the next staff meeting. Make a promise to appropriate members of the team to share what you learned, and keep that promise. Not only will that keep you honest and focused on the event, it will mean that your training can have benefits for the rest of your team as well. And if that isn’t good library leadership, I don’t know what is.

Tips for Presenting

Online training courses and conferences have been huge time and money savers for presenters as well as attendees. However, online presenting is inherently more distancing an experience than being in a room with your audience. That means that you will need to take a few extra steps to make sure you are getting your message across and not putting your audience to sleep.

  • Get Participatory: Audience exercises aren’t just for information literacy sessions any more! For all that we sometimes try to hide it, we librarians are social critters like any other human, and we learn better when we get to interact with an instructor and with each other. Incorporate surveys and quizzes into your sessions, and maybe even small group discussions or breakouts if time and technology permit.
  • Amp up your energy: If cameras suck energy out of a performance (which they do), it’s only that much worse if you are a disembodied voice over a PowerPoint slide. You need to work more inflection and dynamism into your voice when you are speaking, and a little extra humor never hurts either. As folks who have subscribed to my mini-course on difficult conversations have learned, I tend to work lame humor into my presentations. They may garner some eye rolling, but those quips are another small trick that keep people engaged.
  • Make sure you provide immediate value: All that said, though, you can have the best presentation skills on earth, but they’re worthless if you don’t actually SAY anything memorable. One of my pet peeves is signing up for an online workshop that sounds good in the description, sending in a PO, blocking a couple of hours on my calendar, maybe even commandeering one of our precious few conference rooms only to find myself sitting through a amorphous blog of impractical, uninspiring bromides that tell me nothing. I go to a professional development event (physically or virtually) in order to learn something that is relevant to my library, get inspired about making some sort of needed change, or ideally both. Librarians are doing more with less every day, and our time is every bit as precious as our funds. Make sure that your presentation doesn’t waste either one, or we will remember your name the next time we see you on a conference session list. And not in that good way.

This is really just a brief primer, so I’m curious–what are YOUR feelings about what makes a good or bad online training session? What have your experiences been like on either side of the screen? If you’d like to share, hop over to the BLL Facebook community and start a conversation. You’ll find like-minded leaders there who are ready to make friends with anyone else who has the goal of making online professional development just a little bit less dull.

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