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Earlier this week, I presented at the very enjoyable SLA Europe event New Professionals and Marketing Your Library Service: Marketing Yourself, Marketing Your Service. It was lovely to present at an SLA Europe event, especially one up North! And a great chance to see old friends, and meet some new ones.

Ned Potter spoke (ably and interestingly as always) about marketing your service, and especially how new professionals can get involved. His presentation is available online, and well worth taking a look at. Laura Woods has also done a great Storify of the tweets from the event.

For once, I can’t point you to a copy of my slides, or my script. I went out on a creaky, precarious limb, and off the cuff. Yes, I improvised. I was sans script, sans slides, sans everything. And it was terrifying.

I knew that the venue was going to be quite informal, and so I wanted to do something a bit less formal than my traditional ‘script & powerpoint’ show. My colleague Lisa Jeskins suggested a method she’d successfully used in a training session, where she put keywords on coloured card, distributed them to the audience, and let them drive what she was going to talk about next.

As I had 9 points under three main headings, I decided that this could work well for me, too. So, a bit of font abuse later, I had lovely cards for people to wave at me. I knew pretty much what I wanted to say for each section – but ‘pretty much’ is still a big leap of faith from my usual approach, which has every last pause, umm and err scripted.

Pictured: shameless font abuse

I made it even more of a challenge for myself by not dictating in which order I’d take the points, or even the topics. I was totally at the mercy of the audience. If they held up ‘congruent’, and I had to talk for about 3 minutes on ‘being congruent’, no matter how well (or otherwise) that followed on from the point before, or resonated with the point after.

It was tough – not only not knowing exactly what I was going to say, but not knowing what order I’d be saying it in! Not being able to structure an argument that flowed from one point to another. Not being able to make a general point early on and then plan on referring back to it. Switching without warning from motive to medium to message and back again. It was also tough to get the timing right – not just coming in under the total time, but trying to give each point reasonably equal weighting within that time.

But tough is good. I’m getting quite practised at presentations, but they’re all the same sort sort of presentations – write a script, put together some pretty slides, practice, and deliver. That’s not to say I’m perfect at those kind of presentations (far from it!), but it’s good to try a new method, have a new challenge. Knowing I can deliver a presentation without a script and slides is a pretty good feeling – and who knows when I might have to do it again?

And I think it’s good for me to let go of control occasionally. I don’t just get worried by not knowing in advance what I’m going to say, but also by not knowing now what I did say. Oh, I can remember some of it, but a lot of it has passed into the sort of adrenaline-fuelled haze that has you waking up at 2am in a panic of ‘did I really say…?!?’. But that’s ok. No-one else there will remember every word I said, so why do I need to? I like to carefully plan my presentations so that every word counts, but no-one actually takes in every word you say. Listening is hard work! And some things will get missed – that’s natural. So why worry that not all of my sentences were beautifully crafted, my examples perfectly apt, or my metaphors understatedly elegant? It’s not a speech. It’s not going down in the history books. As long as people took away the main points I wanted to make, and enjoyed themselves, then that’s just fine.

And we made sure they got our main points! In a fit of pure genius (or pure evil, depending on which side of the mic you were on…) we introduced battledeck-summarising!

Taking its inspiration from battledecks, Ned and I each produced 18 slides with words and pictures illustrating our main points, and asked for two brave volunteers to come and fight it out!  Katie P. (@boundtounravel) and Laura Williams (@theatregrad) courageously stepped forward, and did a fab job! Laura summarised many of my points better than I’d said them in the first place, and proved she’d be an excellent ‘Catchphrase‘ contestant…

Here’s what Laura was faced with:

I hope Laura and Katie had as much fun doing the battledecks as we did watching them! It really rounded off a good, fun evening – and I’m glad I got in the spirit of things, and bared my scriptless soul.

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