Erin Porter, Ph.D.
Center for Teaching Effectiveness
The University of Texas at Austin
Art and Design School Division
Reference and Information Services Section
Sara J. MacDonald, The University of the Arts
Laurie Whitehill, Rhode Island School of Design
Eleven stalwart librarians forsook the lure of tours and fine Texas sunshine to attend the all-day workshop on improving presentation skills. Of the participants, five were from museum libraries, two from university libraries, and four from art and design school libraries. Most are involved in some kind of public speaking in their jobs including orientations, tours, reference work, and library including orientations, tours, reference work, and library instruction. Among other specific goals, all wanted to become better at expository communication, to gain confidence in speaking in front of others, to be able to think on our feet, and to improve the impact of our message. Although only two arrived at the workshop with a prepared three minute presentation for the voluntary videotaping, all were aware of the value of the experience as a teaching tool.
Within the first hour, workshop leader, Dr. Erin Porter from UT at Austin's Center for Teaching Effectiveness, elicited group and individual goals for the workshop, covered the basics of public speaking (including pitfalls), and created an interactive and safe classroom environment. After a bit of encouragement and a short break in which to select and outline a topic of our choice, all participants bravely volunteered to give a brief presentation to our peers while being videotaped.
Following the videotaping and a picnic lunch, Dr. Porter presented a Power Point lecture covering various communication skills. Topics included analyzing our audience; selecting a topic; knowledge of and enthusiasm for our topic; providing a clear sense of purpose; developing our content; getting the audience involved; using appropriate language; communicating effectively both verbally and non-verbally; controlling voice volume and breathing; as well as ethical considerations and performance evaluation. Next she detailed steps in the preparation of informative presentations including research; organization of information; outlines; graphic materials; introductions; conclusions; and ended with a wrap-up of general "do's and don'ts".
The remainder of the afternoon the group viewed the morning's videotaping and in a comfortable collegial atmosphere discussed each performance. Group members also filled in evaluation checklists for each participant to take home. One member of the group was able to repeat her performance and clear improvement was evident in the second taping. An interesting note is that each of us tended to view our performance as generally much poorer than our peers did. Many times, problems we thought were present, no one else saw. By viewing ourselves on video, some of us were able to observe, for the first time, verbal and non-verbal unconscious distracting habits as well as pleasantly surprising strengths. Now we know what our speaking style looks and sounds like, what things we need to correct, and how to do so.
Throughout the day, Dr. Porter boosted our confidence by reminding us that what we have to say to our audience is important and that they really do want to hear it. She continually emphasized what we already were doing right, and provided very specific practical methods and tools for individual improvement. It is also noteworthy that all of the things she wanted us to learn were exemplified by her own presentation.
To complete the workshop, Dr. Porter reviewed our list of goals from the morning session. The group decidedly felt re-charged and ready to apply these new skills as soon as possible. One member actually had the opportunity to do so as a presenter in a conference session the very next day. All agreed that the practical information, the videotaping, the helpful feedback, and the encouragement of our peers had made the workshop a great success.
Note: Any ARLIS members interested in another similar workshop should feel free to contact Sara (email@example.com) or Laurie (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Rhode Island School of Design