Presentations: I am going to tell you a story

November 1, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Posted in NAHSL Annual Meeting 2013, Professional Development | 6 Comments

beach2What a stroke of genius it was to close out a wonderful NAHSL 2013 conference with a presentation about… well, presentations! Clark Merrill strode confidently into the room, needing no microphone, and started off with a story about a hospitalization years ago and how information saved his life.  After he sincerely thanked health science librarians for the important work that they do, he had us right where he wanted us. We were tired librarians who had stayed up late competing in trivia and watching the Red Sox win game five, but we sat with rapt attention, waiting to see what would come next from the Dale Carnegie trainer.

He had just demonstrated 1) Know your audience and 2) The opening is important.

It is not uncommon to dread giving a presentation. Clark Merrill’s tip on how never to be nervous: No matter what size the audience, they all have one thing in common; none of them care about you. Because I am a Pollyanna who thinks everyone cares about me, I prefer this: Focus on the audience, and stop thinking about yourself. Remember that your audience has no expectations. In fact they may expect to be bored by you. The pressure is off; now you can surprise them.

For your opening, make a startling statement, ask a question, throw out a mystery statement, or tell a story. People love stories. People hate long stories. Don’t start your story by saying “I am going to tell you a story.” Tie the closing to your opening rather than boring your audience with a summary.

I thought about what I’d learned as I drove to work early the next morning. I had a short nurse’s orientation to cover at 8:15am, and because I am the Systems Librarian, a.k.a. back of the library geek who hides in her office; this is a big deal for me. 

How I would have opened, sans intervention:

Hi, my name is Madge. I am the Systems Librarian. Normally the really awesome Public Services Librarian would be here to talk to you, but I’m sorry to say that you are stuck with me this morning. Bear with me as I show you all of the great resources the library has to offer you.

How I actually opened:

Good morning everyone! A few years ago I had surgery, and when I came out of recovery, the doctor wanted to let my brother right in to see me. The nurse wanted him to wait until they cleaned me up a bit and made me look presentable. Quite a discussion ensued, but in the end, the doctor won. And this is what my brother saw: [make grotesque face, head lolled to the side, tongue sticking out]. Had I been conscious, I would have wanted my brother to have seen the cleaned up version. Ever since then, I’ve known that nurses are on my side. You are there for your patients, and we want to be here for you. So… let me tell you about all of the great resources the library has to offer you.

I am not sure if I won anyone over, but I saw a few smiles and nobody seemed to be asleep. Telling the story actually served to put ME at ease for the rest of the session. 

I’d like to thank NAHSL for helping me to attend a conference that had such an immediate effect. I think I might even be able to handle a lightening round presentation. Look for me at NAHSL 2014!

Madge Boldt, MLIS
Systems Librarian
Rhode Island Hospital



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  1. WAY TO GO, Madge!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Nice blog. Nice learning moment. Sue

  2. Great story. I am now inspired all over again! Pam

  3. Madge, I love it! You just gave this former nurse some warm fuzzy feelings on this Monday morning. 🙂

  4. Like your story! I’m going to be looking for that lightning presentation at 2014!

  5. Thanks everyone. Positive feedback is really nice! It would be really hard to be as funny as Clark Merrill, but his tips were great. Tie the closing to the opening… the 6×6 rule for powerpoints… and of course, “B” and “W” to blank them out. All good stuff.

  6. Great opening Madge! I can’t wait to see your lightning presentation!

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