This is the fourth and final (unless I think of some genius thing while I’m on the road) installment of my Interviewing series. If you’ve missed the earlier parts, they discussed Cover Letters, Phone Interviews, and On-Site Interviews. Again–as is probably obvious by a whole post about the presentation–this is very academic-library-interview-focused. And, while I’ve interviewed people for hire in other fields, I’ve never been aught but the interviewee in academic library interviews, so I don’t claim to know everything. My advice comes from my own experience, awesome mentor librarians’ advice, and what I’ve read in other places (and tried to put into practice, myself). If you find any errors or have additional suggestions, please share what you know in the comments!
You’ll be given a presentation topic shortly after you’re invited to the on-site interview; in addition to, obviously, giving you a framework around which to design your presentation, this will also provide an excellent focus for your general interview research needs–for instance, has anyone at this institution written about this topic? How do they feel about it? More generally, what can you teach the library staff about this topic that not all of them will already know? Happily, it seems as though the “demonstrate a database use case” style of presentation has gone out of vogue. Presentation topics like “Suggest a technology we should consider using to enhance our Web presence,” “Discuss emerging trends in [X area] in the 21st century,” and “Prepare a learning module for students in [X class], that could plug in to Blackboard,” seem to be more the norm. This is great news, because it leaves you room to show the audience something new–it doesn’t have to be ground-breaking, but do try to make it worth their time to watch your talk. And do over-research your presentation topic; there will be 30 or more minutes for questions after your talk, and you’ll want to be able to wow them with all the cool stuff you know.
In one case, I had to give a presentation near the end of the day; I admit, I wore myself out, a bit, with anticipation–also, a lot of my thunder was stolen in interviews earlier in the day, where I ended up talking about most of my main points, in part because they were relevant to the discussion and in part, no doubt, because they were on my mind. If this happens, roll with it; they understand. Still, when I have the power to decide candidates’ interview schedules, I’m definitely scheduling all talks for first thing in the morning, both for the candidates’ sakes and for the committees’.
Regardless of the timing, here are some things to consider:
- Roughly how many people, from what departments, will be attending? (Getting numbers is hard, but they should be able to tell you whether it’s just librarians or whether other faculty are invited–audience is the biggest factor in deciding what to say, so this is important to know.)
- What kind of room is it? If you’re teaching something, will everyone have a computer, to follow along? (Maps of the building are often helpful, but this is probably a fine question to ask, when your topic is sent to you, as well.)
- How long do they have set aside for the talk, versus the Q&A? (Your search committee should communicate this of their own accord, but it’s worth some thought. For instance, if you want to touch on something but don’t have time during the presentation, you can always give a teaser and invite the audience to ask later.)
- How long will you have to set up? (Your schedule will give some inkling of this.)
You can mitigate some unknowns by making sure to have your Powerpoint slides, should you choose to use them, in multiple places–your webmail, a USB key, maybe a backup version in Google docs. I’ve never done handouts; I give the audience a Web address they can go to, instead, but if you do, make sure you have enough. Some people don’t even use Powerpoint for their presentation (*gasp*)! In one presentation, I worked from a Web page as my visual, with links for the audience to click on; I don’t know if I can whole-heartedly suggest this for everyone, but it worked fine for me and felt more natural than the slide show format. Another cool thing you might want to consider, over Powerpoint, is something called Prezi, which is … easier for you to go look at than for me to explain. It’s very cool.
Some good advice a role model of mine once gave me: set up the presentation–slides, handouts, whatever–early (usually, this means skipping your scheduled pre-presentation break), and walk up and greet people as they enter. Shake their hands. Introduce yourself. Mingle. It leaves a good impression, which is nice, but it also humanizes your audience, which can really help with nerves.
And I feel like my advice from earlier is worth repeating in this context: these people want you to succeed, and they want to like you. The audience at your presentation will, most likely, be very well-disposed toward you; the search committee liked you enough to bring you in, right?, so you must be good. Besides, they’ve all had to go through this process themselves, some of them recently. They know you’re nervous, and they’re OK with it. Even if there are hostile-looking people in your audience (yes, it happens, but I suspect it’s uncommon), there’s going to be a friendly face or three; find them, and let them bolster your confidence. You know your topic. They are sympathetic. You’ll be fine.
And be flexible about the Q&A time. Some of the questions I got were surprisingly wacky–it may just be that my talks have tended to focus on technology, either directly or tangentially, and I think some people find that off-putting. One person asked if I thought our eyes/brains will evolve to read computer screens better than paper–I’d been talking about ebook readers–and I was a little stunned. I just kind of had to think on my feet and give the best answer I could at the time. (In case you’re curious, it was something along the lines of “No, I think screens will continue to evolve to look more like paper. Ebook readers already do. Eventually, so will laptop monitors.” I stand by that, actually.) Some people can’t attend other sessions and therefore use the Q&A session to find out about you, rather than your topic–one person pointed out something from my resume and asked for explanation of it. Some people will lob softball questions, and others will try to stretch you, to see what you do with something difficult. I don’t think the latter is generally out of unfriendliness; it’s just curiosity, and it’s entirely appropriate, given all the kinds of questions patrons have. I felt, in the one Q&A session, like I was defending a proposal I had made to an attentive committee. And that made it kind of fun, honestly, because I got to play the part of salesperson and to really explain why my idea was a good one. It made for a nice dynamic.
If presentations aren’t your thing, I suggest taking a course, joining ToastMasters, or otherwise finding a venue in which to practice. Maybe teach a course at your local library. I’ve definitely chilled out a lot, as far as giving presentations goes, over the last year, in part due to Pitt’s course in Information Literacy and Library Instruction (I forget its proper name), and in part because I lucked into a few other talks. I still get nervous–if you don’t, something’s wrong–but as long as I know my topic and my audience, I no longer get physically shaky. If I got over my terrible presentation anxiety (or, well, most of it), I am confident that anyone can!
Thus ends this series. Let me know if there are ot
her topics I should have addressed, or if you have any questions after reading this. … I’m kind of excited to have it written, honestly, because I can go back, after my first couple of times working on a search committee, and see what interview behaviors have changed (because they will) and what I didn’t address that I should have (hopefully nothing). In the meantime, I really hope it is helpful to library students and new librarians!