Public Speaking is a Skill Librarians Need

Mary Kelly —  October 17, 2014 — 4 Comments
photo of a microphone

Fear this no more! Creative Commons License Andrew E. Larsen

I remember a speech class I had in college. I thought it was a complete waste of time. Yes, I went to college in the dark ages and it was long before Powerpoint and the idea of making an official speech was only a remote possibility. My only plus for the class is that no one ever said they couldn’t hear me.

It wasn’t until after I had been working for libraries that I realized public speaking (or should I say communicating) is essential for the job. There will be more times than you can count that you have to present an idea to staff members, bosses and library boards. This isn’t even considering the umpteen thousand times that you will absolutely have to get out and promote your library, explain a policy, teach a class, or even make a formal presentation to the general public.

I think there are great parallels between interviewing for a job and any kind of speech or presentation. Both need preparation and knowledge of the subject matter.


Preparation is not just practicing or memorizing a speech. You need to be so well-versed on your topic that you can handle any situation or potential question or problem. What are people likely to ask? What are they going to be concerned about? Be ready with an answer, even if it’s, “I don’t know, let me look into that”.

Visual aids

Use Powerpoint judiciously. Personal bias: I am not fond of Prezi, since I have gotten motion sickness almost every time someone uses it.   Some visuals distract from what the speech/presentation is about. Don’t put your verbatim speech on the Powerpoint. Slides should illustrate, not reiterate what you are saying.

Stage Fright / Performance Anxiety

As the reigning queen of anxiety, I feel your pain! I worry about EVERYTHING! I got a bit of perspective when I saw a library presentation where a woman was so visibly distressed and nervous. Her presentation was also quite technical. I thought she might burst into tears! In a word, she was awful. With the exception of one VERY STUPID LIBRARIAN, everyone was supportive and clapped. The said stupid librarian was shunned and I am sure she is not working in the profession anymore.  My point is even in the worst situation, there is support and people will understand. Keep getting up and trying and you will improve.

Some helpful resources on public speaking:

David Lee King’s Blog: Presentation tips using  Powerpoint. 

Mind Tools:  Managing Presentation Nerves 

Lifehacker: How can I become more comfortable speaking in public?

Mary Kelly


Co-founder of and library utility player. Lover of: library data, spreadsheets, collection quality, cats and cardigans. Follow me on twitter @librarymary40

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

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    […] Librarianship thrives on a culture of sharing. Share what you’ve learned at a conference with a poster session, workshop, or lightning talk. The thought of presenting can be intimidating, but public speaking is a skill librarians need. […]

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