How to Get Invited to Speak – Work, Pay Up, Represent

presentingYesterday two blog posts were making the rounds came to my attention. The first I saw was by Andromeda Yelton, which is a response to Julie. Andromeda offers some great advice on how to get the attention of people looking for speakers in response to Julie’s heartfelt post about wanting to speak. Both are worthwhile – go read them, I’ll wait.

I started a response on Julie’s blog and quickly realized it was too long to be a comment and might be of interest to my readers (if I still have any).  So here are my thoughts to Julie.

Before we get started I want to remind you that there are many kinds of libraries out there and in some libraries it is ok to blog, tweet, talk, and/or present about the work you are doing in your library. But, unfortunately, in other libraries it is not. Or it is not without submitting your entire presentation and the text of your talk (which you must not deviate from) to HR, PR, or marketing 6 months in advance. Not everyone is able to share at the level you want, that doesn’t mean they aren’t offering something of value, in fact I’ve heard the opposite request – more theory, less specifics – my library isn’t your library and I can’t copy what you did exactly.  There is a demand for both.

I kind-of-sort-of-maybe (?)resemble your references to popular speakers. I do have a slogan though I’d bet most people don’t know it – “I’m not that kind of librarian”. I don’t have a hashtag. I’m not sure my following is slavish, though they are smart and kind, for the most part. I have been accused of writing about things because they are sexy, though frankly I think it was an unfair accusation. I did write about ebooks, though I am a woman, but also because that was part of my job. No one would call me a hipster, though I suppose I could be accused of gimmicks to get librarians noticed. I embrace books of all sorts.  Regardless, I’m responding because I think I can offer you some advice.

Like you, Julie, I was deeply passionate about the work I did in libraries (I am back in school full-time pursing a second masters so not working in a library at the moment). My job was different than yours though, my jobs focused around digital services. I got started by writing about my job, and true, perhaps I was fortunate, at that time digital services might have been sexy to some. But I got started by writing about the work I was doing on my blog. It’s true, go back and read the early posts, though try not to judge my writing style too harshly please 🙂

I have been fortunate to be successful at doing what I love in libraries both in my day job and in the outside work I’ve done.  People who know me well know I’ve always attributed it to these things and anyone can do them, no matter how unsexy you think your job is. 🙂

Stop Waiting to be Found – this might be the most important. It is highly unlikely that someone is going to appear in your library and offer you the opportunity to speak unless you take the following actions yourself.  Part of it is just being out there.  No one is going to just recognize your awesomeness, you’ve got to put it out there.

Put in the Time – I have spent hours of my own time reading and writing about librarianship. Reading blogs, articles, books, tweets, and, FaceBook posts and comments. Writing – this blog, tweets, responding to tweets, commenting on other blogs, blog posts here, blog posts I never published, etc. Put in extra hours at work to initiate and complete projects, asked again in new and different ways when I was told no to the original project. I reached out to people with questions, took time to answer the questions of others, both online and in person.  I wrote posts sharing what I had done at my job with others. Learned to create better and better presentations, then posted slideshows and made them Creative Commons (after getting the ok with my boss if they were used at work) so others could use them and learn from them.

Pay Up – I got up at 4 am and drove 3 hours, stayed all day, and then drove home 3 hours to arrive at midnight, in order to attend a conference I wasn’t presenting at but which was relatively nearby and offered powerful learning opportunities and connections. Then I got up and went to work the next day and wrote a report on it and then I applied what I’d learned on my own time and dime to my job. More than once.  Oh and paid for registration and gas out of my own pocket. I paid for library related journals out of my own pocket and when I’d read them took them to work and circulated them to my coworkers. Before I got paid to speak I hustled to speak (and sometimes I still do) I submitted session proposals to conferences. I worked hard to put together a good proposal – something fun and catchy and with a hook (what makes your presentation special, different?) but not too specific because in some cases it would be almost a year before I would talk and you don’t want to back yourself into a corner. I took vacation time to attend conferences when necessary.  Sometimes work covered part of the cost of the conference, I paid the rest out of my own pocket. I took the red-eye (it as horrible) more than once. Even when conference expenses (not including tips) were covered the care of my dogs while I traveled was not, so every conference cost me a couple of hundred out of my own pocket regardless. Anyway you get the idea.

Represent – this last one is the one I think a lot of people don’t get. See, I understand that not everyone is willing or able to do the first two. It’s cool, we all make choices.  Some of us have a different starting ground – academic librarians often get to do much of what I’ve listed above on work time, some librarians are allowed to present on work time and keep the money they are paid for presenting (something I’ve never done), some libraries (of all types) block social networking sites for everyone, even staff so you can’t network or connect during work hours except for email (which personally I find weird).  As a librarian in a public library I was always cognizant of the fact that not everyone had or wanted the same opportunities I had created for myself (not everyone likes presenting).  I respected them and their choices, and I hope they respected mine. I’ve worked with some amazing teen, children and reference librarians who had no interest in blogging or presenting.  So I am always aware that the library isn’t just digital services, that it takes all everyone in the library to make a library work, from adult to children with teens in the middle from tech services to circ, from management to custodians, we are greater than the sum of our parts. Yes, it is human nature to believe that what you do in the library is the most important thing, but we are all also on the same side. We all want what is best for our patrons,  but we’re a little like the blind men and the elephant only focused on what is in front of us. But it is important to respect the work others are doing (you may not like ebooks personally but they are an important issue for libraries). Take the time to talk to others who are outside of your world and remember you represent everyone in libraries, even those who work in different departments.

Best of luck to you Julie (and others!)

Suggested Readings

14 thoughts on “How to Get Invited to Speak – Work, Pay Up, Represent

  1. Well said. I think the only thing I’d add to your list is “Answer the phone” meaning be responsive if people ask in a general sense about you possibly speaking and have a landing page of some sort so that people can know who you are and what you do if maybe someone suggested you for something but the other folks haven’t heard of you. Have samples of your work, maybe some quotes from satisfied customers, etc. I slowed down on public speaking by choice a lot last year and it was interesting that in the same way speaking can lead to more speaking, NOT speaking can lead to more not speaking which can be crazymaking from a momentum perspective.


  2. A great guide for how to build up to presenting. It is true that opportunities vary vastly from library to library. As I look into what is my “next step” in the world of librarianship, this helps.

    It is true, not all of us can afford the time or money to go to a conference every year. But I have found that targeting what I’m interested really helps.

    Great post. Thanks.



    1. Hi Sarah Louise
      I’m glad you found it helpful. There definitely isn’t a one-size-fits-all method. I think picking what you’re really interested in and the conferences that relate to that is a smart move!


  3. So glad to see this post. I’ve missed your words of wisdom. Great nuggets of advice for those that want to pursue a more public role outside library work hours.


  4. Again, I gotta say – Amen, sistah!

    Strong voices of all sexes, lib professions (academic, public, or school library) if you have a passion and a voice put in the time & share it.

    I also would suggest applying to present at local Library or ISTE affiliate conferences. I did that for 10 years before I dared to go to the “Big Show” of a national venue or before I was asked to keynote or speak!
    ~Gwyneth Jones


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