Why NLS6 has changed my views on Professional Development

I’m still a relative newbie in library land, but NLS6 has been a critical turning point for me. The themes of NLS6 really resonate with me. Be Different. Do Different.

For me, that translates to Be Myself.

I struggle to follow the herd. I struggle to toe the party line. I struggle to be part of the cool crowd. I struggle to be part of the mainstream. I struggle to accept ‘because that’s how we’ve always done it’.

It’s not so much that I want to be or do different deliberately, I just find that mainstream thinking doesn’t match what I want or need professionally. I want things to be better than they currently are. Yes I know that there are always others factors & constraints (budgets, people management, strategic plans, politics) but I am an idealist at heart, and I do believe that there’s often a better way. It might be that now isn’t the right time for those things to happen, but I do believe that there is always a better way.

While NLS6 is not the first time I have self-funded for Professional Development, my experiences as part of Heroes Mingle along with NLS6 have changed my views on Professional Development. Well, perhaps not fundamentally changed so much as solidified my position on PD.

I’ve been lucky to have had the generous support of previous organisations (hats off to Christchurch City Libraries) for a wide range of Professional Development opportunities, and many supportive managers along the way. I certainly wouldn’t be this far along my own professional journey without their support. And I fully acknowledge that organisational support has shaped where I am today.

It is now up to me to capitalise on those earlier PD opportunities, to give thanks for their part in my PD journey, and to now forge my own Professional Development pathway.

I choose to fully take ownership of my journey.

I choose the PD roads ahead of me, instead of having them chosen for me by an organisation. I choose to create and participate in non-workplace supported PD opportunities. I choose to participate in non-library PD opportunities. I’m stepping outside the safety net of organisational PD. And for me, I believe that is a critical part of my PD experience.

There’s no doubt that I will still participate in and support organisational & industry association PD events (I am Professionally Registered with LIANZA), but it won’t be my only pathway. To rely solely on organisational supported and funded PD opportunities limits us as individuals, as organisations and as an industry.

Some people might view it as a risk & a challenge to step outside an organisational-only PD framework, but for me, it is my way to Be Myself.

Top reasons why presenting at NLS6 was successful

There’s a few specific reasons that other presenters have shared with me about their NLS6, which I think indicate why presenters rate NLS as a great place to start their public presentation journey. Several past NLS presenters wrote blog posts about their speaker experiences in the build-up to proposals submission for NLS6.

Mentoring

Once a NLS6 presentation submission was accepted, the option of a mentor for the development of the presentation was offered. While Sally & I didn’t take up this option for our presentation, many NLS6 presenters did and they often said that having a mentor was incredibly valuable. Most mentors were geographically distant from the presenter, so email & Twitter & Skype were key methods of communication. Mentors offered ideas, support, encouragement & critique to new presenters.

Showcase

For presenters who didn’t want to commit to a twenty minute or longer session, the option to be part of the Showcase session was offered. Speakers were given a strict 5 minute time limit. Nine presentations. One hour. The audience voted for their favourite. It was a lightning fast session, but also offered speakers the opportunity to prepare & present on a chosen topic.

As part of the audience for the Showcase, I found it fast, furious and fun. Some of the speakers have said that the prospect of being in front of all the delegates was daunting (it was the only session scheduled for that time slot, ensuring maximum audience numbers), but it was only five minutes and they had all practiced their timelines/slide transitions. I found that the audience was supportive, cheering on speakers and willingly participating where asked to.

I like it as a style, as it’s similar to PechaKucha, and it offers a chance for people to step into the limelight for a short time, as well as experience the build-up of submission, development, presentation.

Audience of peers 

Presenting in front of an audience consisting mostly of peers (as well as several keynote speakers & senior library land folks) was far less intimidating for most of us than presenting to an audience filled with potential employers, managers and/or lecturers.

Yes presenting at NLS6 was a scary experience in many ways, but it felt as the audience was there to support you to succeed. They were consciously there to listen & participate in the experience. And they would give constructive feedback and approach you afterwards with questions & ideas. For me, the NLS6 audience were engaged and enthusiastic. As a presenter, it was awesome. It’s what you want an audience to be.

Personally I haven’t always felt that at other conferences. In my experience, people come to a session, they listen, and they leave. I don’t know if that relates to conference ‘fatigue’ or audience disengagement. But it might relate to the next idea.

Self funding audience

For many of the NLS6 participants, they’d self-funded or sought partial funding from a variety of non-work sources. Yes, many attendees were funded and/or supported by their employers, but on the flipside, many weren’t. They’d decided to commit to the experience and pay their own way. And I think that fundamentally changed the levels of audience engagement.

As part of the committee, I had some expenses covered, but I didn’t have any financial support from an employer to attend (this was a combination of me changing jobs close to NLS6, as well as only working part-time, so I attended NLS6 on my non-work days).

I believe that when an attendee makes that financial commitment to attend without the backing of an employer, it changes their commitment to participate.They have made the conscious decision to attend, and they will make sure that they get the best value for money.

I also think that when an employer does support a student or new graduate to attend an event like this, it shows a willingness to support an employee’s personal growth & engagement in the profession, rather than add the pressure to attend purely as a representative of an organisation. It is more about the individual than about the employer. It is supporting the individual to grow, and that does indirectly support an organisation, but it isn’t the driving force for attendance.

I know it is increasingly hard for organisations to justify sending individuals to events without being able to demonstrate the direct return-on-investment (ROI). It is often more of a long-term intangible benefit. And that’s hard for an organisation to justify in an audit.

Nonetheless, for me, I feel it was a key factor in the success and buzz for NLS6.

Reflections on being a 1st time presenter at NLS6

As well as being part of the organising committee of NLS6, I was also a first-time presenter. This post will reflect on the experience of my first professional speaking opportunity.

Sally Pewhairangi & I presented a twenty minute session on Monday 11th February 2013 on the challenges & surprises we experienced in developing & facilitating the Heroes Mingle Reality Librarianship speaker series in 2012. This was the first time I had presented at a professional event. While it was slightly nerve-wracking to put in an application for a place on the NLS6 program, it was then more nerve-wracking to have to come up with an actual presentation once we’d been accepted.

For me, I feel that presenting at NLS6 was more achievable than presenting at LIANZA or ALIA. Prior to the event, I found it less intimidating to be presenting to my “new librarian” peers than to an audience potentially filled with managers and senior industry leaders.

Having subsequently presented, I feel that I could now present to a different and wider audience. Partly because I have now experienced the build-up for a presentation – the submission process, the “check out the venue & technology set-up” on the day as well as the buzz of being part of the presenter community at the event – and partly because I also feel that presenting overseas, to a different audience than my immediate colleagues & peers in the New Zealand library industry, was personally less intimidating for my first-time presentation experience.

Co-presenting

As a first timer, I found co-presenting less daunting than solo presenting.

I am really grateful to have co-presented with Sally. To have an awesome speaker like Sally to work alongside to develop this presentation showed me that it is okay (and probably advisable!) to change your content, style and tone a number of times until you are feeling comfortable with it.

We started with quite a prescribed style & content, but it didn’t suit either of us when we came to a trial run. However, having the core content initially written down meant that we then had the basis for our key messages, so we could loosen up on the deliver style.

Less is more

We used four PowerPoint slides and one short video.

To keep the focus on our key messages, rather than constantly changing slides, we kept it short & simple. Less technology to mess around with, and it meant we honed our key messages for the slides.

Confession time

To be honest, I don’t really remember much of the actual presentation itself. I remember more of the five minute Q+A session than delivering the actual presentation. I was far more nervous on the day presenting than I had been in any of the practice sessions.

My mouth went completely dry about three minutes into the presentation, which threw my rhythm for several minutes. I also had the awful sensation of wanting to throw up both prior to and immediately after the session. While I think that nerves are a good thing for all presenters, I was quite unprepared for how much my nerves almost got the better of me.

My personal highlight

Having a international keynote speaker attend our session (despite giving me an initial additional rush of nerves when I saw her walk in). Then having her telling us afterwards how much she enjoyed the presentation, and that she’d encourage us to keep doing what we are doing. Talk about a validation head rush!

Would I do it again?

Absolutely. Despite my nerves and anxiety, this was a very positive experience for me. From submission, to development, to presentation. Fantastic experience.

Reflections on being part of the NLS6 committee

New Librarians' Symposium - NLS6

In early 2012 I put my hand up to be part of the NLS6 organising committee.

My original reasons for getting involved were selfish, in that, I was interested for my own sake about how ALIA supported a New Grads event, and how it was focussed solely on “new librarians”. Also, I was hungry for a different kind of Professional Development opportunity to what was (not) being offered to me locally.

It was an amazing experience which opened my eyes in so many ways. This post will focus on what I have learnt from being part of the NLS6 committee.

  • Virtual teams

The whole NLS6 committee operated virtually with team members from across Australia – Queensland, Tasmania, New South Wales, ACT, South Australia and Victoria. Initially I was the only NZ-based member of the organising committee, but another team member moved to NZ in late 2012.

Communication is the key to virtual teams. As well as trust, honesty and follow-through.

While I had learnt many of these things on a small scale with my involvement in Heroes Mingle, seeing it operate on a much larger virtual team scale was an eye-opener.

I’ve also confirmed that I personally really enjoy working as part of a successful virtual team.

My one reflection is that next time I would make more of an effort at the outset to get to know a larger proportion of the team. I don’t think I got to really know some of the team until I actually met them in Brisbane, and I wished I had developed more of a rapport with them prior to meeting face-to-face.

  • Technology

I’ve learnt about new technology to manage team/project outputs, for example, Asana, Zendesk, Buffer, Google Docs.

It’s made me learn about tools I’ve never used before. It’s taught me to evaluate the tools in different ways. Are they fit for purpose? Do people actively want to use them? Are they easy to use? I know which tools I liked, found intuitive and would use again & again. I also now know which tools I find frustrating and I would only use again if I didn’t have any other option available.

It also taught me that some tools which I always use on shared and/or virtual projects (e.g. I am a fan of wikis), other people find clunky and troublesome. This was the first virtual project which didn’t use a wiki. It was a learning curve for me to have to organise my work using other tools. On reflection, I found it quite difficult to not have one go-to place with all the information accessible. I did learn to work with other systems and tools, but I found it challenging. Perhaps next time I would create my own wiki to keep track.

  • Goals

We had clear goals of what we wanted to achieve for NLS6 to be a success, for speakers, delegates and committee. We knew clearly what we needed to achieve for ALIA to view this as a success. We also had some “it would be nice but it isn’t essential” milestones. Having a combination of targets kept us focussed, and gave us scope to successfully achieve our goals.

I also think having understandable & achievable goals is a critical element in the success of a virtual team. If the team doesn’t know what it is trying to achieve, and doesn’t have measures to check against, I can see how virtual teams could be chaotic & unworkable.

  • Outcome

I can categorically say that being part of the NLS6 organising committee is a turning point in my career.