Competency M: demonstrate oral and written communication skills necessary for professional collaboration and presentations.
“Good communication does not mean that you have to speak in perfectly formed sentences and paragraphs. It isn’t about slickness. Simple and clear go a long way.” – John Kotter
Being able to collaborate and communicate is an essential part of working in an information environment. Information exists to be shared, and as an information professional, it is often shared through presentations and classes, and by discussing among groups in order to create new information. All these require effective communication.
As I touched on in Competency D, communication is essential for a healthy working environment. There will inevitably be some conflict when working with others, but conflict can be beneficial, an opportunity for personal and organizational growth, when managed and mitigated properly. Being able to talk about differences in opinion, perception, and approaches allows people to work together on projects. Exactly what form this communication takes place depends on each individual group dynamic.
Communication, in the form of good speaking skills, is crucial for presentations and for teaching so that the information is conveyed accurately. This is where John Kotter’s quote above is especially true–the simpler the delivery, the better people can understand it. One thing about public speaking is that how something is said greatly affects how the audience absorbs the material. The use of visual aids, such as succinct PowerPoint slides or Prezi presentations, can increase comprehension and retention of the material.
Writing is also a valuable form of communication. After all, the job of many information professionals include the classification, ordering, and retrieval of written communications in its various permutations, from archived letters to digital journal articles. The most common form of written communication for librarians is perhaps email, which is a fast way of collaborating with people asynchronously. Email facilitates listserv discussions, another popular way of connecting with other librarians through similar interests and concerns, such as LIBLICENSE in order to discuss database licensing issues with other librarians. Published journal articles and blog posts are similarly important, allowing asynchronous presentation of information to interested audiences. The advantage of these is that they can be published to a wider audience than simply a listserv, allowing people to search for, find, and build upon the information shared.
My first professional presentation was a paper at the Missouri Valley History Conference in Omaha, Nebraska. I knew, that in order to engage the audience and better tell the story about a local church, I used a simple PowerPoint slide filled with historic pictures so people could see exactly what I was talking about. My first inclination was to put too much information on the slide, but I dialed it back and decided to use primarily pictures as a sort of a slide show. I believe it helped make my presentation more effective.
I got in touch with a former professor who taught a class on creating instructional programs to thank her for her class, as it was helping me create a training program for my employer. She asked me if I would be willing to give a presentation about this real-life application of principles we learned in class. So, I explained my process for planning and designing this training program to her students, talking about the frustrations and successes I encountered along the way. This presentation was done in Blackboard Collaborate (formerly Elluminate), which presented some challenges not typically encountered with an in-person presentation, such as discerning audience interest, answering questions, and making sure that the internet connection was fast enough.
Other presentations included library orientations and training tours. The training library tours are also a good example of collaboration; in this particular position where I trained many students, I and my coworkers collaborated to divide up the training projects in an equitable way. This collaboration ensured the training program remained up to date, that the students were trained swiftly, so that student trainees who struggled were given additional practice runs to learn how to do a task. Sometimes we collaborated in person, other times we did so in emails, depending on how busy we were on any particular day.
One presentation was a Prezi project, a book report on Consent of the Networked by Rebecca MacKinnon. In it, I designed the Prezi to make it easier to visualize each part of the book as it relates to the whole subject, and narrated the entire presentation. I also added closed captioning to make it accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing viewers.
In a paper, I discussed how more managers are beginning to see conflict as natural and beneficial, how managing has shifted from strict adherence to the rules toward open communication, and how conflict mitigation techniques have changed accordingly.
I also wrote two short assessment papers about two different groups and group projects, and how we communicated in order to complete the projects. I discussed how we were able to work together asynchronously, despite mini-crises some of us faced, how leadership roles were traded off throughout the project, and how communication helped us get it done.
I said it earlier, and I will say it again: Information exists to be shared. It can be shared through presentations and classes, and it can be shared in a collaborative manner in order to be refined and adapted by others. Effective communication makes the presentations more interesting for the viewers, and collaborations go more smoothly so that the projects may be completed efficiently.
Kotter, J. (n.d.) As cited inThe challenge of library management: Leading with emotional engagement,” by VanDuinkerken, W., & Mosley, P. (2011). Chicago; American Library Association.
Last revised on November 17, 2012