Are you an introvert? You can still command an audience — even when you'd rather avoid all human contact.
Do you spend a lot of time scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, admiring all the amazing programs other librarians are putting on, wondering where they get their endless ideas and enthusiasm? Yeah, me too. Except I am also one of those people often approached to deliver webinars and conference talks and write books about my "endless ideas and enthusiasm." Huh? What's going on here? Am I lying? Faking it?
Lying, no. Forcing myself to be uncomfortable, definitely.
Do I have a body double? I wish. A case of imposter syndrome? Sometimes. But here's what I can tell you for sure: I have found ways to work around, or more accurately work with, my insecurity, complacency and aversion to public speaking (or public anything). And I hate to sound like my mother, but it's actually been good for me to get out of my comfort zone. I'm going to share what's worked for me, in the hopes it will help you too.
Choose a topic you love
As Cambridge research professor Brian Little points out in his TED Talk and book, we can choose to move out of our more familiar and comfortable personality traits when we need to in order to accomplish a certain goal. We see this when a typically loud, friendly extrovert gets really quiet and introspective at a funeral, or when a typically shy introvert talks excitedly with large hand gestures when sharing a story about their favorite ride at Disney World.
When it comes to programming, you’ll make it much easier on yourself if you pick a subject for your program that you’re already willing and able to discuss at length and have strong opinions about, whether that's subgenres of Manga or creating miniature fairy gardens.
Most people who have met me in a professional setting would never imagine that I’m fairly introverted. If you see me on stage giving a conference presentation or teaching a yoga class or nerding out about a Mountain Goats concert, you would think I’m the most fearless, talkative person in the world.
Nope. You just happen to have caught me at a moment when I’m extroverting because I’m so excited about the topic. Almost immediately upon leaving the stage/yoga studio/bar I will run-walk to my room and crawl under the covers and unwind for multiple hours, usually with a book and snacks. I will be exhausted from all the peopling and need time to recover.
That doesn’t stop me from getting up in front of an audience again and again and again, either. I just know my strengths (talking about physical literacy) and weaknesses (talking about physics). Find your special interests and play to them if at all possible.
Make a plan
Maybe you don’t get so lucky as to be able to design your own program from scratch, based on a topic you love, but instead get assigned something you have little interest or talent in.
Let’s say, despite your protests, your boss asks you to run the Babies in the Library program. You have no love of babies, or drool, no talent for fingerplays, and you sing off key. You are not a cheek kisser by nature. You are not a fan of primary colors or Sophie the giraffe. This is your worst nightmare. What do you do?
First, let off steam with a short but productive panic attack in the break room while muttering swear words under your breath. Next, come up with a plan. Plans help derail stress. All you have to do is follow steps A, B, C and D, and voila! The program is complete, and you’ve taken a ton of your own nervousness out of it.
Is there an existing curriculum to follow? If so, read it well ahead of time and maybe even practice in front of a coworker or the mirror. I have a colleague that takes 30 minutes before every story time to warm up her vocal cords and practice her songs because she doesn’t want to make a mistake. I’m a bit more laissez-faire and think the occasional voice crack and mumbled verse just amuses the parents and helps them feel less self-conscious about their perhaps less-than-stellar singing skills (but maybe that’s just me). You do you. And if you are reticent about publicly making yourself into “a little teapot, short and stout,” run through it a few times in front of your dog. They’ll forgive you for butchering it, I promise.
But seriously, make a plan. And if you don’t have a curriculum for your program and are expected to just MAKE IT UP (clearly your boss assumes you have nothing else to do, right?) I highly suggest pinching programs from really great websites like this one (check out this link to get you started),or looking at program model books from publishers like ALA Editions or the Practical Guide for Librarians series from Rowman & Littlefield (full disclosure, I write books for both of these publishers, and so do many of my libraryland friends; this is how I know they have been well-researched and field-tested).
Also, get all your supplies and tech ready ahead of time so you aren't running around at the last minute making photocopies or fiddling with the projector.
People will talk, babies will cry, ambulances will wail by, the glue won’t be sticky enough, you’ll forget to show one of the steps.
Try to go easy on yourself and everyone else in the room. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It has to be at least mildly entertaining and not lethal. No one has ever died from making lopsided popsicle-stick birdfeeders or from getting a papercut (unless it got infected, but let’s not think about that, you don’t have to worry about what happens once they leave the library).
Everything will be fine. It won’t be perfect. Aim for fine. Fine is good.
Remember: This is your turf
You are king/queen of the library castle. Heck, you are here so many hours a week this may as well be your living room. Own it. Work it.
I bet even the mousiest of introverts occasionally belt out showtunes in the shower when home alone or dance with a mop to '70s funk. Remember that everyone will be looking at you to run the show because they think you know what you are doing. Haha! Enjoy the ruse!
Enlist the help of a friend, or an ex. Yes, really.
If you can’t get an extroverted coworker to loudmouth their way through the tough bits of your program, recruit a friend, family member, patron, volunteer or professional to come do a program for you.
At least 50 percent of the programs at my library are run by non-library staff. We recruit people in our community who love to dance, paint or play the ukulele to come and run programs about those things because we don’t have the time, or skill, or interest. We just do the advertising, set up the room, register patrons and buy the supplies.
When we needed to host more STEAM programming due to our updated strategic plan, I recruited my buddy who took digital media studies in college to come do a stop-motion animation program for kids, and when I wanted to run a bike expo but knew nothing about bikes, I had my ex-husband (an avid mountain biker who luckily doesn’t hate me) and some friends who used to own a bike shop come run the whole program. I asked the police to come share safety tips. I made a display of bike-related books, because that is in my skillset.
I mostly just organized the whole thing behind the scenes, which is what I like to think I do best. I also bought them all lunch, because bribes work wonders. I’m also great at lunch. You don’t have to talk when there is food in your mouth. Just keep eating.
Everything will be OK. A failed program is an opportunity to learn. Or something like that. At least, that's what my mom keeps telling me. And I'm a mom too, so I know what I'm talking about. You are doing great. I'm proud of you.