Speaking professionally–or not

I used the line”Rehearsals for retirement” (modified to say [semi-]retirement and with credit to Phil Ochs) in a Bibs & Blather essay a little while ago…well, OK, actually it was more than three years ago, in the June 2010 Cites & Insights.

This post isn’t another in that extremely intermittent series. Or maybe, in a way, it is.


While I’ve never been on the speaking circuit–quite deliberately–I have done a reasonable number of speeches and perhaps an unreasonable number of keynotes in the past. Without including the same speech (or what was billed as the same speech) given more than once (which has happened three or four times, always by request), it appears that I’ve done 129 speeches, including 39 keynotes. Of those 129 speeches, 115 (89%) were invited.

Clarification: I’d regard the speaking circuit as involving at least one of three elements and probably at least two: Submitting proposals to speak, which I’ve only done once (and that by request of a publisher); Being willing to speak as often as the arrangements are feasible (there were at least two years in which I turned down invitations because I’d hit the eight-trips-a-year limit I’d set for myself); Giving the same–or essentially the same–speech on several occasions (which, as noted, has happened only three or four times).

I’m not putting down any of those practices. They just haven’t been what I’ve done.

If you’re curious, the peak came in 1996, with 13 speeches (all invited), although I was at my self-imposed trip limit in 1993 and 1995 through 1998.

I’ve spoken on a wide range of topics. I’ve had the fortune to speak at and attend state library conferences in roughly half* the states (which is always a pleasure), and I’ve spoken in two Canadian provinces and twice in Australia. (“And attend”: My practice was and is to attend as much of the conference as possible.)

I’ve almost always enjoyed it–I can remember three bad experiences, which is a pretty decent record. (That’s my bad experiences; I can’t say how audiences felt, but I’d guess I had reasonably good word of mouth in the 1990s, given that I had more invitations after I was LITA VP/President/Past-president than before or during that period.)

The three bad experiences: Once I came down with food poisoning on the first day of a conference and spoke the second day, unexpectedly facing very bright TV-filming lights. I was babbling for the first five minutes. I know: They sent me the video. Another time I flew down to Southern California, a one-day trip, to do a luncheon speech, where my primary requirement had been “a podium or table for my notes.” There was none, so I was holding notes in one hand while trying to speak. I honestly should have walked out. The third time was a combination of a speaking format I didn’t care for and felt was more of a stunt than an informative event and loads of hassles in arrangements before and during the conference. In any case, three out of 129 is pretty good. I won’t even attempt to name the best experiences, although VALA, PUBRAISS, OLA (Ontario), BCLA, TxLA and AkLA (and WisLA and WaLA and several MLAs and…) are among the many highlights.

All of which is prelude.


I was just updating my vita, speaking notes and primary web page–the vita because it gets outdated easily, the other two because why not? {Caution: The vita is a 29-page PDF. Sorry about that.]

And thinking about whether I want to speak in the future.

The answer is yes. And no.


  • I love state library conferences and library conferences in general (with one exception, and it notably doesn’t have “library” in the name).
  • While I’m an introvert, I’m not antisocial, and I enjoy going to other programs and (within reason) social events at conferences.
  • I believe I still have things to say that are worth hearing–otherwise, I wouldn’t still be writing books.
  • We haven’t been traveling lately, so it’s a way to travel.
  • If your association concludes that I can offer perspectives that you wouldn’t otherwise get, I’d be delighted to discuss a possible speech.

Maybe not

  • There’s a lot to be said for hearing from people who are actually out there doing things.
  • There’s a lot to be said for hearing from younger librarians and library professionals. (Of course, when compared to me 90% or more of the field is younger, but there’s also a lot to be said for hearing from librarians and library professionals in their late 20s, 30s and early 40s, as well as for the more experienced folks who aren’t yet at retirement age.)
  • There’s a lot to be said–for some conferences–for hearing from a more diverse set of speakers, including hearing from more of the outstanding women in the field.
  • There’s a lot to be said for hearing from people who haven’t been heard from as often.
  • If you feel high-powered PowerPoint/Prezi presentations are essential, I’m not your speaker.
  • If you want absolute assurance about the future or punditry of a high order, I’m not your speaker.
  • If you want to be dazzled with infographics, you probably already know I’m not your speaker.


If there are groups who really do want to hear from me, and the arrangements make sense, I’m still interested.

And if there aren’t, that’s OK too. If I had to choose between Walt Crawford and [Jenica Rogers|Dorothea Salo|Jon Dupuis|Meredith Farkas|Laura Crossett|…] on a topic or for a situation either of them could handle well, I know which way I’d go.

*Added a bit later on October 11: I added a comment on the Friendfeed automatic posting of the title of this post, namely “Or “Why I might never be at NjLA–the most populous state I haven’t spoken in–and that’s OK.” To which Joe Kraus responded “NJ is not OK, not even close geographically”–which is very clever. Except that it led me to check the states I have and haven’t spoken in, and it turns out OK is close to NJ in one respect: It’s the next-most-populous state I haven’t spoken in [yet]. It appears that I’ve spoken in 29 of the 50 states and DC, including all but three states with at least three million people (Iowa’s the third).

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