Keynotes are hard.

They’re not like any other type of conference presentation.  They’re not like spotlights and they’re certainly not like a breakout session, or a workshop.  For me, giving my first keynote (I’ve done 13, and thank you Judy, Gwen, Diana, and Joanne for that first opportunity) was a goal realized, and represented a pathway of hard work, success and failure.  Public speaking was something I avoided at all costs, and my inability to address this bothered me more than my fear of speaking, so I started presenting.  First, at local county institute days, and then at our state science conference.  I did my first national presentation in 1995 at the National Association of Biology Teachers Meeting in Phoenix on the “information superhighway.”  From there, I did my share of professional development workshops at middle schools in the middle of January after school on Wednesday.  I’ve done presentations in just about every venue I can think of, on just as many topics, and with as many different audiences as possible.  Since 2005, I’ve presented at over 80 conferences, most recently keynoting NYSCATE, and having the distinction of following Sir Ken Robinson.

Hall Davidson gave the best advice on keynotes, and that was that keynotes should frame the conference and provide context for all of the other presentations.  I’ve tried to do that in my keynotes, and I typically read all of the conference session descriptions while planning for a conference so that I can do that.  Keynotes should also incorporate the theme of the conference, something that is overlooked by many, including, in my experience, the other speakers at the conference.  Most importantly, you have to bring the big ideas, your big ideas, blend in the ideas of others, provide direction, and provide a measure of practicality.  If you want to see the expectations for a keynote, just see this.

It’s a pretty big thrill to hit a home run when giving a keynote.  On the other side of the coin, its personally and professionally disastrous not to. And when you consider the conditions: hot lights in your face so you can’t see the audience, typically a small stage with a podium, being videotaped, having awards and conference planners eat into your planned presentation time, dishes clanking at dinner keynotes, and the pressure of having the big picture in the program-well, giving a keynote can be very challenging, not that you would think otherwise.

But when you just hit it right…oh yeah…

So I’ve watched the keynote voting free-for-all on the ISTE site over the past few days with interest.  Congratulations to those in the “lead.”  I’ve actually been flattered by having 39 supporters cast 103 votes for me.  Thank you, it is appreciated.

There’s been a lot of gamesmanship for votes starting to emerge (see @garystager’s tweets), and as you might expect, multiple perspectives on the process that ISTE is using, and whether its appropriate and will ultimately be an effective process that will yield a set of engaging keynotes.

But my favorite comment so far was in this post by Scott McLeod, in a tweet from @juliafallon (sorry, her tweets are protected so I can’t take a screen shot-see Scott’s interesting post).  @juliafallon says: “This is ISTE’s worst idea ever.  We have a bunch of echo chamber nominees along with a few don’t insult me ones.  I want new blood.” To her credit, she goes on to write three more tweets, which are wonderfully done.

But I love the echo chamber.

Echo chamber for who exactly?  Those hyperconnected into Twitter?  Your typical classroom teacher?

If you take a typical ISTE audience of 14-15 thousand individuals, how many have heard Chris Lehmann speak?  Three to four hundred?  That’s not any fault of Chris’ or the audience, it just is.  And while Chris is a familiar voice to many of us in the “echo chamber,” he might not be known by a great majority of the audience.  You know, not everyone is on Twitter.  People should hear Chris Lehmann, that’s a pretty easy call.

And have you considered that individuals in the “echo chamber” might just be the people a larger audience needs to hear?  That they might be the leaders, might be the people with the next great idea or ideas, the next leader, the next person to light the way…

The process that ISTE has undertaken may not work.  Then again, it just might.

6 Responses to “Wanted: Keynoter”
  1. Nothing happens fast enough for those on twitter. I tweeted this a few weeks ago in response to those outraged by the “Enemy Within” presentation that was planned at last week’s NYSCATE conference. (BTW – did anything transpire? No.) Anyway, I agree with you here. What we are hearing might be “old” to us, but the penetration of new ideas and shifting of perspectives takes time. Years possibly. Thinking about it… maybe that’s why some who’ve been at this awhile are frustrated with the state of education today. We need to keep at it. Share our knowledge. ISTE is asking for help here, so, let’s provide ISTE with what we know.

  2. Several points here–

    I hear some “insider/outsider” vibes that have been arising regarding the “echo chamber” and heard that from teacher at my own school (about ISTE, no less).

    I totally agree that most people at ISTE haven’t had the opportunity to hear some excellent ed/tech leaders speak, and that we need that kind of inspiration. And even those of us in the “echo chamber” if you want to call it that can be inspired and energized by a great keynote.

    Third, I think you are so right that a great keynote can frame a whole conference. And actually in my limited experience at NECC, it seems they’ve had a good handle on doing that. So I think their effort to take the pulse of folks here is a good one that they will use well.

  3. “And have you considered that individuals in the “echo chamber” might just be the people a larger audience needs to hear? That they might be the leaders, might be the people with the next great idea or ideas, the next leader, the next person to light the way…”

    Although there is the potential for a popularity contest-like premise in terms of selecting a keynote speaker, I think there is something to be said for the expertise of a group of people who are engaged enough in the process of voting for the keynote. I appreciate the value of being connected through social networking with those who challenge our thinking with their actions and their writing. I certainly do recognize that twitter gives a louder voice to an “inner circle”. I’ve heard Chris speak. He can certainly “frame the conference and provide context for all of the other presentations” as well as inspire teachers and administrators who have never heard of him. So, ISTE has given us a great opportunity to give Chris exposure and let so many others hear his message.

  4. [...] keynotes that everyone will enjoy is near impossible. Keynoting is hard work.  But we should be able to find someone out there who is doing interesting, challenging, [...]

  5. [...] keynotes that everyone will enjoy is near impossible. Keynoting is hard work.  But we should be able to find someone out there who is doing interesting, challenging, [...]

  6. [...] bias. I'm awed by someone who can speak for more than 5 minutes and keep my attention. It's not easy. I've given my share of talks and keynotes and I realize that I'm not sure I've ever [...]

  7.  
Leave a Reply