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.