The death of the keynote


I distinctly remember a fantastic piece of advice that was given to me when I agreed to take over the chair of the RCAC Symposium.

“Design the type of conference that you would actually go to”

It was great advice and I took it to heart and used that as my guide for that conference and then a couple of years as co-chair of the Bring IT, Together Conference.

One of the things that I was able to do and have followed up with is getting keynote speakers – of course everyone does that – but I also added a followup workshop to their day with us. How often have you heard a keynote just address an audience and then take off without a chance for significant interaction with those who want to learn more? A workshop requires more significant knowledge of the subject topic that just talking to an audience.

Over the years, I have some significant memories –

Stephen Downes – I went to introduce myself to him at an ECOO Conference in Markham just before he was going on and he was making modifications to his keynote address. I asked him why and his response impressed me and still sticks in my mind – I’ve been talking to people here and they need a stronger message because they’re doing so many things right.

Leslie Fisher – I’d attend a MACUL Conference just to be in the audience to listen to her. If you need to see someone who is absolutely confident in herself and her technology understanding, you need to see Leslie present. She’s asked back year after year because of her abilities and her continuing research into what’s current and relevant. Her sessions never end; they’re like one more episode of a long story presented every year. Isn’t education like that?

Amber MacArthur – I’d read much from Amber before I ever thought about her as a keynote speaker. I just happened to be browsing a Speakers’ Bureau when I noticed that she was available and what sort of things that she’d talk about. What put me over the top was her calling me for a discussion in advance of the event to talk to me about local education issues and what was important to us rather than a generic approach originating from somewhere in the GTA.

David Warlick – My favourite memory of David was talking to him about joining us in London, Ontario. I’ll never forget – he wanted to know what kind of electricity we used. We were going to be his first Canadian presentation and he wanted to be prepared. Of course, we talked about Ontario issues and things but his ability to talk with us rather than at us put him over the top. He was practical and had walked the walk. That was so important.

And I could go on.

One thing that I feel confident saying is that all of these presenters would give a different presentation today than what they had given in the past. They make an effort to remain in tune with what is happening and continue to demonstrate that they’re active learners on social media.

Recently, I took a look at a few upcoming presentations from conferences where they’re featuring their keynote speakers. I found it quite sad that, in some of the cases, the descriptor was exactly the same as what it was a couple of years ago. It was as if they’d completely been unaware of what has been happening. Or maybe they’re so short sighted to think that a few million more vaccinations and we’ll be back to normal, whatever that is.

That’s not the sort of keynote that I want to hear. I’m sure that’s not the sort of keynote that any reasonable thinking educator wants to hear. Unless that changes, they are working themselves into a state of irrrelevance.

Some thoughts that I would have to remain relevant include:

Be Open and Share Your Learning – this has never been easier with social media. You can lead and demonstrate your ability to learn and grow in the open. Amber, for example, makes it so easy to see “behind the scenes” in her home studio or Stephen is constantly reading, commenting, and sharing with his daily newsletter.

Listen to teachers – this will be a challenge as everyone has developed a new set of skills and realization of shortcomings over the past year. That which might have been popular a couple of years ago won’t fit the bill now.

Active – one thing that teachers have become good at this past year is sitting in place staring at a screen. If you think that sitting in an audience staring at the stage will be engaging now, you’d got another think coming. Your style absolutely needs to change.

Be original – teachers are smart; they know that things will change; they know that they have changed and will need to change further. Throwing up a Powerpoint slide quoting someone else’s research isn’t going to cut it. Inspiration needs to be based on original work with evidence that the speaker has been paying attention and knows that it’s a new world going forward.

It’s going to be difficult to a return to normal learning at the conference level. It may actually even be a year or two behind the reopening of education since it appears that it will have many different permutations. I know that any money I plan to spend on my own learning won’t be directed to listening to the same old, same old.

There will eventually be a demand for great keynote speakers again but they need to be prepared for a new educational reality. It’s not going to be a quick and easy move; those that are on top of things will succeed. The really great ones are doing it right now with their learning and you can see it.

OTR Links 03/24/2021


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