Source: SpideySense is Tingling – http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/images/2008/04/17/tingling.jpg

At first, I thought we were in for a big expose of all the charlatans that haunt the edublogosphere and end up as speakers in places where the people just lack the sophistication, the energy to read online. Dr. Scott McLeod (Dangerously Irrelevant) starts out with Willard Daggett, Ruby Payne–both of whom I had to deal with in different school districts I worked with, having to study their work only to find out now that they are (gasp) EXPOSED as fakes–and then moves on to a short list that, not surprisingly, includes some of my all time favorite speakers, including David Warlick, Doug Johnson, Ewan McIntosh, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, and Wesley Fryer.

Update 01/01/2009: Ewan asks if he’s on the list of fakes. Obviously, he missed the bold section above which lists him as one of my all time favorite speakers. So again because my original text was not clear, here is–for what it’s worth–my stamp of approval on the folks listed: David Warlick, Doug Johnson, Ewan McIntosh, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Tom March, Bernie Dodge, Dr. Scott McLeod, and Wesley Fryer. What? Gary Stager doesn’t like my list? (smile)

Now, I’ll admit to a bias in the case of Doug Johnson and Wes Fryer–I’ve been reading their writing for at least a decade, maybe two (I’m sure Doug is published in some stone tablets somewhere (grin) that I haven’t read yet). David Thornburg, Tom March and Bernie Dodge are also among my favorites.

I found this comment made on Scott’s blog intriguing, but I find the dichotomy too either-or. I seldom find this to be so clear as Jackie Gerstein points outs…well, perhaps only in the case of a big celebrity. I often remember how disgusting ascribing celebrity status to any one speaker is…when it’s done to me, a part of me revolts and says, “Hey, I’m a human being, too!” I’ve played this game with David Warlick and Wes Fryer, both colleagues and, dare I say friends, who I admire when they assume the mantle of consultant as expert. But in both cases, it is the experience of being in the room with them that I’m after, not what they’ll actually teach me.

Jackie Gerstein writes:

The consultant-as-the-expert is quite different than the consultant-as-a-facilitator.

The consultant-as-the-expert, as the sage on this stage, is often revered by the audience. Later, he or she is spoken about with great fervor around the water fountain with comments like, “Wasn’t she or he amazing?” The consultant as the facilitator allows participants to walk along side and then in front of him or her. The workplace atmosphere, in this case, becomes, “Aren’t WE amazing?”

The fact is, we all ARE amazing. This deifying of certain individuals isn’t fooling anyone anymore (Dagget’s days are numbered as a speaker, in other words) as more people get connected and online.

In my own selection of a speaker, I am looking for someone that will advocate a particular agenda (mine, obviously) to the benefit of the organization. Often, organizations don’t want to hear the bad news from in-house folks. I’m reminded of this Chris Argyris quote:

Experience shows that organizations have the most difficulty at learning when the problems are difficult and embarrassing or threatening precisely when they need learning most. An organizational defense is a policy, practice, or action that prevents the participants (at any level of the organization) from experiencing embarrassment, or threat, and, at the same time prevents them from discovering the causes of the embarrassment or threat.

So, in the speaking engagements–the fly you in, speak, fly you out kind that Gary Stager has complained about (sorry, no link but it was memorable!)–that I’ve participated in, I’ve actually had the organizational representative tell me that this was why they selected me to give the talk I gave.

In my youth, I would have resented such manipulation when delivering a hands-on workshop. I still remember when I was called in to provide professional development for a teacher who had left the Texas Border Patrol to avoid learning how to use computers; imagine his shock when he found he had to learn how to use technology in the small central South Texas school district I was invited to present at!

Yet, since I moved from workshop facilitator to conference speaker, I have had a lots of fun preparing for my presentations. . .it’s a different experience for me…I no longer care WHY I’m being asked in, I’m too busy having fun letting myself “off the leash.” Simply, I have a fun being a speaker; I can only hope the folks in the audience feel that way, too.

In the interests of transparency, I once felt that I had to be up on the latest and greatest in ed-tech…but, I’ve had a change of heart. After watching so many edubloggers make good as professional speakers, I recognize that the standards have changed. Before I outline what those standards are, I’d like to touch briefly on some of the excellent one-word points Scott makes; my opinions follow the dash.

  1. Accuracy – While accuracy is important, we now live in a world where anyone can fact-check you DURING your presentation. The focus has to be on providing engaging access to primary sources of data, not just citing data or ensuring its accuracy. I’m sure this has always been true but we continue to achieve a higher level of expectation.
  2. Currency – Keeping yourself fresh and current is important but when you have access to a world of learners and teachers, the emphasis has to be on being current with real-life, verifiable examples…simply, helping others to better understand the lives of real people in the context of research and data.
  3. Transparency – I often feel that the qualitative researcher’s expectation for confessing his/her bias in a study has found its way into other aspects of life. In addition to being transparent in our thinking, we also have to make it possible for our audience to become a part of that thinking through audience engagement…simply, invite them to be transparent themselves.
  4. Service – Scott shares that it is about the organization, not us. I’ve found the priests and priestesses of an organization are about ensuring that the message and changes recommended by the speaker are hard-hitting, that they transcend the organization’s present troubles and obstacles. Service, for me, often implies subjugating one’s will to that of the organization…but we know that some organizations are best served when one shows up, as a famous speaker and leader said, to set the world on fire.

Those are just some quick thoughts about what Scott said. Let me switch gears and share what speaking is all about now.

Source: Mountain Stream Swimming, Sungubala Mountain, Royal Natal National Park

β€œIt is not what we learn in conversation that enriches us. It is the elation that comes of swift contact with tingling currents of thought.” -Agnes Repplier

This quote really captures what being a speaker is for me today. In fact, the flip side of the learning blog is this participation in the flow of conversation that sets us all a-tinglin’. Sometimes, though, one can be over-stimulated (smile) and get “ho-hum.” The more I learn, I’m no longer interested that David Warlick is using PmWiki.org to power his speakers wiki or WordPress for his blog or downloading YouTube videos to embed in his presentations or that he has some factoid that will knock my socks off. I’m actually engaged by the way he presents, how he shares what he is learning or conversing about…and how that happens makes all the difference.

So, with that Repplier quote in mind, here are some of the new expectations for speakers.

New (but getting old quick) Expectations

  • Visionary, pie in the sky presentations that build on the changing student demographic (you know, citing the Pew Internet research, pick your study) and what that means for teaching, learning and/or leadership. A few short helpful tips on how to become a lifelong learner using the Read/Write Web, personal learning networks, and all that.
  • Listening to a Conference speaker now is an experience that is increasingly participatory “a la 2.0.” Successful speakers must engage the audience as much as possible through multimedia, Web 2.0 communication tools (e.g. Twitter), and stories that are personally relevant, even if it means involving someone from somewhere else…including the audience who is live blogging and narrowcasting the event via audio, video, live-blogging to the point that if your regular blogger didn’t catch it, you know someone did.
  • The oddball anecdote, “new story” or statistic that validates, that affirms what we’re doing in schools while uncovering a fresh approach, an “Aha! I missed that but I see that the approach is a refinement to what I’m doing!”
  • Razzle-dazzle images on dark background that visually stimulate and engage.

What are your thoughts/reflections?


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