Keynote “Event”

Recently a colleague asked me if I would do a presentation for a webinar. I reluctantly agreed, but this is the memory that the request brought up.

I once was asked to do a keynote speech at a conference of people who ran community museums in Saskatchewan.  I told the organizer that I don’t do speeches, because I don’t like to be talked at so I don’t want to inflict that on others. I asked them to pay me a whole day’s fee for a 1-hour speech, hoping that they would say no.  But they still wanted me to do it!

So I decided to do a “keynote event” instead of a speech.  There were about 100 people, all lined up in folding chairs facing the speaker.  The first thing I did was have them pull their chairs into small groups of about 6 people each. Since they were museums people, I put the questions for a focused conversation on the flipchart about their past experience with their museums, and had them share following the questions in their small groups. There was a short opportunity for each small group to share something with the whole group. Then I gave a short talk about the present times. After that I had them go back into their small groups and follow focused conversation questions to share about their futures. The buzz of all those small conversations was amazing. I gave them another opportunity to share something from their group with the whole body. 

When the participants rated the “keynote” event, the participatory sharing parts rated very high, and the presentation part was much lower. I was not surprised.  Participation and sharing are much more fun than being talked at!

More recently, I was asked to do an Zoom conference presentation to several hundred facilitators from Korea. I don’t speak any Korean, and most participants did not have much English. There was simultaneous translation for my presentation, for which I used a slide show with images as well as key summary statements. People then went to breakout groups to have a conversation about what they had heard and their own experience, with guidance for the sequence of questions. When the group came back, there were some profound questions for me as a speaker that went deeper than the usual Q and A session.

Those who know me know that I am not averse to telling stories — in fact, that is what I just did in this post! But when people have a chance to share their own stories and experiences with others who listen, then they learn more and experience that their own knowledge and experience are valuable.

I suspect that this story catalyzed memories from your own experience that you might like to share. I invite you to share them in the comments on this post!

About jofacilitator

On Sept 1, 2020, I celebrated 50 years of work with the Institute of Cultural Affairs, facilitating meetings, groups, communities, and organizations, making it possible for ordinary people to have a voice in decisions that affect their lives. I retired on December 31, 2021, but still volunteer with the organization.
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