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Building a conference session from the ground up

You're only given a spark of madness. You musn't lose it.
Robin P. Williams

Tomorrow I'll be doing a brand new conference session for the Global Education Conference. Ask me in the middle of constructing a new talk why I ever decided to tackle the topic, I could only say "insanity." Such tasks are not insignificant.

I follow a fairly standard outline when developing a 45-60 minute presentation. (I also have a similar formula for longer workshops.) Here is how it usually goes:

Determine a topic. Often it seems the topic chooses me rather than the other way around. This go-round it was whether and how education could develop empathy in students. It started with an article about research that showed fiction readers scored higher on tests that supposedly measure empathy. So I wrote a column about that. More recently, other articles and studies have stressed the importance of "affective" skills and behaviors and I have done some research. The importance of empathy, not just in personal but in vocational success, has not had enough attention, I believe, and bringing more attention to it would be good for kids. Empathy is essential in a global economy, global society.

Organize the material. As a former high school writing teacher, I know the importance of good organization. While it is not exactly the five paragraph expository essay, most of my sessions contain these bits:

  • The Why This Topic is Important to Students
  • The Research/Experience Report of What the Experts Say and Example to Which Educators Might Relate
  • The Take-a-ways of What Teachers and Librarian Can Actually Do With This Information on Return to School 

While I do this, I also think of activities that reinforce the ideas I am trying to get across.

Create the slides. This is the time suck. I am pretty fussy about how my slides look. I am a fan of Presentation Zen, although do not follow it to the letter. (I still need some words since my slides serve as my note cards.) I also try to follow Robin Williams's advice in The Non-Designer's Design Book. This is a lot of work. But I hope my slides strengthen rather than inhibit my message.

Curate support materials. As I create my slides, I add sources to my wiki, create backchannel tools, and link to collaborative GoogleDocs. 

Tweak. I cannot open a slideshow or my wiki without wanting to make some changes. Every time I give a talk, the participates teach me something that I can add that strengthens the talk. I see a slide design and am embarrassed and fix it.

I don't practice my talk. I don't write out a script. I hopefully tell more stories than relate facts. I get nervous. I wonder why I bother. 

But when the talk starts, I start to have fun. 

Hope to work with some of you tomorrow at 2PM.

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