Notes about Keynotes (by Jen Wagner)

There is a buzz around the Education Network about the Keynote for the ISTE conference in 2010. (

They have opened up (well, you have to create an account) the site for you to

  1. Share your idea in for a topic (10/15/ - 11/15)
  2. Share your idea in for a speaker (11/16 – 12/15)
  3. Final Speaker votes (1/4 – 1/15)

And besides the comments on the website, there are several blog posts about this idea:

There are many things I could say about what I feel about all this, but you can read about that on my personal blog…….

What I mainly wish to share with this post is the thought of “Why a Keynote?” and “What do we expect from a Keynote?”

I have been to my share of conferences, as I am sure you have, and have heard dynamic keynotes as well as horrid keynotes. There have been keynote speakers that have moved me to tears, speakers that have moved me to action, speakers that have spurred me to become better at my job, as well as speakers who have put me to sleep, tried to impress me about who they were, and speakers who should be asked for the keynote fee to be returned

The primary goal, I feel, of an opening keynote is to set the atmosphere for the rest of the conference. My hope, my wish, for an opening keynote is to challenge me out of my comfort zone. When I first reach a conference I am raring to go, ready to learn, my schedule is planned, I am a sponge ready to soak up what I can. I believe the opening keynote needs to challenge us to be open to anything and everything we can while at this conference. I hope the keynote will challenge me to rise out of my comfort zone and stretch myself to make these next few days much less about me -- and much more about my role as an educator and also about my students or the people I work with and what I can share with them when I return back to work.

Does it need to be a big name? For me, no. In fact, I would rather conferences not pay the large amounts of money (I have heard between $15,000 - $30,000 has been paid for some recent keynote speakers) and invite one of our own as the opening or closing speaker. At CUE and at NECC (two conferences I enjoy) I know they have at least 20 – 40+ educators who could easily share a keynote and at one-quarter to one-half of the budgeted price. (The conference could then take the remaining monies and perhaps scholarship out some registrations!)

Does it help that it is a big name? Perhaps. I do admit, I enjoyed listening to Sally Ride and Buzz Aldrin (but then I am a fan of space travel). I would have enjoyed hearing Walter Cronkite or Peter Jennings or Randy Pausch or Margaret Mead. I would enjoy hearing Sandra Day O’Connor. However, recently and virtually, I heard a keynote given by a well-known actress, journalist and it was HORRID……proving that just because it is a name does not guarantee that that name can share or should share a keynote conversation.

For me:
The opening keynote needs to challenge me and the closing keynote needs to inspire me.

The conference has come to a close. We are tired, we are filled to the brim with new ideas, hopes, opportunities. We are ready to return from the “mountain-top” back to our daily routine. That is when I need to hear of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in their classroom. It is not when I need to hear from an author, a movie star, or an out of the classroom teacher……it is when I need to see the regular teacher sharing how they took the extra steps to make their classroom anything but regular. I need to see the real deal at the end and not a “perhaps”.

Which leads me then to contemplate on exactly what I do expect from a keynote.

  1. The keynote MUST KNOW the audience and NOT give a keynote word for word that I could easily google and see on YouTube.
  2. The keynote must have up to data, relevant information, statistics, and facts.
  3. The keynote (and the conference) needs to be willing to offer a follow up session for questions, clarifications, and conversation.
  4. The keynote CAN NOT use the keynote time to market his/her book or website.
  5. The keynote must understand learning…..daily learning.
  6. The keynote needs to share what they have learned (yesterday, last week, 2 weeks ago, 1 month, 1 year) and not rest completely on something they learned or discovered 5, 10, 15, 20 years ago.
  7. The keynote needs to be a story teller and not a slide reader.
  8. The keynote needs to be an example of correct uses of attribution and share with us where he/she found information and pictures.
  9. The keynote needs to leave me with a message to share and not a name to drop

So, if I may, I extend my question to you (as perhaps you are thinking about the keynote topics and speaker for ISTE 2010 – or any conference) and ask what do you expect from a keynote and why do you think we need keynotes? I believe that though our thoughts might be similar that indeed there might be differences of thought as well.

Please continue this conversation, both here and on your own blog. Let us expand the role of the keynote more to just a beginning hour and the closing hour of a conference and let us dream of options, opportunities, and possibilities……

What and who would you want – and why?

I would enjoy hearing your thoughts.

Jen Wagner

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