Conference Speakers: I Can Read. Now Make Me Laugh.

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When I was a teacher, I often found myself wondering what superintendents did for a living (of course, this happened only after I had completed my lesson plans).

I was pretty sure they worked in education, but the specifics of the job were lost on me.  They looked busy, but I noticed they spent a lot of time out of the school district.

How could they run a school and not be in school?He Seems Like He's Enjoying the Conference.

Where did they go?

What were they doing?

Then I became a principal.  I assumed this would allow me to understand the inner sanctum of a superintendent (this sentence just sounds weird and borderline obscene… mainly because it is).

But no.  After a few years as principal, I still wasn’t 100% sure what superintendents did for a living.

But they seemed happy.

They seemed to enjoy their jobs.

So I became one (not the only reason, so easy on the angry emails).  And I found out what they already knew.

The superintendent’s position is the odd duck of a school district (insert your joke here). 

The job is as different from a teacher’s position, as a custodian’s or a coach’s.

The superintendent is in education, but just barely.  The primary focus of the job is no primary focus at all.

It’s people.  Students. Staff.  Money (or lack thereof).  Insurance.  Architects.  And meetings.

Lots and lots of meetings.

Meetings about stuff.  Meetings about nothing.  Meetings about meetings.

Most aren’t earth shattering.  If the truth be told one meeting isn’t much different than the previous 174 (but my anger at wasting time causes me to digress).

Another item on the superintendent’s to-do list is attending conferences. 

They are meetings on steroids.

I’ve found conferences always mean the same things.

Uncomfortable chairs.

Bad carpet.

People who want to shake your hand.

Rooms that are too hot.  Or too cold.  And dry.  Like desert dry (why is that?).

There are overheads.  PowerPoint slides.   And handouts. 

And more podiums than I can count.  Is it a law that you have to stand behind a big wooden box with the hotel logo on it when you speak?

And for every podium there are 5 people with giant name tags.

Each conference has at least 100 people listed as presenters.  Which means, by the law of averages, one will be great and one will be good.

That leaves 98 other presenters (check my math).

98 people who want to have a conference presentation on their resume.  Why they want this, I will never know.

As far as resumes go, is speaking at a conference a deal breaker on getting a new job?

Does it boost your income?

Provide better health insurance?

Increase your retirement package?

Whatever benefits presenting provides, I have a simple request (I’ve made it before and I’ll make it again).

Is it too much to ask when I (or a school district) pay hundreds of dollars in conference fees that someone with a microphone makes me smile.

I’m not asking for Carrot Top quality entertainment here, just a giggle.  Or a grin.  Or a split-second of happiness.

Anything, but someone standing behind the sacred podium reading a PowerPoint in a monotone voice (I know this comes as a shock, but I can read).

Why do I have to be held captive just so they can improve their job prospects?

The best conference speakers aren’t the ones with a ground-breaking message.

The ones you remember are funny.

It might be a joke.  Could be a video (YouTube has them for free you know).  Maybe even a self-deprecating story.

There are parts of being a superintendent that continue to be a mystery, but after 8,000 meetings/conferences I think I’ve discovered the formula for a memorable presentation.

A simple message + at least one laugh.

Try it. Your audience will like it.

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6 Responses to “Conference Speakers: I Can Read. Now Make Me Laugh.”

  1. Karen
    on Nov 24th, 2010
    @ 1:16 pm

    Don’t sell yourself short. I have had good and bad ones, and bad ones are like the nursery rhyme about the little girl who had a little curl, and when she was good she was very very good but when she was bad she was horrid. A bad superintendent can wreck a school division and a good one can inspire everyone to give it everything they’ve got. Everyone in the division has their role and when everyone works together like a well oiled machine it can be magic. The superintendent can set everyone down that path. I am thinking you are one of the good ones.

  2. Alfred Thompson
    on Nov 24th, 2010
    @ 4:54 pm

    I speak at conferences a lot. I try to always get at least one laugh. More is generally better. Laughing gets people’s blood and breathing going so that they are less likely to fall asleep. Speakers who put people to sleep generally don’t get invited to speak again. Well unless they are superentendents of schools. :-)

  3. Tim
    on Nov 24th, 2010
    @ 9:23 pm

    I go to a lot of conferences. I agree, those podiums are lame. I also think that the funny needs to be natural. Presenters working to be funny (even grin level funny) are more irritating than funny. No joke.

    On the other hand…
    Best presentation. Man is talking. leaning into the lame podium. I was sitting very near the front (“A” students sit in front, another theory I have soundly disproved) and noticed a puddle forming under the podium. The man stepped back, looked down, turned red and kept speaking. Fast forward…. presentation over and at first, the guy will not leave the podium. He keeps saying “thank you, have a nice afternoon” and for just a few seconds no one knows what to do. The guy finally leaves the podium and has a large wet spot “down the front of him”. He explained that he had bumped the podium and his bottle of water fell against him, leaving the spot… pretty funny.

    Memorable. If you ever try that in a presentation, please let me know how it goes for you.


  4. Allanah King
    on Nov 24th, 2010
    @ 11:32 pm

    You’d be proud of me. I’ve heeded your advice and always include at least one funny video somewhere there so that they can have at least one smirk per presentation.

  5. Melanie
    on Nov 25th, 2010
    @ 3:54 pm

    This is what happens when superintendents forget that effective teaching does not rely on lecturing. I am amazed how often I am expected to sit through hours and hours of lecture, but if I were to lecture my students for hours on end I would receive a bad evaluation, and probably eventually be let go. (Charter school…30 day termination clause)

  6. Ryan
    on Nov 26th, 2010
    @ 10:16 am

    Karen’s right – you shouldn’t sell yourself short, especially in this economy. After all, many states have been laying off teachers, but it looks like there has a perfectly redundant chair-warming position all this time.

    I joke, but perhaps I shouldn’t.

    I’ve read the latest cuts in New Jersey are aimed at superintendent salaries. The supes say it isn’t fair and that the governor’s rhetoric is based on false claims.

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