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


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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Good Presenters Are…


 

I know nothing about a lot of things.

One of these is my limited understanding of giving a presentation.

But lack of knowledge doesn’t mean I can’t have an opinion (my blog after all).

A great presentation requires many things.

A nice room.  Comfortable seating.  Air conditioning, but not too much air conditioning (I get cold now that I’m old).  A PowerPoint that doesn’t have Funny is Always Good.a bazillion words on each slide.  An internet connection that isn’t slower than dial-up.  Free stuff (you can buy an audience’s love with food, pens, letter openers, umbrella (?)… possibly a car).

The problem is most people only focus on these items.

They double-check the room set-up.  They obsess on the sound system.  They spend hours preparing their PowerPoints.  They go to great lengths to memorize entire presentations.  They make sure they look professional.  The buy all kinds of crap with their name/logo on it (don’t get me wrong, I like free crap… but it’s still crap).

Then they present.

And it stinks.

It’s totally unremarkable.  It’s hard to remember what the presenter said 10 minutes after it’s over.

I don’t understand why people do this.

Especially when the problem is so obvious.

It’s wasn’t the room.  It’s wasn’t the PowerPoint (although for the love of Pete… stop with all of the words and clipart… and remember your audience can get your general idea in less that 120 slides).  It wasn’t even that the free stuff was crappier than usual (again, it’s crap… but keep it coming… I can never have too many nail files).

The problem was the presenter.

Most are very knowledgeable.  Most have a great deal they want to share.  Most are very well prepared.

And most are still boring.

Not bad.  Just boring.

Really boring (like Mitt Romney boring).

It’s like watching slides of your parents’ first vacation to a local state park from 40 years ago (explanation for the kids:  slides pre-dated digital cameras, Polaroids, colored film, and life as we know it).

Boring is always worse worse than bad.

Poor presentations can always be traced back to one thing.

They weren’t funny.

That’s the key.

Humor.

The more the better.

The presenter doesn’t have to be a professional comedian, but every presentation needs a little entertainment value.

It can be a joke.  Or a video.  Or even an activity (as long as I don’t have to participate… not interested in group projects or role-playing… that’s just me).

Maybe a talking dog or a monkey in a suit (always funny).

But it has to entertain people on some level.

If you want me to remember your great idea, you need to make me smile.

And don’t forget… if all else fails, give me free crap.

You had me at funny.

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You Can’t Just Hand a Microphone to Anybody.


I spent my weekend at a convention. Actually, I shouldn’t use the word weekend because that implies restful time away from my job.

But all is not lost as Thanksgiving Break is right around the corner. And I might add that it comes at a perfect time.

It was a stroke of genius when our early settlers decided that schools needed to take time off in late November.Not the Microphone from School... but This One is Pretty Cool.

As a kid, I had no idea that the Pilgrims were so well-versed on the academic calendar. I thought they were simply people who looked good in hats, enjoyed big meals, and loved their football (and by football, I don’t mean the Detroit Lions).

While I am tired, I did learn a few things at the convention.

I learned that I miss my bed, refrigerator, and shower.

In the past I have talked about the horrors of hotels, so I won’t bore you with the details of sleeping in a bed that has previously been “occupied” by thousands of strangers (I am sure some were more strange than others, but I try not to focus on that little tidbit of information).

But missing my refrigerator and shower are different. These are issues that need to be addressed.

I mean I really missed them.

It amazes me that people can eat out all the time. After a couple of days, I find myself just wanting an apple or a sandwich. Or 27 Oreos, but that discussion is for a different day.

Also, the showers in hotel rooms continue to be a riddle to me. Why do they always run out of hot water? Don’t hotels realize a large number of guests will be bathing between 6:00 and 8:00 a.m.?

It is like they are surprised. Like we snuck up on them. They must know we are all going to wake up at some point and wander into the bathroom.

But, these are minor inconveniences as I attended the convention to learn. Specifically, I was hopeful to pick up some new information about technology for my school.

It didn’t happen, but I feel like I did my part. I showed up. Which for a lot of convention attendees seems to be a challenge.

Educators always say they want to go to conventions and then once they arrive they work so hard at not attending workshops. Why is that?

Maybe they should hold these events in North Dakota instead of nicer places (let the emails from North Dakota commence…).

Actually, I wish the presenters had showed up.

Actually, that is a little harsh. They were there and they did their best.

It’s just that they presented the same information I have heard over and over for the last few years.

Our students are farther advanced in technology than adults. Educators should allow cell phones in schools because they are mini-computers. We should use Skype because it is free (we do and yes it is). Schools need to be proactive, not reactive to changes in technology.

I get it.

Enough already.

I need tips or strategies to implement technology and not the same old rehashed PowerPoint presentation with 187 slides (by the way… I can read, so you don’t have to pronounce every word on every single slide for me).

If I seem angry that is because I am (see: not sleeping in own bed and haven’t had a decent cookie in days not to mention the dodging of so many PowerPoint bullets).

I know we are falling behind with technology in schools, but now I am convinced we may be falling behind in presenters.

Just because someone is willing to talk into a microphone doesn’t mean we should allow them (see: President George Bush… let the emails from North Dakota Republicans commence…).

Not everyone talking into a microphone is an expert.

Point in case: a new principal handing the mic to a sophomore on the football team during a prep rally. Bad idea.

Really bad idea.

I would like to comment further on this, but once again a court order prevents me.

Same goes for presenters. We need to be more careful as to whom we allow to use the microphone.

Just because someone has a snappy title for the presentation, doesn’t mean their information is timely and high quality.

Could it be possible they are just there to pad their resumes? Which for the record, I am all for… just not on my time (note to self… update resume on someone else’s time).

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for their efforts because I am sure they spent a great deal of time putting their PowerPoint together (after all 187 slides just don’t just write themselves… especially if each one has 97 words in a really small font…did I mention the bullets?).

Plus, they had to spend several minutes downloading the “Did You Know” video off of YouTube.

Great video, but is there anyone involved in education who hasn’t seen it? And by seen it, I mean at least 10 times.

I think we have to be more particular to whom we listen regarding issues in education.

If we aren’t careful, soon everyone will have a platform. People will be just throwing out ideas with no rhyme or reason.

Trust me, this could get bad.

The government will start coming up with half thought ideas about testing, administrators will begin to think that their every thought is ingenious, and maybe… just maybe people will start up their own blogs just to shove their ideas down our throats.

These people will believe they are experts just because they have an audience.

I am not sure I like where this is heading.

But oh well, I have problems of my own.

I have a blog to finish, then I need to wrap up a PowerPoint.

Only 186 slides to go.

I am thinking about using lots of clip art, hundreds of bullets, and a bunch of transition sounds.

Wait a second.

It just occurred to me. I’m an expert.

I may need business cards and a manager.

And of course, I am going to need a microphone.

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While this site operates with the knowledge and awareness of the Tuscola CUSD #301 School Board, Tuscola, Illinois, the content and opinions posted here may or may not represent their views personally or collectively, nor does it attempt to represent the official viewpoint of Tuscola CUSD #301 administrators or employees.