A Tote Bag of Ideas

As I wrote last week, I will be giving a keynote presentation at the upcoming HighEdWeb New England regional conference. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity because I know I’ll be able to use the time I’m being given to talk about something that has become very important to me over the past couple of years: sharing.

The working title for my talk right now is “Share Like a Human” and in the spirit of sharing (along with some inspiration from Austin Kleon), I thought I’d share some behind-the-scenes thoughts and processes as I put my talk together.

Starting this week, and over the next seven weeks or so leading up to #hewebNE I’ll be chronicling my progress as much as I can without giving away the actual content of my talk.

Why bother doing this? Well, in a lot of ways I’m doing this for myself as a way to organize my thoughts with purpose, and writing about a process or idea often helps me figure out the details of what that will be. But I also think it may be helpful to others working on presentations or talks of their own to see how another person prepares for it.

I don’t claim to be an expert at giving presentations, and the way I do things may not work for everyone. I build presentations in the way that works for my own needs and habits, using a structure and elements that draw on my past experience and training as a writer and performer. But whether you’re working on a keynote, a conference presentation, a classroom lecture, or just leading a discussion, I think there are elements everyone should consider and plan for.

It all starts with a theme. A subject you want to explore, or perhaps a question you want to answer. In my first public talk back in 2014, my question was “How can I be more productive in my higher ed job?” That led me to thinking about embracing being human and setting goals, which eventually merged into my HUMAN acronym of five goals: being Honest, Unafraid, Mindful, Active, and Nice. That then became a structure I could hang my ideas on through the presentation, and a way to tie all my ideas together.

Having that acronym gave me an ending for my presentation, and I want to stress how much I believe that the ending is the most important part of any presentation for one simple reason: if you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t know when to stop.

Especially if you’re presenting at a big conference where there are so many other awesome ideas being shared, your ending is often the part that makes the biggest impression. It’s your takeaway opportunity, and it doesn’t matter if you’re talking for 10 minutes or 40 minutes or 90 minutes—the last two minutes are what people will leave the room with.

Think of it this way: if you’re going to spend the bulk of your talk piling up examples and ideas in the laps of your audience, you need to need to leave them at the end with an attractive thematic tote bag they can carry those ideas away in and unpack on their own.

Okay, maybe that’s a terrible metaphor, but you see what I mean. If you start with knowing what you want your final “tote bag of ideas” to look like—how big it is, how much it can carry—then you’ll better know what will fit inside it, and work towards that as you plan your presentation.

The ending of my talk is the first thing that came to me. I know what I want my final words to be, and what I want my concluding slide to look like. Most important, I know what I want people who are there to feel by the time I’m done.

I know what my keynote tote bag looks like. Now I just have to decide how I want to fill it.


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