For a long time now, I have questioned the worth of a celebrity keynote. I have been to education conferences in many places intended for audiences from different sectors, groups, etc and have begun to think about the value of a well-known, respected voice in a particular field or fields of education is to the experience of the attendees. In more crude terms, I am asking the question:
Has this person been booked to speak at this event because without their name on the bill people would not come (big name demand) or is their attendance a vital component of the experience, something that without them being there, the conference would be worse, not as informative, educational or focused?
In a recent post on the importance of the ‘local connects’ I argued for connected educators not to ignore their local networks. I would also add to this that there are ‘celebrities’ in your locale, in your school and/or schools around you. These will be celebrities in that they put into practice quality education techniques day in day out, that so-called celebrity keynotes get paid considerable sums to talk about. Teachmeets clearly show this to be the case as do the blogs and other resources that I come across every day. Furthermore, years of experience in many fields of education continually offers me opportunities to stumble across, often during conversations, these amazing people doing amazing things in their classroom.
So, if there are local celebrities, why pay for the celebrity keynote? Surely, it must be down to the big name demand mentioned above. Well, perhaps not. There may be more to it than that. It could be that the celebrity keynote is a really good speaker, an entertainer, a good orator. Maybe it could be down to their presentation being based on research and/or experience that is far wider and/or in-depth than the local alternative. Or it could be a combination of these. However, the important point must be to consider whether they have added value to the conference and if that value is significant enough to have merited their appearance. To my mind, that, and the crude question written earlier, can only be answered if we consider the long term effects of attending the conference.
I am proposing the following:
- Educational institutes have to take a proper, long hard look at why they allow or send staff to conferences. What are the long term benefits of that attendance for the institution they return to or the communities they work within? In other words, there have to be transparent, clear, lasting, maybe even measurable outcomes from attendance or at least evidence that shows some ideas have been considered for implementation. This isn’t exactly a new idea to most people but should this then apply to the keynote and indeed should the keynote be hired on the basis that he/she is providing these?
- Keynotes should be offering not just a speech and not just ideas that can be followed up but actually provides opportunities, communication channels (Twitter chats, webinars, hangouts) before and/or after the event where their audience can dig deeper into the concepts presented, gain the information and confidence they require to implement ideas into their institutes
- Keynotes should not be done in isolation i.e. they should be followed up by workshops on the day of the conference where practical implementation and examples are provided to assist interpretation of ideas presented
To my mind, when these proposals become the norm then my crude question will no longer be worth asking.