Tips for Conference Chairs

I have had the great privilege of attending and speaking at hundreds of conferences throughout my career. This year for the first time I have also begun chairing events. If the event is being held in a single room, with no breakout sessions, the role of the conference chair becomes an important one.

These are my suggestions for facilitating a successful single room event:

  • Bring energy and enthusiasm to the stage. Be upbeat. You have one chance to set the tone for the day and get things off to a great start. Engage the audience, use humour, ask the audience questions, get them to raise their hands and create a fun, energetic vibe to the start of proceedings. Make a connection with certain individuals in the audience. Encourage people to meet each other and even provide some 30 second activities to allow this to happen.
  • Make sure you know the correct pronunciation of all the speakers names you will be introducing.
  • Triple check that A/V is sorted ie. slides work, videos play, audio levels are correct, presenter is mic’d up.
  • Introduce the theme of the conference by painting the big picture. Be passionate, provocative and be optimistic. Use stories and current news events. Authentic stories are always a powerful medium for communicating a message.
  • Remember that the conference is not about you – share personal anecdotes where appropriate but don’t talk about your own work. Be curious.
  • Some speakers may have provided lengthy bios. When introducing them, take some creative licence and shorten where necessary.
  • Ensure speakers keep to time. Arrange beforehand how you will let them know that they 5 minutes remaining.
  • Lead audience Q&A if time permits. Always have a question prepared to ask the presenter in case the audience is shy.
  • When facilitating Q&A, remind people to stand, speak their name clearly, and to ask a short and pointed question. Do not accept 5 minute monologues disguised as questions. Trust me, the audience will thank you for this.
  • Sitting down for a whole day can be gruelling. Create opportunities throughout the day for people to stand, meet others and engage in small creative exercises.
  • Encourage positive human collisions at scheduled breaks. Often the best experiences at events come about through networking or meeting people that you haven’t met before.
  • Make yourself available to the audience during breaks to network, discuss and generally just be visible.
  • Closing the event is just important as opening. Create a call to action. Summarise briefly the main themes for the day. Challenge the audience to decide on at least one concrete action that they are going to go back with them into their own contexts and implement straight away.
  • Thank everyone – conference organisers, speakers, the audience, any sponsors.

Influencing a Learning Culture

The theme of the recent PDN Principals conference was Influence and it aimed to provide a rich and rewarding exchange of ideas and possibilities; arousing intellectual curiosity with world class researchers and speakers that included Emeritus Professor Christopher Day,  Dr John Edwards, and Andrew Griffiths.

In keeping with the theme, the title of my keynote was Influencing a Learning Culture. I shared the five things that I believe have the biggest impact on influencing a learning culture. In summary,

1. Create a shared vision.

In creating a vision I’m not talking about a generic vision statement here, not something that looks exactly like every other school in the world that says something about innovation, differentiation, personalized learning and independent learners, I’m talking about a collaboratively constructed, shared vision for the future of learning.

2. Shift from passive to active.

Shift the notion that professional learning is something that is done to you as opposed to something that you do for yourself. Implement the concept of a learning project.

3. Provide permission.

People need to know that innovation isn’t about devaluaing anyone’s work. Innovation isn’t necessarily a deficit statement. Being innovative however requires us to step outside of the normal and suspend our biases. Suspending our biases allows us to develop a capacity to disassociate from the way things have always been done. By developing this capacity we give ourselves permission to innovate.

4. Make your default “yes”.

As a leader make your default answer “yes.” Say “yes” to everything. Encourage all ideas. Even the ridiculous ones. If you really want to create an environment that allows for innovation, big innovation is right on the edge of ridiculous ideas. That means you support every single idea that comes to you from your teaching staff – ask them to try their ideas, to evaluate it, to refine it and then to share it widely.

5. Tell people they’re awesome.

Teachers have one of the most important jobs in the world and many if not all of them work so hard, day in day out, often working late into the night every night, trying to create the most memorable learning experiences that they can for kids.
To positively influence a learning culture you need to constantly thank people for their work. Leave handwritten notes on their desks. Share their work widely. Celebrate successes loudly no matter how small they may be.

I love sharing at conferences like this one. Of course, what works in one context may not work in another, but I believe these five things are the building blocks for creating a thriving teaching and learning culture in any school.

Get in touch if you would like to find out more!

Thinking for Our Future

The Creative Innovation conference finished on Friday with an incredible program of speakers on the day including Ray Kurzweil, Edward Debono, Rufus Black, Paddy Miller, Brendan Boyle & Tan Le

From an education perspective, the conference was a great chance to meet and network with people from business, industry, philanthropy and to talk to many successful entrepreneurs. Kurzweil stated in his talk that, “most people in developed countries are doing jobs that did not exist when they were born.” and this was clearly supported with some of the job titles of the people that I met throughout the conference – titles such as, Innovation Architect, Chief Fulfiller of Needs, Life Coach, Inventiologist, Changemaker, Bubbleologist, Bubbleosopher, Chief Ideas Officer, Thinking Strategist etc.

Education is too insular – we need to get out more and see what is happening in the world, to meet people with different backgrounds and interests, to see what is happening in business and industry – this allows for cross-sector collaboration and pollination. Many of the people I met are very eager to work with people in education, but just need an entry point. 

My immediate actions:

The purchase of an emotiv EPOC headset (with the SDK) to see how Quantum Victoria can use brain-machine interface and neuro-technology to re-energize interest in science among secondary school students.

Research Brendan Boyle’s d.School at Stanford University. Brendan was a real class-act and very generous with his time. He spoke at length about the principles of design thinking and the importance of play. The philosophy of making play part of the process to increase creativity and innovation was supported by the idea that play should involve 1.Role Play 2. The Encouragement of Ridiculous – the ebb and flow of ideas 3. Thinking with your hands. He shared many fun examples of students using design thinking in whimsical ways.

The Institute of Design at Stanford have made available all their material on design thinking and creative processes available for anyone to use – definitely something to investigate further.

And finally, Paddy Miller blew me away with his work on creating an ecosystem for innovation – definitely check out his book the Innovation Architect when it becomes available.

Creative Innovation 2011

I have recently been the recipient of a scholarship to attend Creative Innovation 2011. From the media release,

Ten emerging leaders and innovators across Australia have been selected as scholarship winners from an enormous pool of talented applicants. They will attend Creative Innovation 2011 and present their innovation for the future to some of the biggest business thinkers in the world including legendary Dr. Edward de Bono, Daniel Dennett, Stephen Heppell and one of the USA’s top ten entrepreneurs and inventors Raymond Kurzweil.

Winners will also be able to rub shoulders with over 35 leading innovators and leaders and delegates from an enormous range of industries, government and business

The main theme for Creative Innovation 2011 is The challenges and opportunities of a super-connected world. To register your place for this amazing event held in Melbourne from November 16th-18th please visit:

Hope to see you there.

Learning Without Frontiers

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Learning Without Frontiers conference held in London from January 9th-11th.

From the website,

“The last 10 years has seen unprecedented growth and development in consumer technologies at an accelerating pace beyond anything mankind has experienced. Exponential improvements in affordable digital processing power, storage, communications, computing, content distribution, reaching ever larger segments of the global population, are just some of the drivers of change in the way we now live, play and learn turning what we once imagined as science fiction into science fact.

LWF brings together leading disruptive thinkers and practitioners from the education, digital media, creative, technology and entertainment sectors to explore, share and demonstrate how new disruptive technologies are driving radical efficiencies and improvements for learning whilst offering equality of access.”

The recordings of all the talks from this conference are now available online. I though I would share what I thought were the highlights of the conference – enjoy!

Evan Roth, demonstrates and explores disruption in art and open source technology.

Stephen Heppell reminds us of why we learn, the purpose, objective and how we may leverage the abundant technologies of the 21st century to drive positive improvements and new practice across the whole of society.

In this inspiring talk Lord Puttnam discusses the future of the creative and digital industries, the importance of ensuring  our learners are equipped for this future and makes a call to action for a positive new disruption that leads to radically improved learning and global access.

Jimmy Wales is the US Internet entrepreneur and wiki pioneer best known as the founder of Wikipedia. “Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge” Jimmy asks us in this talk and discusses how Wikipedia has grown, the impact it has made and the people who contribute to its creation.


ACEC2010 Digital Diversity conference has just finished and all I can say is wow. What a stimulating four days!

Sylvia Martinez was excellent. Too often keynote speakers are removed from the classroom situation and therefore only give you a ‘big picture’ scenario that poses many questions but offers little to no solutions. Sylvia’s relaxed, down to earth style, drew the audience in and offered many relatively easy solutions to many problems that are faced in schools today. 

Gary Stager’s keynote on Friday morning “You say you want a revolution?” was thought provoking and a wake up call for many I would assume. I had formed a personal opinion of Gary before the conference through my dealings with him online but quickly changed this and was blown away by his delivering of home truths and the “tough love” that he felt compelled to dish out. It was controversial – people don’t like being told that they are not doing a good job. People don’t like being told that they are having the same conversations that have been happening for 20 years. People don’t like being told that they have perhaps gone backwards instead of moving forwards. What I thought was compelling, that I think some of the audience missed, was that Gary was saying what he said because he loves kids. He is saying that kids are entitled to a quality education that is rigorous, engaging, real and relevent. He is saying that kids deserve better – I agree.

It was interesting watching the twitter stream during this keynote – it appeared that Gary polarized the audience – you either loved it or hated it. Watch the recording and make your own mind up – this would be great to have your whole staff watch and then have some (very interesting!) discussions.

Following on from this keynote was an hour and a half of Gary Stager on his “soapbox”, where those interested got to particpate in a Q&A session. Unfortunately this was not recorded, but was insightful, humorous, thoughtful, challenging and inspiring. It was even better than the keynote itself. (One of my favourite quotes from Gary was his response to the current state of teacher professional development “Teacher PD is like methadone – we know it doesn’t work, but we always need more.”)

If you are interested in watching some other recordings from the conference, you can find them here. (Thanks to Stephen Collis and Chris Woldhuis for their tireless work and expertise. These two guys from Northern Beaches Christian School are a real class act.)

What were the highlights for me? The conversations. The networking. The people who pushed my thinking. The spontaneous learnings that would happen in the trade hall…. The new friends. 

Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age

Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age brought together top thought leaders in science and technology, informal and formal education, entertainment media, research, philanthropy, and policy to create and act upon a breakthrough strategy for scaling-up effective models of teaching and learning for children.
The forum was hosted by Google at Google Headquarters in October 2009 in cooperation with Common Sense Media and the MacArthur Foundation.

The following session was thought-provoking and was one that I really enjoyed. It was titled “The Next Revolution in Learning.”

The other sessions at Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age include:

Keynote by Geoff Canada
Teachers for a Digital Age
Literacy 2.0
New Learning Designs
Breakthrough Ideas to Drive Student Success

I highly recommend that you subscribe to the Google Channel from Youtube if you find this sort of thing interesting.