Friday, April 6, 2012


Having sat through and having been underwhelmed by most of the keynote presentations at Congress has caused me to reflect on what I expect from a keynote presentation.

Image Source
Am I being harsh in expecting a keynote presenter to display passion for his/her subject, to tailor the talk for the particular audience, to have sufficient slides and content to fill the alloted time and to have a coherently organised presentation?  Keynote presenters should also know their subject and not have to read from a prepared speech.

I expect a keynote to do more than one of these things: Inspire, Challenge, Educate, Engage, Entertain and Inform. It is a privilege and an honour to be invited to present a keynote; a sense of responsibility and ethical behaviour should be demonstrated by those given this honour.

Julie Arduini says "Keynote presentations are motivational speeches designed to excite the audience for the rest of the event. When keynote presenters deliver a speech, they know what aids to bring and implement to supplement their speech. Keynote speakers have public speaking experience and are known for their ability to educate, inform and entertain."

So how did the keynotes at Congress measure up? Thankfully the opening keynote of the Conference, Colleen Fitzpatrick, did not disappoint. She displayed a passion for her field of forensic genealogy while informing us and challenging us to think outside the square. That she tugged at our emotions was a bonus. I enjoyed her keynote so much that I attended two more of her talks.

Sadly none of the other keynote speakers similarly affected me. Daniel Horowitz started off well by connecting with the audience, injecting humour into his talk and having good supporting slides. After his first 25 minutes of talking about his advertised topic he digressed. That he used the remaining half of his talk to promote his company's product to the exclusion of other products was unethical and unforgiveable.

Jenny Higgins from the National Library of Australia gave an informative presentation on the services of the Library that would have been a good ordinary session. Jenny read her prepared talk causing her to lose eye contact with the audience and thus spontaneity. This competent presentation was well-prepared, supported by appropriate slides and full of information for those who do not use the services of our National Library

Chair of the Federation of Family History Societies, David Holman's after lunch keynote "Fascinating facts and figures" captivated the audience with his unique perspective. David's talk was pure entertainment that got us thinking. He displayed a great depth of knowledge of and a passion for his subject. Another blogger Kylie Willison said: "I thoroughly enjoyed David’s talk as I’m sure many people did going by the audience’s laughter.  David shared figures of the most common surnames and forenames in different countries.   He also spoke about uncommon and funny names and combinations of fore and surnames.  I didn’t write anything down because I was so interested and entertained by what David was saying." David was a worthy keynote presenter.

John Kitzmiller finished his talk and slides in 25 minutes. He then spent the remainder of his time waffling on about this and that. This was unforgiveable in a keynote - did he not have a practice run and time himself before he presented? Another blogger commented that he should have let us go early and enjoy a longer morning tea break.

I missed Vicki Eldridge's keynote as I was busy working on a stand in the Exhibition Hall so I am unable to comment on her talk.

Stephen Young from Familysearch managed to spend an hour delivering a commonsense message, "Descendancy research: when you can't climb up your family tree, branch out", that could have been delivered in ten minutes. The content and topic of this talk was not appropriate for a keynote presentation.

I had heard Dan Poffenberger's talk on handwriting analysis and was impressed by his relaxed style, good content and sense of humour. Dan's closing keynote "Familysearch 2012 and beyond" confused me. The news Dan related seemed to differ from what I had heard at the Rootstech Conference in February. Dan just didn't seem to have the depth of knowledge of the Familysearch organisation that the speakers at Rootstech possessed.

Some of the American presenters did not tailor their presentations to Australian audiences but just presented talks previously prepared for US audiences. Quite a number of attendees commented on this issue. Some of the keynote presenters used the same examples in their keynotes that they used in breakout sessions; keynotes deserve all new material.

Most of these sessions should not have been labelled as keynotes but rather as plenary or general sessions that all members of a group attend. Some would have been better as breakout sessions.

Only two of the Keynotes were from Australians and one was from a Brit. There was not a Kiwi in sight; I found this strange in a Conference that is billed as Australasian.  Having four Keynote presenters from the US confounded me. The Congress was billed as "on Genealogy & Heraldry" yet none of the Keynotes addressed the topic of Heraldry.

From my perspective the programming was the weak point of this event that I otherwise thoroughly enjoyed.

What do you expect from a Keynote?


Louis Kessler said...


I'm surprised at the number of Keynotes your Conference had. Usually there are only two or three (or one each morning) that all attendees are expected to attend.

Maybe that's also why you said most of the sessions should have been labelled as general sessions.

I agree that keynotes should be "an event" that will be informative, interesting and educational and maybe even exciting. You'll probably agree that the RootsTech keynotes (Jay Verkler and FamilySearch, Josh Coates, and Tim Sullivan and his "fake" Ancestry panel) were very enjoyable and worthwhile to attend.


Jenny said...

Hi Jill,
Thank goodness someone has finally said it! One of the international speakers you mention was so ill prepared and self indulgent that it was grossly insulting to his audience and the organisers. Just because you're from overseas doesn't make you interesting or relevant! I agree that most of these sessions were merely plenaries. I missed the first day so don't know if there was a true keynote address. I am wondering if the organisers arranged these sessions so as to bump out the program. Either way the speakers should have stepped up to the mark (as some did).
Kind regards,

Maria said...

Thanks for your comments, Jill. This helps me because I was hoping to get to this event at some stage in the future. I will be looking at the programming a lot more critically now, with the benefits of your hindsight. Like you, I have to say that I expect a lot of keynotes - I really think they are meant to be very special and have that "wow factor". I definitely expect keynote speakers' presentations to be polished, inspiring and very informative. Often they provide an outside-the-box type of perspective on things. Thanks for your comments.


Kerrie said...

This being my first Congress I have attended, I thought my expectations may of been to high, however, after reading the comments above I can see I am not alone in thinking keynote speakers should be able to deliver the best and keep the audience attention, Colleen Fitzpatrick was the only one that really delivered. I also was surprised that there was no Kiwi speakers or content.

Anonymous said...

Jill, thanks for your comments on the keynotes at AFFHO 2012 and it's clear you weren't alone in what you thought. One of the reasons I was ambivalent about going to Adelaide was that I felt it wasn't necessarily going to offer me much (other than meeting the geneabloggers). I've been to (only) three other congresses and tend to think I can learn more at other conferences. What do I want from a keynote? Expertise, the capacity to deliver the message clearly, with content that challenges me to think more about a topic. Being entertained is a bonus but if I am rocked off my feet by new knowledge or thinking, I'll settle for that.

Carole Riley said...

I agree that these talks should have been labelled as plenary or general sessions rather than keynotes, and I think that has more to do with the inexperience of the organisers. I didn't catch all of them either, and some of those that I attended were nothing more than advertisements. Colleen Fitzpatrick was the only speaker that I thought deserved to be called a keynote speaker.

Having said that, I imagine that a conference such as this cannot exist without the sponsorship of large organisations who surely have certain expectations about what is in it for them in return for their money. They would expect to be given general sessions and the organisers may not have much control over the presenters and their presentations.

The quality of the sponsored sessions should not stop anyone from considering attending future congresses. This was my third, and I have learned to manage my time more effectively. For example, I missed the first session on Friday morning at 8:30am because I was on the Google+ Adelaide Photowalk.

Joan Miller (Luxegen) said...

It sounds like these speakers ought to join Toastmasters, an public speaking and leadership organization to improve their public speaking skills. Thanks for speaking up because it will make for better talks in the future.

Kylie Willison said...

Hi Jill
Being a first time Congress attendee I didn't know what to expect but was certainly a bit disappointed with the quality of the keynote talks and the lack of professionalism of the speakers.


Infolass said...

Certainly also agree with many comments here. It would have been nice for the producers of WDYTYA to come along and speak about the local product. That would have been interesting!

Bribie Family History Association said...

I started writing about my concerns about the keynote sessions from Day 1 of my Diary of an Australian Genealogist blog during the Congress. I enjoyed most of the sessions and if it is a sponsored session it should be labelled as such like the conference dinner was. Thanks for summing up what others were also feeling.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...