by Jane Pulaski
October 28, 2011
IREC’s 2011 Annual Meeting has been put to bed. That audible exhale? That was mine.
Putting together an IREC Annual Meeting takes a small army of talent (thanks, MT), and no small amount of time to touch, to curate, speakers, content, logistics, technology.
In an ideal world, the keynoter is inspiring, the room is cozy and welcoming, all technology works. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Still, two out of three ain’t bad.
IREC’s meeting is an annual gathering of staggering talent in the renewable energy (and now) energy efficiency space. The agenda is usually technical, slightly bureaucratic, geeky even, delivered by true visionaries in the fields of renewable energy law, credentialing standards, renewable energy policies and solar market data. Brilliance aside, what’s even more remarkable about these people is their breathtaking passion for their work.
Inspired by SXSW conferences and watching numerous TED Talks, I felt that it was time for IREC to use these models as a way to more deeply connect with our colleagues, and to inspire them to care about the issues of renewable energy law, credentialing standards, renewable energy policies and solar market data as much as we do.
You know the TED Talks format: one speaker, one idea, for 18 minutes. Often, there’s an emotional aspect to it (to pull the listener in), or the talk shares something new.
The physical environment is different: the stage is podium-free, there’s a large screen behind the presenter, a plasma screen and countdown clock at the foot of the stage to cue the presenter who dons a little wireless headset. The presenter has free range of the stage. The lights are dimmed.
You ask your brilliantly technical colleagues to adapt their brilliantly technical, content-laden Power Point, podium-based presentation to a lean, Zen-like TED Talk. ‘How,’ they ask, ‘do we tug at the heartstrings when the talk is of interconnection procedures or credentialing standards?’
It’s a valid question. But they’re not the first to attempt to coax emotion out of the technical.
We found a tutor who helped with content and presentation skills. We watched relevant TED Talks, given by the most technical of scientists and psychologists. We shaved content from existing presentations—used fewer words on slides and more descriptive images (not cheesy clip art). We honed in on ‘show v. tell,’ on storytelling v. lecturing. We encouraged a new message, or what was different; something not heard before, or a new angle on a common topic. We stressed practice, and practice, and more practice.
It was the same information conveyed differently. It was storytelling. Ultimately, all presenters were game.
See, IREC isn’t the only organization with a deeply technical knowledge base, but we are beginning to recognize that we can use storytelling to convey technical information, and yes, it can even evoke an emotional response.
We had one of those inspirational keynoters who set the tone for the day (thanks, Karl), whose message of ‘less me, more us’ had me (and others) in tears. Each presenter kept to a strict time schedule. Texas music (OK, Austin music) played during breaks. We used visual note taking to translate words into marvelous, imaginative graphics. Laurel Varnado captured the day in images and videos.
Despite my best efforts, yes, there were technical glitches (sorry Kevin, Jane). It’s how we learn. Next year, things will run smoother for our 30th (I promise).
A heartfelt thanks to my colleagues–Jane, Karl, Kevin, Amanda, Larry, Pat, Laure-Jeanne, Joe, Benjamin, Jenn, Andrea, Casey– for being game, willing to modify long-held presentation behavior. And to our friends and colleagues who went along with our decision to do things a little differently this year. Change is always good, though uncomfortable. Thanks for coming, for your feedback on how we can improve for next year, in Orlando in September…now, just 11 months out. You’re coming, right?