I gave a talk at KAConnect 2014 in June and, as always when I speak, it was a really energizing and fun time.

Speaking at conferences is a blast. I love choosing a new topic or refining an existing talk, outlining the “lesson plan”, gathering my materials, assembling the presentation, and especially being on stage and delivering the “performance”.

I use that word performance intentionally because that’s what giving a talk really is. If you are simply providing your audience “content” and you’re not thoughtful about how you present it and if you can’t bring it to life on stage, then you’re simply adding to the noise. But if you can really bring not only new and compelling ideas, but you can connect with your audience and get them to really absorb what you’re saying, which a good performance can do, then you can’t help but be successful in teaching people something (or convincing them of your arguments or whatever your goal may be.)

Perhaps the most interesting thing about when I speak at conferences is that even when I am speaking on a topic I’ve covered before, I always learn something new. This talk was on my 4X4 Model for Knowledge Content, which I explain to every client I work with and is part of pretty much every talk I give. It’s the core framework that drives everything I do. And yet when researching how to present it, I always find new ways to communicate it, which inevitably leads to new ways to think about it, which teaches me more about what it really means. 

And interestingly, the performance aspect of my talk also always leads to new insights. First, when preparing to perform, you need to really embody the story you’re trying to tell. And the more you tell that story and work on crafting that story in a way to connect with an audience, the more insights you will find. Once on stage, as you connect with the audience and hear their laughter and surprise and field smart questions, you also learn new ways about how to bring that information to the next audience.

Yes, the more I “study” (even my own ideas!), and teaching requires studying, the more I learn.

I recommend that the next time you’re struggling with an idea, try to organize your thoughts about it into a presentation as though you needed to teach it to someone. I guarantee it will help you learn it. And look at old ideas you already understand the same way and you will learn new things about it that you didn’t even realize you needed to learn!

I can’t wait till my next speaking gig at the How Interactive Design Conference in Chicago on October 19. I hope to see you there!