Getting it wrong so you can get it right(er)

Image: Haragayato on Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Image: Haragayato on Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Last week I had the huge privilege of giving a keynote talk at the Cambridge Libraries 2017 conference. Not only were there some great speakers present, both external and internal, but I’ve worked in various roles at a number of Cambridge libraries and attended many a CamLibs conference in my day: so to be asked to keynote at one was enormously exciting, gratifying, and above all TERRIFYING.

As it turned out, it was one of the best days of my life. Being given a platform to talk about issues that mean a great deal to you – in this case the importance of failure in learning, research, and teaching – and to be received with empathy, recognition, thanks and hugs, is one of the most amazing things there can be. I don’t know how to express my gratitude that it’s happened to me.

I’m always fascinated by how people use scripts, prompts and other aids to speaking. I don’t usually use much in the way of notes, relying on my slides to keep my argument on track (yes, this can sometimes go a bit wrong!). This time I didn’t want to wander too far off-piste, especially as my slot was 90 minutes long and I had visions of my audience petrifying with boredom, so I scripted the talk much more tightly than usual. Of course I added a bunch of revisions at the last minute all the same … so for fun or in case anyone is interested, here’s the version I spoke from, with all its scribbles and alterations, to complement the neat and tidy transcript that will appear on the CamLibs site in due course.

The talk is a wild melee of random things that go round in my head a lot, but there are many important anchor points that come from other people’s thinking. Most of these are attributed in the script, but there are three that aren’t and deserve to be:

“the Ow factor” was a phrase used by Hazel Rothera in talking (very postively!) about her experience of the peer review process

“you never get to be a good teacher” (because it’s an ongoing balance) was said by Michelle Bond

And I’d either forgotten or never knew that the wonderfully comforting “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly” – which I suddenly remembered mid-flow and managed to include – was written by G K Chesterton.

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6 comments so far

  1. lelil on

    Thanks for sharing, Emma. I was following along a bit on Twitter – sounded like a great talk!

  2. Norman Boyd on

    What ‘Lelil’ said! Thanks for allowing us to see those notes – so refreshing to know it’s not just me who changes stuff with scribbles at the last mo. Also you WERE brave doing 90 minutes! Thanks again

  3. Tom Sykes on

    Thanks Emma, it’s great to see the workings behind the scenes and as you said in the talk its reassuring to know how people get to where they are. I often script what I’m going to say (in talks not in general conversation, that’d be weird), it just helps with the nerves & reassures me that if all else fails I can read a bit and get back on track!

  4. viridianarcher on

    Really interesting seeing the thought process! Thank you for sharing the script – this is what I’d call the opposite of dismantling the path behind you =)

  5. […] final keynote speech was delivered by Emma Coonan, who will almost certainly need no introduction to anybody likely to […]


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