Getting to Know Chicago

Here’s some nerdy stuff that could come in handy…

Image result for mccormick place chicago

Hi from Chicago!

As it turns out, both the annual ASCD Empower 19 conference and the National Catholic Education Association conference this year will be held in Chicago’s McCormick Place, a sprawling convention center with 2.6 million (!!!) square feet of exhibit halls. Back to back trips to the same venue is really good news for me, since I am terrible with directions and spacial awareness (a lot of this has to do with the dyslexia).

Regardless of where you’re presenting or what you’re presenting on, it always pays to be prepared. And having been lucky enough to deliver a handful of presentations in conferences across the country over the past five years, I think my three golden rules for public speaking can be summed up like so:

  • Rule #1: Know your material.
  • Rule #2: Know your audience.
  • Rule #3: Know your ROOM.

Thanks to the magic of the almighty internet, I’m really happy to see that the venue has a detailed map of its facilities available online — which is a HUGE help when planning a presentation for such a large audience! As Dwight Eisenhower once so paradoxically explained:

Image result for eisenhower planning quote

To borrow a phrase from another famous American Hero (GI Joe) — “knowing is half the battle.” And when you’re planning to deliver a presentation, it really helps to get a good feel for just how big the room will be as this can definitely affect things like pacing, materials, interactive activities, sound, and other logistics. Jokes that land in a friendly room full of 30 might sound canned or desperate in rooms five or ten times that size. And “EPIC” multimedia presentations that might go over like gangbusters in a large venue run the risk of feeling too slick, too loud, too polished, or too overwhelming for a more modestly sized room.

There’s a reason why U2 only plays arena shows, right?

Looking ahead to my schedule at McCormick Place, I’m slated for four presentations (two for each conference) — with a mix of theater style seating and round, banquet-style tables planned for each session. And if you’re interested in going inside the mind of a mild-mannered classroom teacher as he approaches four of the biggest presentations of his young career as a professional speaker and author, well, you’re in luck. The rest of today’s probably-too-meta-to-be-worthwhile-to-most-anyone-but-me entry takes a peek behind the curtain at how I’m sizing up my slate of Chicago presentations… and quietly geeking out about the exciting work that lies ahead.

Hey, it helps to write it all out somewhere, right?


A Closer Look at “Leading Without Leaving:” Balancing the Benefits and Barriers of Hybrid Roles
ASCD Empower19
Sunday, March 17 | 3 – 4 pm
McCormick Place, Room W185a
Chicago, Illinois
Theater Setup Capacity: 220

Note to self: With a ceiling height of more than 220 feet, this room will be HUGE. If Eric and I are not using microphones, sound will echo like crazy or have a hard time making its way to the back of the room. Likewise, both of us are fast-talking type A personalities from New Jersey — so there’s a good chance we’ll need to SLOW. IT. DOWN. to make sure everyone is on the same page in such a large space.

From Breakout to Break IN: REVERSE Escape Rooms Mean No Locks, No Boxes, and NO LECTURES!
ASCD Empower19
Monday, March 18 | 8:15 – 9:15 am
McCormick Place, Room W470a
Chicago, Illinois
Theater Setup Capacity: 292

Note to self: Nearly 300 people in a single session?! DANG. So much for folksy charm and small group activities! My first move when I arrive to McCormick Place is to scope out this space in person to see what I’m up against, STAT. This could call for a major presentation revamp — as there is just no way to move 300 human beings through a stations-style activity that’s typically designed for no more than, like, 30 people, tops. I mean… at least I think so? Then again… if I *could* pull off a supersized stations-like activity for 300 people at once? Epic. Stay tuned…

Building a Mission Focused Athletic Department from the Inside Out
NCEA Annual Conference
Tuesday April 23, 2019 | 1:30 PM – 2:45
McCormick Place, W175B
Chicago, Illinois
Theater Setup Capacity: 101

Note to self: See this? This is just about as big as you typically want a room to be for your usual two-people-talking-style presentation. Small enough that everybody can still hear one another and laugh together at a friendly joke or two, but large enough that it feels bigger than a faculty meeting so there’s still a bigger sense of importance as you’re talking about a topic that’s worth their time and attention. Very happy to share a presentation stage of this size with my principal, as it helps the session feel collegial and authentic without giving off an unintended vibe of “sage on the stage.” Because nobody likes that guy.

Beyond Kahoots & Jeopardy!: Sparking Real Change in Student Engagement with Whole Class Gamification
NCEA Annual Conference
Wednesday, April 24 | 9:00 AM – 10:15 AM
McCormick Place, W192B
Chicago, Illinois
Banquet Setup Capacity: 140

Note to self: This session is me flying solo, showcasing cool stuff from my amazing students and all the neat things we’re doing at our school. The prospective room size has me doing the stand and deliver spiel in front of 140 people — which is nearly three times as many individuals as I’ve ever given this presentation to at a single time — and I absolutely loathe the smiley snake oil salesman approach to one-stop-shop quick fixes for your everyday educational woes. So expect lots of interaction. Fun and games. Step-by-step strategies. And tons of meaningful takeaways. This session is going to knock it out of the park.

Author: John

John Meehan (@MeehanEDU) is an English teacher and school instructional coach at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia. He began his teaching career in 2010 as a career switcher through The New Teacher Project, after spending five years working in social media and event marketing. He is a 2017 ASCD Emerging Leader, and an alumnus of the 2016-2018 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council. In 2016, he was named one of Arlington, Virginia’s “40 Under 40” by the Leadership Center for Excellence. He is a past presenter and regular attendee at educational conferences throughout the United States, including the annual conference for National Catholic Education Association, ASCD Empower19, and the Play Like a Champion Today: Character Education Through Sports summer conference at the University of Notre Dame. He’s an avid runner who’s completed more than three dozen marathons, half marathons, long-distance road relays, mud runs, and obstacle course races. John lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.