Be self-aware. You are the speaker in a room filled with dozens, hundreds, thousands of people. Especially at atheist/skeptic conferences, we are all very interesting people, but out of those dozens/hundreds/thousands of people who could have been chosen to give a presentation, you were chosen. Your opinion and your words are most likely highly valued, because other people want to hear them. Other people want to learn from you. Other people look up to you. Other people have not had the exact same life history, education, experience that you have had, and want to peek into your world, and hear about your perspective for a few minutes.
Not a round-table discussion where anyone can interrupt or disagree– you are a speaker, and the audience has chosen to spend their time with you. Not each other in the bar. Not with any of the other concurrent speakers. You. And if you are invited to be a keynote speaker, the conference stops, and everyone listens to you. All the more responsibility.
That opportunity requires one to be self aware. “Am I using words this audience understands?” “Am I taking the appropriate tone for this audience? Too stuffy? Too casual? Is it age appropriate?” “Will this choice of sentence advance my cause, or unnecessarily confuse the audience? Unnecessarily anger the audience?” “Could I be more articulate?” “Am I 100% this statement is true?” “Is the audience interested in this topic? Even if it is important to me, how can I engage everyone?” “Is this joke necessary? Could someone think this joke is offensive? Racist? Sexist?” “Am I talking down to the audience? Am I talking over them?”
All eyes are on you, so your own eyes need to be on you. Critically analyzing your every move, as critically as you would be critiquing an Enemy Speaker.
Be aware of your potential targets. Especially at atheist/skeptic conferences, we are pretty much always attacking/making fun of someone. Whether its Jenny McCarthy or Michael Behe or Deepak Chopra, or Sarah Palin, sometimes you need to talk about a person and their actions, not just purely vaccines or evolution or psychology or politics. Sometimes you might even feel the need to address the words/actions of someone in the audience. If you chose to do this, from a privileged position as The Speaker, where The Target will not have a fair opportunity to respond, you need to be Dexter. You need to be 100% sure. “Is this attack 100% necessary?” “Will pursuing this attack advance my goals?” “Will this attack take attention away from my primary goals?” “Is attacking this individual the best way to call attention to this issue?” “How would I feel if someone attacked me, maybe even misrepresented me, to a group of hundreds of people, and I wouldnt get a chance to respond?” “Am I 100% sure I understand this persons perspective/position myself?” “Is it possible that this persons opinions are equally valid as mine, I just dont understand their world view myself?” “Is this person really relevant to the topic Im speaking about?” “Am I abusing my position as speaker to ‘get back’ at someone on a personal level?” “If I pursue this attack, is it possible I will come out looking like an asshole? Have I honestly reflected on this attack, or am I actually being an asshole? (see ‘Be self-aware‘)”
Being a Decent Human Being is actually the best defense you can have against abusing your position as a speaker at atheist conferences. Dont abandon it for short-term gain: youre in a community, and youre going to lose that if you think of yourself as a predator on the make.
What about tactics? Lets say you are super passionate about an issue, but is a keynote speech really the best forum for your issue? Would a moderated, recorded brain-storming session be better? An official debate? An intimate, one-on-one conversation in a quiet side room? A light-hearted, open to everyone conversation in a noisy bar? Or maybe even an online discussion, where everyone can take time to think about their input and responses and questions carefully– where everyone can simply send links to others, so everyone is on the same page, even everyone didnt start on the same page? Using a keynote address to pitch an idea for a skeptics football league is no more appropriate than using a keynote address to confront someone who said something that you found personally offensive (while others did not) is no more appropriate to rant for an hour about how the rent is too damn high. Yes, you have been given the opportunity to give a speech at an atheist conference– but that doesnt mean a speech at an atheist conference is the appropriate tactic for what you are excited about 2 minutes before you give said speech. You need to put thought into this, or you will alienate your audience not because you are wrong or had a bad idea, but because you used the wrong tactic. People will think you capitalized on your invitation as a speaker, not to engage with the audience, but to pursue a personal interest (or vendetta). You abused the forum you were given. They might not be interested in providing you with that same platform in the future.
Of course, if any more experienced commenters would like to offer further suggestions, theyre welcome to continue…as long as they remember these are guidelines for Decent Human Beings, not assholes who will excuse someones bad behavior just because they are friends with the offender.