What I Expect from a Keynote Speaker

After the long car ride home from an event, during which I spent a lot of time processing the impact of a particularly divisive and controversial keynote speech, I stumbled in the door, dropped my purse, and sat down at the computer to write about it. Literally, I didn’t even go to the bathroom first – I was so desperate to get the swirling, nagging thoughts out of my head. It felt really good to get it out, and the community responses were really helpful at alleviating some of the distress I was feeling about the whole situation.

It occurred to me, though, that I have never heard a discussion about what a keynote speech should be like. I have served on numerous committees for a variety of events and conferences, both professional and community-based. I have attended tons of conferences, and I have been a guest speaker at those events and conferences a number of times. In my experiences as a committee planner, the keynote speaker is typically chosen by a consensus of some sort and given little, if any, information about what might be requested of them.

It occurs to me that this lack of specificity about what qualities make an effective speaker, or what the group’s expectations are about the speech itself, does a huge disservice to the planners and attendees of any given conference.  So, I spent some time today thinking about what I, as an audience member, hope to get from a keynote speaker. I also thought about what components I try to attend to when I am a speaker, and I considered what issues a planning committee might want to be sensitive to. What follows is my idea of what makes an effective keynote speaker. They are in no particular order – just some food for thought:

  • I appreciate a keynote speaker that has unique experiences, training, knowledge, or ideas that are worth sharing on a large scale.
  • I think a keynote speaker should know the population(s) who will be attending and be sure to speak fairly and directly to everyone.
  • I believe a keynote speaker should not avoid controversy. A good speaker will tackle difficult issues head-on and will not sugarcoat or minimize potentially inflammatory ideas.
  • I appreciate when keynote speakers are cautious to balance challenging or difficult ideas with positive and hopeful messages.
  • I like keynote speakers who provide a comprehensive, well-rounded explanation about the topic (unless it’s a more personal approach). I like when speakers provide multiple viewpoints and address the complexity that surrounds any given issue. I like it when speakers don’t assume that the audience has prior knowledge, but provide a fair and balanced explanation of the topic.
  • I appreciate a speaker who is careful to choose appropriate, non-judgemental, inclusive terminology. If I hear a speaker using terminology that excludes, denigrates, or ignores certain populations, I am immediately turned off to the message. Some may call it “PC,” I call it awareness and respect.
  • It is nice when a speaker recognizes that her or his own experiences are different from everyone else’s. I think it’s important that they avoid making generalizations or assumptions based on their personal experiences. While personal examples and experiences are highly effective tools when speaking, I think a speaker should acknowledge the limitations of a singular experience and address alternative experiences.
  • I like speakers who demonstrate personal insight – being aware of and acknowledging personal challenges, biases, and privileges. I like speakers who are open and honest about their own personal experiences and the impact of those experiences.
  • I appreciate a speaker who demonstrates social insight. I like when the speaker will attempt to objectively assess the topic from a broader stance and provide listeners with a sense of the wider social impact. I think it’s important to attend to the impact of social systems and, ideally, provide some insight into the community to which they are speaking.
  • I appreciate a speaker who will give concrete ways to move forward, whether that means providing a mechanism for continued dialogue, explaining specific actions that may be taken, or by encouraging listeners to find ways to bring the message into their own lives.
  • I appreciate it when a speaker will back up factual information with evidence. When citing statistics or making claims about certain populations in a factual manner, I think the speaker should be prepared to support those claims.
  • I appreciate when a speaker makes clear when the information presented is based on opinion, observation, or anecdotal evidence.
  • I like a speaker who will make me think, will provide new insight, and will leave me with more knowledge than I had before the speech.
  • I think a keynote speaker should leave me feeling inspired and motivated. I want to leave with a greater sense of connection with the community as well as a desire to seek more connection.

It may seem like a tall order, but isn’t that the point of a keynote speech?

I welcome other ideas and comments.

Finding a Sex-Positive Therapist

Last December I was honored to be a guest on “Let’s Talk Sex With Shanna Katz”, a live on-air talk show in Phoenix, Arizona. We were talking about sex and psychology and, naturally, the time flew by and we had barely scratched the surface when it was time to stop. I promised Shanna I would follow up my interview with some information for her listeners and readers – so here you go!

Types of therapists:

There are a lot of different kinds of therapists, and many different types of certifications and licensures. Here are a few common ones:

psychiatrist will have a medical degree (MD) as well as specialized training in mental health. Psychiatrists can prescribe medication, and although some psychiatrists do provide counseling, many follow a more traditional medical approach and coordinate care with psychologists who provide talk therapy on a more regular basis.

Psychologists who provide counseling services typically hold either a Ph.D. (which requires a dissertation and is a research oriented degree) or a Psy.D. (which does not require a dissertation and is focused primarily on practice rather than research). Psychologists are trained in neurology, assessment and diagnostics, counseling, and research. Many also receive training in pharmacology, and in some states are allowed to prescribe certain medications. State licensure is required to be identified as a psychologist.

Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) hold a master’s degree and receive a supervised clinical training during and after graduation. They generally work with families and couples, although they are licensed and qualified to provide individual therapy as well.

Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) and Social Workers (LCSWs or MSWs) also hold master’s degrees and receive training in areas such as social services, advocacy, and counseling. They work in a variety of settings and often specialize in particular fields, such as addictions or grief.

Sex Therapist is someone who has training as a therapist as well as specialized knowledge about sex and sexuality. She or he may hold any of the licensures listed above, and there are also a couple of universities that offer graduate degrees in Sex Therapy.

You can’t really tell if a therapist is going to be a good fit for you based on their degree or title, but you should definitely look for someone who attended a reputable training program and who is licensed.

Finding a Therapist:

Finding a therapist can be difficult, especially if there are parts of your lifestyle or identity that are generally stigmatized by mainstream medical care. Even if you have insurance, you may want to consider looking out-of-network to find someone who is a good fit. Many counselors offer sliding scale fees or will provide insurance reimbursement forms.  If you need to stay in a network, though, don’t give up. Sometimes you’ll need to meet a few therapists before you find the right one for you.

Word of mouth is always a great tool if you’re willing to ask around, but if seeking therapy is something that’ s private for you, that’s okay. Here are some other resources:

Psychologist Locator
The Therapy Directory
Kink Aware Professionals
Scarleteen Find a Doc

Choosing a Therapist:

The Gracious Mind handWhen choosing a therapist, you’re looking for someone that you feel like clicks with you. Therapists operate from a variety of different approaches, and what actually happens in the therapy room can vary widely, so if something doesn’t feel right, you can keep looking. Therapy is intensely personal work, and will be challenging, so you need to feel connected to and safe with the person you’re working with.

First, make sure that the practitioner has training in the area you are seeking help with. If you are dealing with sexual assault, find someone who has experience working with that kind of trauma. If you need to address family issues in a multi-partner relationship, you’ll need someone who is skilled with systemic or family therapy. If you’re experiencing sexual dysfunction, you may want to seek a sex therapist or someone who has training specifically in the area of sexuality.  Many therapists have training and experience in more than one area, which is good, because humans are complex and are often experiencing more than one problem at once!

When you are ready to make an appointment, you don’t have to say why you’re calling over the phone. Just ask for an initial appointment and let them know you’re interviewing therapists. When you sit down with the therapist and start talking about why you’re there, pay attention to your instincts. Is the counselor receptive to your concerns? Does she or he answer your questions? How do they react when you disclose your relationship style/occupation/sexual preferences?

A lot of counselors are not going to be familiar with sex-positive language. Ignorance about your lifestyle is not necessarily a bad thing, but a chilly reception or a closed perspective on it should be warning signs that it might not be a good fit. I have worked with a number of therapists who, although completely unaware of alternative relationship styles, were very interested in resources and education I could provide. It’s not your job to educate your therapist, but if they’re open-minded and willing to learn, providing a few resources could definitely work in your favor.

Do not be afraid to voice your fears about therapy or the therapist – they’ll be more than ready to discuss that with you because it’s not uncommon! Any therapist that would take offense at that does not need to be your therapist. It’s not uncommon to feel awkward at first, but talking about your concerns is a great way to start to build that therapeutic relationship.

The Therapeutic Relationship

The Gracious Mind therapyThe relationship you have with your therapist is really unique. It is most likely the only relationship you will ever have where the other person has no connection to anyone else in your world and who is solely interested in your welfare. It truly is amazing, when you think about it! It’s like having your own private cheerleader and coach that no one else can touch.

The therapeutic relationship is often a comfortable environment where you can explore yourself in privacy and safety. At the same time, it can sometimes mimic your outside relationships. If you tend to get angry quickly, you’ll probably get angry in therapy. That’s a good thing because it lets you figure out what’s going on with the help of someone who is actually comfortable with your anger. Same idea with sadness, or any other emotion. We’re often taught to shut down our emotions, and that can make us uncomfortable with other people’s emotions too. It’s a unique experience to sit with someone who is comfortable with emotion.

The therapeutic relationship can take time to develop, and, since that relationship has been shown to be the most important factor in therapeutic progress, therapy does take time. It’s kind of like working out – you don’t go to the gym for an hour and then wonder why you aren’t looking more muscular. It takes time, consistent work, and some soreness too – therapy isn’t always comfortable, and it can sometimes feel worse before it feels better.

More questions? Let me know.