Setting the Stage

I’ve just finished the second keynote address I’ve ever written, and I think it’s the most difficult genre of writing I’ve run across. It’s easy to show up for a panel and present your personal point of view, needle some people, be a provocateur. It’s easy to do some research and write a purely objective encyclopedia article or lightly-spun program note. But a keynote address can be neither personal nor merely factual. It has to anticipate and express the collective concerns without taking sides, frame any possible argument among your audience members, and you’re not always quite sure who your audience is. The issues must be sharply drawn, yet without divisiveness. A world must be circumscribed and a stage set, with no particular outcome implied or favored. It is the prologue to a play that hasn’t been written. Magnanimity and incisiveness must flow in graceful alternation. And I’ve come to have a larger measure of respect for the people who do it on a regular basis.