How Creative Problem Solving Helped Me Write and Deliver a Keynote Speech in Less Than 48 Hours

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It was Tuesday afternoon when I received an email marked « Urgent » from a colleague. A valued client was in a bind; they had an event on Friday, and their keynote speaker had just cancelled due to a family emergency. Would I be willing to step in and give an inspirational talk on design thinking or creativity? If so, I should consider myself on standby for more details.

It was Wednesday afternoon by the time I spoke to the client directly and learned the specs, a bit about the company culture and the intention of the talk. We settled on a 45-minute talk on “deliberate creativity”, a favourite topic of mine ever since returning from my first CPSI experience last summer. More importantly, it would be of value to everyone in the diverse 400-person audience that would await me. One more thing, it should be bilingual.

Up until that speech, I’d never given an inspirational talk. I’d met professional speakers and stood (or sat, as it may be) in awe of their ability to put on a show, while awakening ideas, thoughts and feelings within me, one of many in the audience. So far, my typical audiences ranged from 1-40 in the coaching sessions, training workshops and processes I designed and facilitated. My clients tended to applaud my warmth and ability to make everyone feel important. How does one do that for 400 people at once?

With 36 hours to go, I got to work. While not too long ago I might have been a deer caught in headlights and maybe even turned down the opportunity altogether, this time I knew what to do. Step 1 of the creative problem-solving (CPS) process: Clarify.

I began writing down “I Wish” and “It Would Be Great If” statements to identify what I really needed to accomplish with my speech. I also mapped out what I already knew that might help me using the 5 Ws and an H –that is Who, What, Where, Why, When and How. It jogged my memory and reminded me that I had some materials to go off of thanks to a course I already designed and interactive exercises I’d flagged as fun and effective at various conferences and courses.

Thinking of who could help me, led me to reach out to Beth Miller, Executive Director of the Creative Education Foundation, for ideas and case studies.

As always, my husband was along for the ride, patiently putting up with my moments of “why did I say ‘yes’ to this?!” Of course, I know the answer to this question. I said “yes” because of CPS. The mindset, tool set and network I gained at CPSI have given me faith in my ability to find a way to deliver, and deliver well. And so I did, just a couple of days after the assignment first made it onto my radar.

Marika Escaravage is an Intersol Group consultant, trainer and facilitator based in Ottawa, Canada. Her services focus on helping teams and individuals to develop and leverage creative mindsets and processes. She also writes and advises clients on marketing and communications strategies.