Getting your Café started.
How to choose a speaker.
How to choose a subject.
Who makes a good Café speaker? Someone who is a good listener, because you don’t know what people will want to talk about until you hear them ask, so you’d better listen hard to what they’re asking.
The best speakers are skillful at turning questions around:
Audience Q. “Why should I immunize my kids? All my neighbors do, so I don’t need to”.
Speaker A. “Interesting point. What do the rest of you think? Should we all stop immunizing our kids?”
One of the most popular Denver Café speakers, a psychiatrist, hardly answered a question all evening, but we felt we had learned a lot from him.
It helps if the speaker knows a lot about his or her subject, because the discussion may go just about anywhere. However, wisdom as opposed to pure knowledge is the thing here. There has been discussion among Café organizers about whether it’s good to occasionally invite a quack or fringe person to talk; opinions differ, and many think it could lead to a fun evening, but you don’t want your audience to feel they’ve wasted their time.
Your speaker needs to understand and like the idea that the Café isn’t just another lecture. They will not have time to fully develop the subject, they may be interrupted at any time, and (at our Café at any rate) they cannot rely on slides. Furthermore, the situation may be unique for them: this is not an audience of their scientific peers, so however comfortable they are with the seminar format, this isn’t a seminar, and highly technical presentations and questions need to be nipped in the bud. (The moderator may have to step in and say “Before you answer that question, Professor, could you explain it to the rest of us?”)
A few people are comfortable in a lecture: me speak, you listen—but do not feel at home in the Café’s discussion format. In our own experience, you have to know more about your subject to do a Café; when you lecture, you control the flow and the content, and by the time you’re done, if there are questions, they will be pretty much the ones you planted by the way you organized the talk. But in the Café you introduce the subject: “This is the problem, these are the parameters, here are some issues”, and then it’s pretty much a free-for-all.
It is always best if you have had a chance to hear the speaker at some prior event, or if, at least, someone you know and trust has heard them talk and recommends them. If you work at a college you can always pop into the back of the classroom for a minute and see what’s going on. In bigger towns there are public lectures at colleges, museums, and so on that often feature outstanding speakers. More and more, you are likely to find a snippet of video of your candidate speakers on line.