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Good afternoon. I am so excited to be here at such a crucial time for this industry.
I do a lot of public speaking and normally when I do speeches, I hope to say something that is going to engage everyone in the room. But this time, I’m only speaking to some of you.
My remarks today and our experiences together tomorrow are a call to action. I want nothing less than for you to join me in completely rethinking what meetings are now and what they can be.
In short, I’m speaking exclusively to the people in this room who want to help spark a revolution.
All of you are at this meeting for a reason: perhaps it is to sell, socialize or seek knowledge. Some of you are brand new to the industry, others are veterans. Some of you are 3rd party planners, others are from travel and lodging or logistics, and of course, many of you are in-house planners.
All of you are potential revolutionaries.
Revolutions don’t begin with thousands of people. Revolutions begin with a core group of people who are committed to change. This industry is on the edge of a tipping point and those among you who are ready for the shift will “get” what I’m saying today and what happens tomorrow. If I do my job well, my hope is to energize that core group of people here who are committed to making meetings really matter.
Let’s get started by looking at a new concept…
I don’t know how many of you have seen this term, “unconference.” It’s a trendy new term for a type of meeting that’s been around for a long time. Here’s a simple definition: an unconference is a meeting that is designed to maximize conversation and to use the knowledge and experience of participants to generate most of the conference content.
“Unconferences” began to spring up in California in the technology industry over the past couple of years. They started with groups of people who wanted to organize their own industry meetings in a new way. Instead of inviting a bunch of speakers, they didn’t invite any. What they did was invite participants to meetings and allow them to create their own content by talking and sharing ideas with each other in a well-designed format. It sounds deceptively simple, but the results were powerful. Unconferences started taking on a life of their own to the point where in May of last year, Business Week decided the topic of unconferences deserved a very substantial article. Clearly, the phenomenon is growing.
Now, it’s important to point out here that the methods used to design unconferences are not new. For many years in the field of organizational development, people have been using what are called large group methods. You may have heard of some of these methods. Some of the most popular ones are Open Space, World Café, and Positive Deviance. These methods serve as the foundation for unconferences with Open Space being the most commonly used method for conferences. It’s also critical to understand that you can incorporate an “unconference” into a regular conference – just like we are doing with our café conversations tomorrow.
How many of you have either attended an “unconference” or been part of a large group event like an Open Space? (Please raise your hands high and leave them up for a minute.) I want the rest of you to try before tomorrow to talk to at least one of these people about this type of event. I suspect you’ll hear about how they are transformative experiences. The good news is that all of you are going to have the opportunity to experience one tomorrow in the form of our Café Conversations – but more on that in a few minutes.
While there are lots of different ways to hold an “unconference” or large group event, all of these types of meetings have one thing in common: high levels of interaction amongst the participants.
You’re going to hear the word interactive and interactivity a lot today. What do I mean by “interactivity”? I mean it in the broadest sense of the word. I’m not talking about some “Flavor of the Month” Internet technology here. When I say “interactive” I mean communication that happens in all directions – not just one-way. And interactive meetings are meetings where people talk to each other and share what they know amongst themselves and with the people who make decisions. They’re not just sitting and listening to a sage on a stage.
In short, the hidden power of meetings is all about interaction.
Let me tell you a story about how I discovered this hidden power and why I think it’s so important.
In 2001, I wrote a book called Managing Interactively. In it, I share ideas about how managers and leaders can Connect, Inform and Engage people in complex, networked organizations. The focus of the book is on, you guessed it, INTERACTIVE communication. The CEO of a meeting production company read it and asked me to apply my knowledge of interactive communication to the design of a meeting they were proposing to a potential client -- an in-house planner in a large professional services firm.
My role at the client pitch was to explain how our proposed meeting design would connect, inform, and engage people before during and after the meeting to bring about strategic results. While we would certainly have speakers at the meeting, I had incorporated a number of interactive elements into the way the meeting would work.
We won the pitch and in the process the planner who awarded us the contract said that none of the other production companies took this interactive approach and her decisionmakers loved it. As a result, she gave me a great nickname: “The Secret Weapon”. Other 3rd party planners heard about this nickname and contacted me as a result – which shifted a good portion of my work into this territory of meetings. For the next 7 years, I’ve been applying my 25 years of research and experience in leadership and communication to designing interactive meetings that have significant impacts on organizations.
Why was this client so taken with our design? Many meetings today are not interactive. Instead, they are delivered mostly in Broadcast mode with speeches, powerpoint or one-way entertainment being the order of the day. Interaction only really happens in the social settings. Now, don’t get me wrong: social interaction is essential to building relationships. But the real power of meetings is in adding purposeful interaction into this equation. By doing so, you can unleash the power and creativity and knowledge of hundreds or even thousands of people.
A Financial Services Example
At a financial services company several leaders needed to implement a new program called Operational Excellence which was based on some management principles coming out of General Electric. The challenge was how to generate interest among employees so that they would want to learn about the new program and utilize it to improve organizational performance.
The people in charge of implementing the program decided to introduce it at the annual leadership meeting of the company’s top 3000 leaders. They could have taken the broadcast approach: i.e. Get an executive up there to talk about it and do a cheerleading session. Instead, they asked me to help them design an interactive experience.
In our early design sessions, I asked my clients to suspend the discussion about the meeting for a moment and tell me about what the company’s top leaders were most concerned with from a business perspective at that point in time. “Cross-selling” was the immediate answer. Their top executives wanted people to sell all the services of the institution to existing customers and prospects. So we decided to leverage our time at the meeting by collecting ideas about how to do a better job of cross-selling using the Operational Excellence brainstorming tools to generate the ideas in groups.
Here’s how it worked…
The group of 3000 people was seated at the round tables you see here with a computer on each table. We gave the whole group a series of table exercises to do, using some of the helpful tools from the Operational Excellence program. They were asked to generate ideas at their tables on how to improve cross-selling in the company. Literally thousands of ideas were submitted through the computer to a team of people at the back of the room who sorted and organized them during a lunch break.
By the time participants returned from lunch, the list of ideas had been reduced to the top 10 ideas for cross-selling. The entire room then voted via the computer for their top three favorite ideas for improving cross-selling and over 1000 people volunteered on the spot to help get those projects started. Project teams were formed by randomly selecting people from the legions of those who volunteered. And they held their first project team meeting immediately following the session right there in the room. In the end, the meeting not only had a huge impact on the stated objective of marketing the operational excellence program, but it also had significant impacts on the business objective of cross-selling.
There are several important things to point out about this story. First, while this story is about a for-profit organization, the same principles apply to any kind of organization. Whether you’re an association, an NGO, or part of government, you all have missions. Your decisionmakers may not be concerned about cross-selling, but they are very concerned about accomplishing their missions. So your meetings can be designed to deliver on your mission by incorporating interactive elements.
One of the most interesting and powerful meetings I ever designed was for a large not-for-profit organization that was trying to build a groundswell of support for a totally new set of goals for the organization. We created a carnival environment where each of the 10 goals had a booth with a “carny” who was well equipped to educate people about what the goal meant and the progress on it to date.
Participants were given “idea” dollars and “commitment” dollars to spend at the booths. Each participant was able to write ideas about how to implement one of the goals on the back of the Idea Dollars and then submit them to the person at that booth. More importantly, they could write down their contact information on a Commitment Dollar, indicating that they were willing to be contacted about how they could help further the goal. It was a pivotal meeting for that organization. For the first time, people got excited and engaged in making the goals happen.
The second implication of these case studies has to do with teamwork. These meetings required that all of the providers pull together to make the interaction happen. For example, logistics were critical to the financial services meeting. I don’t know if you noticed in the picture, but all of the tablecloths were color coordinated. The way-finding issues were enormous in that meeting because we had 3000 people who were assigned to specific tables, so the logistics were critical. The logistics vendors and the 3rd party production company were an essential part of the design team. Also, we had to find a facility that could accommodate that number of people at round tables in one room.
My point is that an interactive approach to meetings has far-reaching consequences for everyone in this room. What I’d like to do now is share with you the background of how I came to this determination about the importance of interactive meetings.
Why does interaction matter? COMPLEXITY
To explain the importance of interaction, for a moment I’d like to step outside my role as a meeting strategist, and talk to you from my vantage point as a researcher and consultant to senior leaders. In my advisory role, I help them develop new approaches to leadership, communication, and decision making. In the process of working with them over the years, I’ve learned a lot about many of the challenges they face.
Dramatic changes in technology, demographics, politics and global economics, are having revolutionary impacts on business and work. This new world is much more complex than the old one. In his speech at the MPI meeting in Montreal and in his book Wikinomics, Don Tapscott talked about many of these changes, including customers who create products and set prices, entrepreneurs in their late teens and early 20’s who completely revolutionize whole industries virtually overnight, strategic partnerships composed of competitors, organizations with more contractors than employees, the list goes on and on.
In this more complex world, communication and leadership requirements are different. Let me explain why. In a recent Harvard Business Review article I co-authored with Dave Snowden, we talk about the impacts of complexity on the communication and decision making processes of senior leaders. The bottom line of what we’ve discovered in over a decade of research is this: in complex environments, leaders need to operate very differently. Instead of looking for the “right” answers and imposing them, they have to search for a path forward and engage people.
In conditions of complexity, things cannot be foretold, rather they unfold. Now this is a whole lot different than the predominant leadership models pre-Internet. When work was simpler, executives could put together a plan, “broadcast” what they wanted people to do and people (for the most part) did it or they found other jobs. Now, in a more complex environment, leaders need more input and the people they’re working with also expect (and need) to be included in decision making. So, how do these leadership challenges relate to meetings?
Meetings currently reflect the “simple” model of communication and leadership where we do a lot of broadcasting and where “experts” have the answers. So even though our organizations are now a lot more complex, most of our meetings haven’t mirrored that complexity. In other words, we have been using meetings almost exclusively as a Broadcast communication medium instead of an interactive communication medium.
What executives need in a complex environment is the ability to tap into the wisdom of large groups of people (and to allow them to also learn from each other) as opposed to strictly selling them on ideas in broadcast mode. We don’t want to discard broadcast approaches (e.g. a great speech can really spark great thinking at a meeting) but the important thing is to integrate different types of communication into the meeting (e.g. let people respond to the speech, reflect on it, process it with their peers, and share their resulting insights with executives). The interesting thing is that participants are simultaneously beginning to demand more interaction in meetings as well -- they want to exchange ideas in addition to listening to those from stage
Why is all of this important to you personally?
Well the implications for in-house planners are the most obvious:
You’re facing an opportunity: Your career will be hugely impacted by the increasing importance of meetings to leadership and communication. You have the opportunity to become extremely valuable to the people who lead your organization. Skills for conceiving and executing strategic, interactive meetings will be in high demand. But for many of you, taking full advantage of this opportunity will require that you do things differently.
For 3rd party planners, you will be able to differentiate yourselves on the basis of being able to create and execute meetings that are interactive and that deliver on mission, vision and objectives.
For providers of logistics: whatever you are offering in terms of logistical support, whether it’s software for meeting registration, decorations for the room or any of many other types of logistics offerings, all of you will be affected by these changes. Facilities providers will need to be especially attentive to this shift because in the very near future, site selection will increasingly be based on your ability to accommodate the very different needs of interactive meetings, including room size, different types of tables and furniture, flexible catering and use of informal spaces in the building.
As a meeting strategist, I am already being frequently consulted as to where meetings should take place in order for us to accommodate our needs for interaction. Some facilities providers have even become involved in meeting design. Mitchell Beer of The Conference Publishers shared a great story with me on the phone the other day and I asked him if he would share it with you today. Mitchell? Could you come to the mic and tell us the story? [Mitchell tells story.]
Clearly, everyone in this room can in some way contribute to purposeful interaction at meetings. I stress the word purposeful. There has to be a point to the interaction – just letting people talk to each other isn’t enough.
This is not just about handing out audience response system technology or simply having everyone talk to each other at round tables at your next meeting. This is about designing the meeting so that you generate and capture ideas that all of the participants and the leadership can act on to produce powerful results.
[EXERCISE] I’m sure that many of you have already witnessed some interesting interactive meetings. I’d like for you to take a moment to learn about some of these ideas from your peers. Let’s do a quick exercise together… Get one piece of paper at your table – maybe one of you can tear a piece of paper out of your conference journal. Appoint a scribe. As a group, make a quick bullet list of at least two or three ways you have seen interaction work at meetings you’ve been involved in – whether professionally or as a participant. [Get several people to share ideas.]
These were excellent ideas. Who would be interested in seeing what others in the room came up with? (Ask for Show of hands) If so, then as you leave this room find the huge striped boxes at the back. Drop your bullet list in there and MPI will take care of getting the information into the wiki after the conference.
OK, What you need to do immediately as a result of all of the ideas we’ve shared today? If you want to begin to investigate this concept of interactive meetings and share it with the decision makers you work with, here are some simple things you can do.
First, let’s think for a minute about the concept of a decisionmaker and what them concept of interactivity means to them. If you wanted to incorporate interactivity into the work you do with meetings, who would you have to convince? Your senior leaders? Your clients? Your customers? Take a moment to think what the term “decisionmaker” means to you and what the term interactivity means to them.
Here are some “next steps:”
First, Do your Homework.
Read about Interactive meetings, unconferences and large group methods. There is an article I wrote about unconferences currently posted on the participant blog for this meeting. You can also Google on that Business Week article I mentioned. Next, get your hands on everything that your decision maker has said recently: speeches, articles, letter in the annual report, blogs. Google, google, google on both internal and external information related to the strategy at your decision-maker’s organization. Then start to look for the intersection between what these interactive methods can do and what your decision makers are concerned about.
Next, Create an elevator pitch.
An elevator pitch is a short (15 to 30 second), persuasive interaction that can be delivered while you’re riding in an elevator. Why do you need an elevator pitch? If it hasn’t already happened, your decision makers are eventually going to ask you about unconferences or interactive meetings.
There are two ways you can handle this:
· Proactively: You can tell them how well-designed interactive meetings can help them before they ask, (Hint: this is a good career move)
· Reactively: When asked, you can explain what interactive meetings can do for them – (Hint: having thought about this ahead of time will make this moment infinitely more comfortable)
Either way, as you know, decision makers are very busy people who don’t have a lot of time and attention to spare, so you need an elevator pitch ready for when you have the opportunity to speak with them. Use the results of your homework to create a bullet list of the things you might say and then test it on colleagues and clients. Then you’ll need to get a foot in the door of the decision maker.
If you decide to Proactively approach your decision maker, you’ll need a hook:
Here are 2 Ways to catch your decision maker’s attention.
1. Bring in an Outside Expert on interactive meetings to go with you when you talk to your decision maker about this for the first time. E.g. My clients who are in-house meeting planners have taken me with them to talk to their decisionmakers about the strategic value of meetings and my clients who are production companies take me with them to talk to their clients. Alternatively, if you are an in-house planner, you might also find that some of your more progressive 3rd party planners have the expertise for speaking to some of these issues.
2. Ask a satisfied client (preferably an opinion leader) to come with you or pave the way for you with this decision maker.
Finally, the most important thing you can do is commit to consciously designing your future meetings with purposeful interaction in mind. This means stopping to really think through what your meeting can accomplish from a communication and leadership perspective.
Complexity = Communication Challenges = Need for interactive meetings
So, we’ve established that complexity is presenting certain leadership and communication challenges that are going to drive the demand for interactive meetings. But what I haven’t elaborated on yet is the fact that the meeting must be well-designed to get the right results
How can you design strategically focused, interactive meetings?
There are LOTS of ways, but first I have to tell you something VERY important: Beware the Best Practice.
You can’t just copy what someone else does from a magazine article you read or even what people in a similar organization do. Your meeting is always UNIQUE. It’s never the same meeting even if it’s the same group of people. How is it unique?
1) The business climate for a meeting is never the same twice.
2) The organizational culture will determine the type of interaction that will work, and
3) Logistics and other constraints will have to be taken into consideration when you’re designing a meeting. Just because Open Space worked in one context, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will work in every circumstance. You have to tailor the meeting and the method.
So what I’d like to offer you now are some design tips for consideration instead of examples to copy. There are numerous design elements you need to take into account, but here are three of the most important that you can use to change your next meeting from passive to active.
Tip #1: Rethink who the stakeholders are. Stakeholders are people who will be affected by the results of the meeting and could include customers, business partners, contractors, people in other parts of the organization etc. Think of ways to include these stakeholders before, during or after the meeting. For example, you might have some key stakeholders at each table at your next meeting or use them as speakers on a webcast prior to or after the conference. The possibilities are endless and the results can be remarkable.
Tip #2: Make a list of the business objectives that compose the context for the meeting as well as a list of meeting objectives. If you’re in a non-profit, you’ll need to think in terms of organizational objectives in addition to meeting objectives. For example: in my earlier Financial Services example the meeting objective was “introduce Operational Excellence”, but the business objective was “improve cross-selling”. You need to have a good understanding of the context for the meeting that you’re designing and determine how your meeting can make a contribution to your organization.
Tip #3: Find ways to use technology to extend the boundaries of the meeting.
1) For example, you could allow stakeholders to get information from the meeting even if they’re not there through webcasting, podcasting, blogging, etc.
2) Or you could use technology to allow people to continue good conversations and connections they establish at the meeting (e.g. threaded discussions or wikis or social networking software could help keep people connected).
You should be able to get some good ideas about this during the Technology Playground sessions, Podcasting Alley training, and the Conversation Cafes tomorrow.
So that sets the stage for why interaction is important. Before we go on to discuss what will happen tomorrow, I want to stop here and take a few minutes to answer some questions. Who has the first question?
Q&A – 5 minutes
Enough “talk” about the importance of interactivity. Now it’s time to move into action. We are going to give you an opportunity to experience a truly interactive meeting yourselves…in the form of…Café conversations
Your unconference experience tomorrow is unique and tailored. In designing it over the past 5 months, the folks at MPI and I took an eclectic approach – borrowing from different methods to get the right mix for this group. This meeting was designed specifically for you, the PEC-NA participants
Here’s how it will work:
Please refer to your Learning Village Guide. You should have found one of these on your seat today. Please use it to follow along now and in the interests of complying with our objectives for Green Meetings PLEASE KEEP IT for tomorrow, we have printed a limited number of them.
As you can see, we have reserved a series of rooms for tomorrow morning that will serve as our “cafes”. Each room will be filled with round tables. The café conversations will take place at these tables. What conversations will be taking place? Well that’s up to all of you! You will be the people to generate the conversation topics. In fact, some of you have already submitted topic questions online.
How do you reserve a table? It’s simple:
First, think of a question that you’d like to discuss with your smart colleagues who are participating in PEC-NA.
Next, think about where you should reserve a table. Each of the cafes is based on a key conference theme, so you need to think about where your question fits.
The Green Café (corporate social responsibility and green meetings)
The Bridge Café (Generational and cultural differences and international meetings)
Café Futura (Future trends and emerging technologies)
The Strategy Spot Café (Meeting design formats and techniques and Strategic Meetings Management)
Café Potpourri (Multiple topics)
When you know where your question fits, then you need to walk down “Unconference Boulevard” and find the corresponding café. There will be two whiteboards located outside of each café, one for each of two time slots (8:45 or 10 am). Pick a time slot, go to that whiteboard, and write your question and your name beside a table number on the board. The whiteboards are already in place outside the cafes and you can reserve a table as soon as you leave this room today. I’d suggest going asap because there are a limited number of slots due to time and space constraints. There will be people located at the whiteboards to help you sign up.
If you don’t make it to the whiteboards in time, if it’s too crowded or if you think of an idea in the middle of the night, you can email it to email@example.com] by 5 am tomorrow morning and on a space available basis, we’ll sign you up for a table. Note that “space available” thing. We can’t guarantee there will be room for your session if you submit it this way, but it’s definitely worth a try. If you do email your topic question, be sure to include the café name. Or, if you’re really feeling lucky, you can wait until just before the sessions start and put your session directly on the board tomorrow morning if there are any slots left. In short, you canstart a conversation whenever you want to by simply signing up on the whiteboards.
Should you decide to convene a conversation on a question, here’s what you’re signing up for. It’s really simple…
Here’s what the convenor commitment entails…
You will need to show up to the cafe at the appointed time. Promptness is essential because the conversation can’t start without you. There will be helpful, trained volunteers who we have dubbed “Maitre d’s” on-hand to assist you throughout the process if you need them. Just look for the lapel badges.
Next, Find your table inside the room that matches the number on the whiteboard. Simple instructions will be on the tables, so don’t worry about trying to write any of this down. Start the conversation with your question and then capture the key ideas from that conversation in a bullet list so we can post them for others to see. That’s it! Instructions for all of this will be on the table.
You’ll give your bullet point notes to one of our Maitre D’s as you leave the café. Let me stop for a moment regarding the notetaking. Of all the responsibilities you have as a convenor, this is the most important one. This group is going to generate a huge amount of useful information tomorrow and we don’t want to lose any of it. Our success as a group in capturing this information will be primarily up to all of you.
Please note that we said your conversation should be based on a QUESTION. This is purposeful. We want you to stimulate conversation, not “broadcast” ideas.
You absolutely do NOT need to be an expert on the question. Rather, you’re starting a dialogue around it, and you and your colleagues will think together about what the answers might be. Think of it as free consulting from your peers.
Now I’d like to address some frequently asked questions.
Question 1: If I don’t want to start a conversation, then what do I do all morning?
All you have to do is find an interesting conversation you want to sit in on. You won’t need to sign up ahead of time just to attend. As you walk down “Unconference Boulevard”, the café bulletin boards will provide you with the information about what conversations are taking place in the cafés and at what tables they are located.
You will also be free to visit the fabulous Technology Playgrounds that are located along Technology Way.
Question 2: What if I want to attend more than one converation?
The good news is that if you’re not the convenor for the conversation, you are free to attend any discussion you wish at any time. If, in the middle of a conversation, you decide you’d like to try and catch the end of another one you can. Or, you may leave to go to an appointment in the technology playground. Convenors, we’ll need you to stay put for the duration of your conversation, but you can certainly move around during the hour you are not convening.
The upshot of all of this relates to a rule from an unconference method called Open Space Technology. This rule is called “The Law of Two Feet” (or if you’re differently abled, two wheels) and that law means that if you’re not contributing enough or getting enough out of a conversation, then move to another one. The bottom line is that it’s your responsibility to make good use of the time tomorrow morning and get a lot out of it. This meeting belongs to you, not to the people who planned it. You’ll have access to over a thousand great thinkers in scores of conversations. Take advantage of it!
Question 3: What if no one comes to my session?
In unconference settings, the right people tend to show up. Even if it’s not a large group, you can have a great conversation.
You might even have a table with just one person (you!) there. That’s just fine. Lots of cafes are filled with 2-person conversations or people alone at tables who go there to think!
Question 4: If I’m a convenor, what if I change my mind about my conversation or if it ends early?
If you decide that you want to change the question you’re posing, cancel your conversation for some reason, or if your session ends early, all you need to do is let one of the Maitre d’s know so that we can make changes to the café bulletin board. That way if someone shows up for your conversation, they can be directed properly.
Question 5: What happens with the notes from the conversations?
This is the really exciting part. We are going to post all of the conversation notes on the Café Bulletin Board in the Learning Village. So you will be able to see the notes from every table and every discussion, getting the benefit of the wisdom contained in what could, potentially be 200 conversations!
The notes will also be posted on an MPI Wiki after the conference.
Now you can see why the responsibility of taking notes is so important.
Here’s our agenda for tomorrow. We’ll be meeting at 8:00 in the morning (so don’t stay up too late after the Super Bowl) at the Main Street Café in the center of the Learning Village to give you a preview of some of the cool things that are going to be discussed. Look for the bar chairs and table on a riser in the middle of the village and expect some interesting interviews. The Café Conversations will take place between 8:45 and 9:45 am and 10 – 11 am. After the conversations are over at 11, we’ll wrap-up with an interesting and interactive session back in the Learning Village at the Main Street Café at 11:15. Don’t miss this, it will be full of surprises and insights and of course free gifts and stuff.
Again thank you all for inviting me and for your attention and especially for your participation today. This has been a very exciting exchange for me. I don’t want to leave without taking a moment to particularly thank Barb Taylor Carpender for introducing me to the smart people at MPI to Brooke Bode and her team for their superb work in co-designing the Café Conversations and to Mitchell Beer, Joan Eisenstodt and others for giving me extensive feedback on my speech. Months of planning have gone into making tomorrow an unforgettable experience for all of you and you have them to thank for it.
I’ll finish with a simple thought. A New and Different World calls for New and Different Meetings. If you’re willing to “Meet Different” you’ll “Make a Difference” in both your career and your organization.
I hope you’ll join me on this road to making meetings truly matter.
Again, many thanks and I’ll see you in the Main Street Cafe tomorrow morning!
Copyright 2008 Boone Associates
You are free to share this speech in whole or in part with full attribution.