Conferences and Speakers: A Partial Primer

Oct 16, 2004

In my mind, learning, motivation and excitement go hand in hand. They work together. And the best programs are those which combine both aspects – the learning as well as the motivational aspects. But a question worth asking is what are our speakers motivating us about? And it could be a slippery slope.

Unless we are careful – few of us generally are! – this may become an exercise in glib generalities and clichés like how good and wonderful the Muslims are and how bad and terrible the “kaafirs” are. Or some slick and simplistic analysis of how all the troubles of the Muslims are the result of colonialism or imperialism or this “Kaafir” group or that.

That is not to say colonialism and imperialism have not hurt the Muslims in the past, or to say some non-Muslim groups do not wish the Muslims ill at present. But the way to deal with Muslim troubles – whether real or imaginary – is not to blame it all on the Kaafirs or to turn around and make turbans the compulsory wear, even though turbans may have been an honored headgear through much of Muslim history. The way out is to engage in serious and systematic analysis and research and pursue solutions following a path of reason, observation and science.

c) Mobilization and Organization.

It is not enough to get the people excited and then to leave them alone. What is important is to give them a specific course of action to follow. That is, to give them a clear direction. Clearly, this is harder to accomplish than the first two goals. But with careful program planning and speaker selection, you can have excellent results in this area as well.

In some ways, organization is one step beyond mobilization. Here you are actually recruiting the participants to membership in specific groups and organizations, both formal and informal. You are also, at the same time, giving them direction and leadership and teaching them the skills needed to make the organization effective. That is why in some ways, this could be harder than all other goals.

You need specialized training on how to put together programs that would accomplish this goal. In fact, we need training for all the other goals as well. Obviously, putting together a really good conference or convention requires a great deal of hard work and specialized knowledge, training and skills.

Now do you see? What type of convention you organize, whom you invite as speakers, what type of programs you put together, and what kind of participants you will attract, will all depend on what your goals are.

Should I tell you another interesting thing? Your goals themselves will ultimately depend on who you really are as a person? That means your own background and commitments will determine the type of goals you come up with for your conventions and conferences.

And all this stuff is packed in that little Hadith in Bukhari: Actions are the products of intentions. What the Hadith seems to be saying is what you sow is what you will reap. That means what you want – and work for – is what you are likely to get. Nothing more, nothing less, which by the way is also the Qur’an:

Laisa Lil Insaani Illa Ma Sa’a.

If some of our conferences and conventions are not accomplishing what they are supposed to that is because no one worked out the answers to some of these questions. Or, maybe, just did not care enough for them. Or, maybe, what these conferences ended up producing is what their organizers intended them to produce all along.

5. Nothing but the best

All this boils down to one simple thing: Islam is the best; offers nothing but the best; and deserves nothing but the best. That is because Allah is the best; he loves the best; and accepts nothing but the best. So select, as much as you can, the best speakers you possibly can.

Elsewhere I will have an opportunity, should that be Allah’s will, to elaborate on this point. But suffice it to say here that you must select knowledgeable people who are also effective speakers, and who, depending on the goals of your conference or convention, can do the following:

  1. Be able to have a good rapport with the audience.

  2. Be effective and interesting as speakers.

  3. Provide solid knowledge and information.

  4. Provide understanding and clarity.

  5. Provide motivation and enthusiasm.

  6. Create a positive impact on the audience.

  7. Provide clear direction and guidance.

  8. Be overall supportive of the nature, goals and purposes of the occasion.

With regard to each one of these categories, it is your job to make sure you find the best people you can. There aren’t too many of them around. So, go looking for them carefully and diligently.

But once you have found these people, what do you do with them? Here is some of what you should be concerned with about how to deal with your star speakers – and in my view with everyone else, Muslim or non-Muslim, guest speaker or just plain participant.

6. Respect

It is obvious that people like this are not plentiful in any community. They may be even harder to find among Muslims. So, approach those few we have in the Muslim community with great regard and respect. They are some of our best treasure. Make them feel that they are special and provide for them the support structure that would enable them to give you – and the Muslims and the world – their best.

Tell them you want them to come because you really care for what they have to say – not because you could not find anyone else to fill the slot. Tell them you value their contribution. It is both a very human and a very Islamic thing to do. 

That means, Islam is simply the upper limit of humanity or “humanness” – the quality of being the best human being one can be. That means, if you fall short from a human point of view, it is not likely you will come out ahead from an Islamic point of view.

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