What Is A Keynote Speech?
Learn the best techniques for making your next keynote speech a success
I received a question from a reader recently, and I'd like to share it with you, especially as it’s a common question:
“I was asked to give a keynote next year and am wondering if you've written any tips about that kind of presentation. This will be my first keynote (yeah!) but I'm only used to giving instructional presentations.”
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First of all, congratulations! It’s really fun to deliver a keynote speech and the best part is that keynote speakers usually earn more money. However, in my experience, I've found that many people, both inside and outside of the industry, use the terms “speech,” “workshop,” “seminar,” and “keynote” interchangeably. So even though you were asked to deliver a keynote, that may not be what the organization really wants or needs. (Just this morning I received an email request for a “keynote speaking opportunity,” however, after closer reading of the request, it seems what they really want is an educational speech.)
Know Your Client’s Mission
Unfortunately, many people don't realize there’s a difference between each type of presentation. That’s why I always include a definition section in my proposals so that I communicate my understanding of the various types of addresses available to the organization.
And that brings me to my first tip: The speaker, the meeting planner, and the host contact should explicitly discuss and agree on the purpose of paid presentation.
I always ask it in this way, "If your team could somehow magically change overnight, what is it that you’d want them to know, say, or do differently?”
Know Your Primary Purpose
If the answer is something along the lines of, “I’d like them to know how to X, Y, and Z,” then I know it’s an instructional speech. If they say, “I’d like the team to be inspired or persuaded to X, Y, Z,” then I know it’s a motivational speech. If they said, “The main purpose is for the attendees to be laughing and enjoying themselves,” then I know it’s an entertaining speech. Of course, presentations can (and should be) instructional, motivational, and entertaining all at the same time, but all speeches have a primary purpose. It’s important to be sure that you’re creating and delivering a speech that meets the intended primary purpose—regardless of what label has been used to describe the speech.
What exactly is a Keynote Speech?
For the record, a true keynote speech is a motivational speech. I like to think of it as similar to the key note for a cappella singing – its sets the overall tone and context for the event. (Oh, and if a keynote address is delivered in the middle or at the end of the event, then it either continues the conversation or wraps-up the event).
Of course, all presentations require the speaker to focus on the audience, but a successful keynote requires an even bigger emphasis. In order to motivate change—the speaker must first genuinely connect with the attendees. Without a solid connection, it is impossible to inspire attendees to take action.
And just like in any situation, solid connections are made by sharing and expressing common ground. The problem is speeches are mostly one-way conversations. So the speaker must get to know the audience ahead of time in order to incorporate appropriate connecting references into the speech.
Connect with the Attendees Through Preliminary Research
A speaker should always research:
• The purpose or mission of the organization
• The purpose and theme of the conference
• Any special challenges the organization is currently facing
• Recent accomplishments of the organization
• Who will be the other speakers at the event
• Who have been previous keynote speakers? What worked? What didn’t?
• Demographics of the audience
• Examples of the work produced by attendees
Be sure this information is discussed with not only the event organizer, but also several of the intended participants. You might even reach out to previous attendees if this is a yearly event. Also, don’t forget to review the organization’s website, the event website from this year and previous years, and any printed marketing materials you can find. It may seem like overkill to do so much research, but you may be surprised in the variety of the response you receive. In the end, the more you are able to learn about the audience and the organization, the better prepared you will be, and the more successful the presentation. I can’t emphasize this enough. Do not skimp on research—particularly for a keynote presentation! It’s worth the investment of your time.
Use Your Research to Customize Your Keynote
This research is what guides the speaker through the customization process. Most importantly, your opening attention-getter must use the information you learned. When I was presenting to Johns Hopkins, my opening attention-getter made reference to the specific issues facing the hospital. When talking to high school girls, I used a story from when I was that age that was similar to a story one of the girls told me before the program.
The research is also used to customize all your examples. I often include examples that are drawn directly from the participant interviews. By using participant examples, the presentation then reflects the language and experiences of the organization. Every organization has it’s own style and you’ll want to reflect that style.
In review, it’s important to first clarify the type of presentation requested, and if it is a keynote speech, then gaining a detailed understanding of the audience and organization is important. Next, you’ll use the information you learned from your research to create and organize your keynote. Don’t worry, I won’t leave you handing…we’ll talk about that in the next episode.
This is Lisa B Marshall, The Public Speaker. Passionate about communication your success is my business.
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