How to Create and Deliver an Effective Keynote Speech

Learn the tricks to a successful keynote address and what makes a keynote different from any other speech.

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
Episode #137

Last week I explained that for a keynote speech to be successful,it is critical to fully understand the audience and organization so that you are able to include examples and language that resonate with the audience.  But what are the specific requirements of a true keynote speech?

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Keynotes Are Motivational, Energetic, and Pragmatic

Remember, the primary purpose of a keynote speech is motivation. By definition a motivational speech is highly emotional.  It should inspire the listener to pursue and achieve professional and personal goals. This form of persuasive speech is very energetic and pragmatic and therefore requires stories (lots of them), humor, and a call to action.

First, I am a huge believer in the power of story. Stories are the particular method you need to use to make motivational speeches more credible and memorable. Stories about real people are how you tell your listeners the right action to take (and the wrong action not to take). 

If you follow the mechanics of good storytelling (which I’ve covered in other episodes) then your audience is likely to remember your story long after they have forgotten the other details of your talk. That’s why all stories in a motivational keynote need to repeat and reflect the core message.  That way, you are indirectly planting the seeds for action.

Use Stories That Draw From Your Experience

Since keynotes are pragmatic, it’s best to use stories drawn from your real life experience or from the experiences of your attendees. Or better yet, use familiar experiences of your audience and tie them to your own experiences. Nelson Mandela was really good at this.  When he talked in Harlem he compared the struggles in Harlem with his struggles. When speaking in front in other countries, he would refer to their struggles.

Look For Stories in the News

If you don’t have your own stories to share, you can always find relevant current stories in books, in newspapers, magazines, or even blogs. If you want your point to stick, try to find uncommon or original stories. But, please don’t repeat the same old stories used by other speakers, that’s a quick way to lose your credibility and lose momentum.

It’s important to spice up your stories with humor. In a keynote speech, humor isn’t optional. I’ve already written quite a few articles on how to add humor to talks, so this might be a good time to review them again.) In fact, there is a phrase used among professional speakers that says, “Make if funny, to make the money!”  However, your goal should be to have your audience both laughing and crying during your speech.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.