Why do some keynotes fall flat and others leave a lasting impression? The answer is…ah…it’s complicated.
I call a keynote that inspires an audience to take action a “Killer Keynote.” To make and deliver a Killer Keynote is one part art, one part science, and two-parts delivery. When a keynote lands and makes an impact, I think of it like unlocking an audience’s potential. Keeping that metaphor in mind is why I call this article the 4 Keys to a Killer Keynote.
To move an audience to action, you must first be able to connect with them; and to connect with them means you must meet them where they are. To do this means understanding things such as what is on their mind, what keeps them up at night, what are they struggling with, or what are they trying to achieve. To do this means you must be willing to customize your keynote to what the audience needs. I have seen many a speaker who give exactly the same speech and customize their speech by changing the name of client on their opening slide. That is not what I mean by customizing a keynote. Weave the theme of the event in your keynote; learn and apply the organizations’ core values, mission/vision statement, goals, targets, even sayings and mottos to your takeaways. The more you lean into your audience, the more they will lean into you. Customizing your keynote is the artistry that makes a Killer Keynote be exactly what it should: a one-time-only unique experience for the audience.
My favorite President Lincoln quotation is: “To win a person to your cause you must first reach their heart, the great high road to their reason.” Customizing your keynote knocks on the the door to a person’s heart, but your delivery opens the door. Delivery involves energy, vocal variety, pace, movement, and of course emotion. When you connect with an audience, you can feel it on stage; it is like a steady pulse of energy emoting back to you as you give energy to them. When this happens, the audience is now a participant in your keynote…and that’s the goal! I make the connection within the first couple of minutes through story telling. You want to connect early because if you don’t it only makes it harder to capture their hearts later. Speaking of story-telling, I do not care what kind of information and/or action you are attempting to convey, if your keynote lacks stories then it will not be a Killer Keynote. We are hard-wired to remember and connect with stories—we humans love stories, so bring your stories to life. Make the audience feel as if they are in the story with you. Use accents, mannerisms, and role play—stories will capture the attention and imagination of your audience. Stories engage, and that is what a Killer Keynote does!
A Killer Keynote is info-tainment. We have short attention spans and there lots of things to distract us, especially that smartphone sitting in every audience member’s pocket. Your number one enemy is that smartphone, unless they are using it to take pictures of your slides, video your story, or download your PPT. (Side note—every presentation I do is customized to the client, and I always offer the slide deck as a free download (no e-mail needed) at the end of a keynote with a QR code.) To keep the smartphone in its rightful pocketed place, make bridges from your stories to the audience. A great story becomes a powerful story that can inspire action when you relate the story to the audience and give them simple takeaways that they can use the moment they leave their seats. Do not make things complicated, there are plenty of words in the English language to design memory aides such as acronyms that people can remember. Whatever information you are trying to educate others with, make sure they can remember it—if they can remember your information then they can repeat it and practice it. If that happens, then they can use it to make a difference in their lives, and that is what a Killer Keynote does!
The reason that conventions, off-sites, all-hands meetings, or other people gatherings exist is to communicate an idea that drives a specific action. Killer Keynotes do not just motivate people (which is short-lived), but instead they inspire action. The keynote speaker needs to first connect logically and emotionally to the audiences heads and hearts with three critical points: the What, the Why, and the THEY CAN DO IT. Many keynotes are good a delivering information, fewer convince people why they should do it, and Killer Keynotes convince them they can do it. When you have these three components, it’s like the fire triangle to make fire: fuel, heat and oxygen. Answer the “what,” the “why,” and the “how” they can be successful doing it and you will have inspired your audience to action. When this happens, you are not only delivering a Killer Keynote, you are also making an impact on the world; and for me, that’s why I love crafting Killer Keynotes!