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What Makes a Great Keynote Speech

In my work advising CEOs and consulting with and training leadership teams, I often take on the role of an objective advisor. In this role I ask a lot of questions, and do a lot of listening before I say anything. My role is to help them hear or see something differently, because I am purposefully approaching it from a different perspective.

This role is also a useful one to play when an organization books me to do a Keynote Speech. Before I address an organization’s constituents from the big stage, whether the audience will be made up of employees, partners and clients, or members of that organization, I ask a lot of questions and listen. When I talk to the audience, I become a representative of the organization that hired me, and I do not take that responsibility lightly. It is similar to the responsibility felt by the event planner or committee tasked with organizing and planning the event.

Over the years I have given (and heard) many Keynote Speeches. I’d like to share what I have found to be the core elements of a successful Keynote Speech.

Three Elements of a Successful Keynote Speech

  1. A great keynote should be about the audience. As humans, we long to make connections. To connect with the audience, the Keynote must be about the audience. The talk can be infused with themes, goals and priorities for the conference, but only as it relates to the audience themselves. Successful connections with the audience translate to the success of the conference, and —in the case of annual association meetings—can affect next year’s attendance.
  2. A great keynote should use narrative or story. How many power point slides or bullet points does it take to bore the audience? Discussing facts, theory or practice can be very useful, but if no one remembers it, it’s been a waste of time. Story is the best way to make your theory or philosophy memorable. It goes back to connecting with the audience. The story should resonate with the audience, bring them to a higher meaning, and create a buzz throughout the conference and beyond. Story can even be more powerful than truth…just look at our society’s myths, or stories, that have survived for thousands of years. People are looking for meaning, and stories provide that meaning in a powerful and lasting way. Great and memorable keynote speeches are made up of great and memorable stories.
  3. A great keynote should become the context by which the attendees experience the rest of the event, and/or the way they approach their work. A powerful connection becomes stronger when it ties and relates to even more experiences. The Keynote can drive the context by which your attendees experience the rest of the event. Stories and messages that make a direct connection, and apply broadly to the human experience, have the opportunity to provide a very powerful and meaningful context for the entire event. Enthusiastic and edified attendees are often happy attendees.

So take a look at your current criteria for a great event or keynote speech. I urge you to consider these three elements of what a great Keynote can do to set the stage for your next event.

Learn more about Great Keynote Speeches

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