Five Tips for Delivering a Great Keynote Address

Delivering a great keynote is scary!

You have two choices – stand up in front of a large crowd to speak, or die. Most people choose the later. Speaking in front of crowds is scary.

Even more scary is a keynote address, because

  • expectations are high
  • everyone is there (they're not split among several sessions)
  • it's meant to be motivational, not just informational

So how do you go about building one? A talk that will deliver on every expectation and move people to act?

Here are some of my tips.

1. Tell a story

I bet, if you think about all the presentations you've ever sat in, and I mean ever, you're likely to remember very little of what you've heard.

That's because most presentations are filled with facts. Tons of them. And truth be told, we're not wired to remember them. So, as a result, within an hour, or within a day, all of what we've heard disappears.

But I bet you can remember the stories people told you years ago, right? It's why we remember jokes too. Our brains have been wired for narratives – particularly those which surprise us!

Here are five tips to tell better stories, but make sure you create anticipation, and tell your own story.

2. Tell more than one story

While your talk should only have a single main point – because honestly, it will be hard enough to get an audience to walk out and remember your talk months later – that doesn't mean you have to limit yourself to a single story. In fact, sometimes it's powerful to leverage several stories to make your single point.

It's why I normally think about my talk as several talks. You can see this in my talk on the commoditization of intellect.

The benefit of this approach is that you create lots of breaks, lots of stops and starts – and that helps re-engage an audience, because every time you switch from one story to another, you re-engage a wandering brain.

3. Turn a story on its head

I once told a story about colonoscopy patients. Seriously. (Don't believe me? I wrote about it too.)

Trust me when I tell you that if you go somewhere no one expects you to go, you'll have people paying attention. Right on the edge of their seats.

When people invite me to speak, the expectation of the audience is that they'll be hearing from someone accomplished, an authority they need to pay attention to. So recently, I started a talk by talking about failures and quitting.

In fact, I've started several talks with mistakes I made. It draws people closer in, and helps them relate – much better than telling them how awesome you are.

All in all, your first five minutes are critical. And a little vulnerability will go a long way.

4. Make your story visual

Did you know that over half of your brain is wired for visual information? Over half!

Did you know that visual information moves thru and to your brain tens of thousands of times faster than other information? It's true.

So the trick to creating an effective presentation is to make sure your visuals help you. Text (especially a lot of them) can distract.

Instead, use your slides as props – visuals that drive an emotional response that compliments your verbal message.

5. Remember, it's a performance

I've said it before – we're meant to be performers on stage, not professors.

When you're performing, you have access to a lot of tools we often forget.

  • Your volume
  • Your pacing
  • Your energy
  • Your physical location
  • Your movement

And the entire point of your performance is to challenge people to do something when they get up. To act in a new way because of an insight you've delivered.

So, to that end, you need to use everything you have at your disposal. This isn't just a sharing of data.

This is the suggestion that life could be different – and if you don't look like you believe it, if you can't muster enough energy to deliver your message, why should anyone have the courage or energy to let it make a difference in their lives?

That's why you use everything you can.

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