A keynote speech is excellent for your personal and corporate brand entrancement and does more than is immediately obvious. Not only does it give an audience an indication about what they can expect from the occasion, but it also helps to set the tone and establish the point from which all the other events will spring.
Keynote speeches can be as diverse as an introduction to the main speakers at a political rally or an address to a gathering of corporate high achievers. Often it takes the form of a motivational speech or an introduction to a public meeting where an issue is to be discussed. Because of its importance in galvanising support or gathering disparate groups together, keynote speakers must be passionate about their subject or beliefs and demonstrate the qualities of transparency and authenticity that persuade listeners that they are listening to something worth following. Great speakers know that they are there to serve their evidence, not the other way around.
No matter what your subject or audience, there are seven key aspects to becoming a successful and engaging keynote speaker.
First, be an expert on your subject. If you want your audience to believe in you and to trust you, give them the real deal – the truth. They will know immediately if you are fudging it or standing in for the speaker who couldn’t make it. Also, you must know your audience. Connect with them by understanding who they are and using the language they know and respect. If you convey confidence and credibility, they will be with you right from the start.
Dress for impact – make your visual communication congruent with your verbal communication and look the part. If you are presenting on how to build a successful company, dress in a manner that speaks success. Richard Branson is a case in point – although he may not normally wear a business suit he usually presents to a professional standard congruent with his personal and corporate brand values.
Next, structure your speech so that it is easy for your audience to follow. This means preparing a beginning, a middle and an end. There are subtle differences in the three stages and the audience will be intelligent enough to know exactly where you are at. As with an essay, you could describe the stages as the introduction, the body and the conclusion. Don’t bore the audience with facts and figures – tell them about your own experiences in the field and find a vivid anecdote to wrap up the final stage. These are the things that your audience will take home with them.
Use body language to effect and be yourself. Loosen up. Use hand gestures and move about – but not to the point where repetition becomes irritating to the audience. Don’t hide behind a podium and flap papers. If you’re confident enough, ask questions. If you’re not quite that comfortable, ask rhetorical questions. Although your audience won’t be answering you out loud, you can bet that they are thinking about the answers. Use PowerPoint with discretion – if you must. Remember, PowerPoint has become something of a poor joke because of its overuse and superabundance of whirring and zooming words and graphics. Also, a keynote speech is not the place to tell others about your achievements, particularly when you are there to honour other people. Rather, inspire your audience with an anecdote about what you didn’t or couldn’t do. They’ll be on your side.
Use humour. If you are unfortunate to be given a topic which is rather dry, use humour to effect if you are secure in delivering it. Every conceivable subject has its own ‘in jokes’ which will resonate with a knowledgeable audience. Remember though, to keep it clean. Those with a ribald sense of humour often do not appreciate that many others will be offended or feel uncomfortable. Instead, be unique.
Prepare, prepare, prepare. If you are using audio-visual equipment or a microphone, arrive early to test them in situ. Ensure you will be heard at the back of the room. If there will be important guests in the audience, find out where they will be sitting. Home in on what you are going to talk about and review your main points. Do whatever it takes to focus, whether it is by taking a quiet walk or having ten minutes of solitude.
Once you have established your credibility and sense of humour with your audience, you will be on the home run. Enjoy yourself, and everyone will enjoy you.