How to deliver a better keynote … 7 ways to inspire, educate, and entertain your audience as a keynote speaker

June 29, 2019

I spend most of my life travelling around the world to conferences, annual meetings, in-house workshops, and other business events, as a keynote speaker.

I talk about the future of business, and in particular how to lead that future in a way that inspires organisations to rethink and reinvent, to innovate and grow, and be useful and profitable, and make the world better.

To some people that might send incredibly impressive, to others a lot of hot air. So how do you ensure that you really do live up to your hype, have credibility and substance, and become that critical moment during the organiser’s event when people really are inspired. And educated. And entertained?

Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect speech. Every event is different, and so it’s always about tailoring what you say to your audience. And every audience is a mix of many individuals, so pleasing everyone is never easy. And just as important, every speaker is different, so its not about trying to create some perfect clone.

For the last 10 years or so, I’ve been working at finding the right formula, for me and my audiences. Interestingly many top academics are rarely the best speakers, whilst many of the most entertaining speakers have little substance. The reality is that you need both – you are not there to bore, or to be the comedian. It’s a subtle balance. You need to add value – to inspire, educate and entertain – hopefully in an energising and memorable way.

Words matter. But it’s also about your style, your poise, your interaction, your timing, your confidence. Some of that comes with experience, but also by following some simple rules which I have found useful along the way.

After hours of preparation, the moment to deliver your speech has arrived. You’re standing before the podium, all eyes on you, with confidence that no one could take away. Then you begin.

“Hello, everyone. Thank you for having me. My name is ______ _______, and I am going to be speaking to you today about _______. To begin, _______ is important because…”

Immediately people will begin shifting in their seats, checking their phones, reading the program, talking to one another and doing anything but paying attention to you.

Your opening often determines how long the audience will “tune in” to your presentation.   If you bore your audience right from the start, there is little chance that your message will effectively get across.

How do you effectively open a speech or presentation to prevent this from happening? Here are seven effective methods to open a speech or presentation:

  • The Relevant Quote
    Opening with a relevant quote can help set the tone for the rest of your speech. For example, one that I often use to open a presentation dealing with public speaking:
    “It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” – Mark Twain
  • The Provocation
    Immediately drawing your audience into your speech works wonders. Asking a “what if” question invites the audience to follow your thought process.
    “What if we were all blunt? How different would our everyday lives be? What would happen if we said what was on our minds, all day every day?”
  • The Incredible Future
    A similar method, but more relevant for sensational examples.  It puts your audience members directly into the presentation by allowing each member to visualize an extraordinary scenario.
    “Imagine jumping out of a skydiving plane and discovering your parachute doesn’t work. What memories would flash before you? Now imagine the parachute opened. How differently would you act when you landed?”
  • The Big Question
    Ask a rhetorical or literal question. When someone is posed with a question, whether an answer is called for or not, that person intuitively answers.
    “Who wouldn’t want to live on an exotic island?”
  • The Pause
    A pause, whether two seconds or 10 seconds, allows your audience to sit and quiet down.  Most audiences expect a speaker to begin immediately. An extra pause brings all the attention right where you should want it – on you.
  • The Surprising Stat
    Use a surprising, powerful, personalized statistic that will resonate with the audience to get your message across right away. It has the potential to trigger the audiences’ emotional appeal.
    “Look to your left. Now look to your right.  One of your seatmates will  ___________.” 
    “In this room, over 90 percent of us are going to _________.”
  • The Power Statement
    A statement or phrase can catch the audience’s attention by keeping them guessing as to what you’re about to say next. Implementing the silence technique afterwards also adds to the effect.
    “We can not win.  We can’t win…”
    (Pause)
    “… That’s what every newspaper in the country is saying.”