The day has come. An important conference has contacted you. They want you to give the keynote, which will set the tone and theme for the rest of the event. You've cemented yourself as a leader in your industry.
You may feel both excited and nervous, but that’s a perfectly natural reaction. Being a keynote speaker is a huge honor, but the expectations can put a lot of pressure on you. But public speaking is a great skill to have, and you can hone it while preparing for a keynote. Just follow these tips below:
1. Know your subject thoroughly
When a conference selects you to give a keynote, they trust your expertise and knowledge on the subject at hand. If you're an e-commerce expert, for instance, topics can include the prevalence of artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots for customer service, the best online business platforms or changing marketing strategies. The key is to provide relevant case studies and evidence to support your statements.
No matter your topic, always do your research and have notes on hand. Your audience may not know certain technical details, but they can usually detect when a speaker is bluffing. If that's the case, they may lose respect for your authority, start texting or even walk out with fact-checking notes. You don't want to break your audience's trust while speaking.
Having notes on hand means that you can better answer any questions the audience might have. Be aware that while some may genuinely want to learn, others are skeptics, as they should be in this changing world.
2. Use an outline, not a typed speech
While some people can type up a speech or recite what a writer has given them, I don't recommend doing this. Repeating words from a written page can make you sound robotic. What's more, the speech can run the risk of being outdated as the e-commerce industry changes.
An outline, on the other hand, provides key bullet points and details that you can refer to while speaking. You can improvise and reference events that may have happened the day of the keynote to engage and entertain your audience. Keeping your speech timely for the people sitting for an hour is important.
You may also have different time demands. Generally, a keynote lasts anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes. Having a detailed outline allows you to either use the material at hand or cull it in the case of time constraints. You can also check on your pacing to see if certain moments lag.
The exception to this is if you don’t do well with outlines and would rather put the effort into reciting a speech with specific examples and facts. This leads us to our next point.
3. Play to your strengths
If you are a speaker, then know that no one’s speaking style is the same. Some people are funnier than others, and one speaker may do better at breaking down complicated concepts, such as the importance of incorporating a search engine into your website.
You can choose to give an educational, motivational or inspirational speech. For instance, if you want the audience to take action on a certain cause, you may want to go with a motivational speech. In the case of e-commerce, for example, you could give a motivational speech about customer acquisition for online retail.
Also, figure out what elements you prefer. If you prefer using visuals to accompany your speech, then incorporate them into your presentation.
Lastly, get measurements of the stage, if possible. Study the size, and inquire if you are allowed to move off it to interact with the audience. If the venue offers a microphone, opt for a microphone that's either handheld or can clip to your clothing.
4. Incorporate storytelling and humor
Everyone loves a good story. We want to get emotionally invested in a journey that takes us along and teaches us a lesson. There’s a reason that keynotes incorporate parables, anecdotes or bits of history that are relevant to the topic at hand. The speakers want to ensure that the audience is along for the ride.
Humor is another powerful tool. Everyone enjoys a good laugh, and a joyful audience creates an overall positive experience. If you make people laugh while talking about digital marketing, they are more likely to remember your points as well as your charisma.
We can turn to examples outside of e-commerce to display the power of story and humor. Al Gore’s presentation An Inconvenient Truth starts with a parable about frogs and hot water. He also provides appropriate illustrations. The audience laughs with relief that no frogs were killed in the making of his presentation. As a result, they also become more invested in his facts about climate change.
5. Practice, and receive feedback
Once you've done your research, it's time to prepare for going on stage. To overcome stage fright and performance nerves, you need to practice. But reciting your outline and speaking louder is not enough.
A seminar club like Toastmasters can help you get a trial run and ample practice. Toastmasters invites people to practice in front of an audience at local chapters and receive encouraging feedback. Once you know if you fidget on stage or stand too stiffly, you can correct those in practice. After a few dry runs, you will own the keynote at the event. Not to mention, speaking at a local club or seminar can also connect you to more professional contacts.
If you prefer to practice alone, consider taping yourself with a video camera and reviewing the footage. Many professional speakers engage in this practice, and it has become easier with cellphone and laptop cameras. Simply set up your camera, take a position and start speaking. Then, you can see whether you fidget too much or rush through certain bullet points.