A guest post by Brian Thomas of Enlightened-Digital.com
Delivering a successful keynote speech can be difficult. There are so many ways to go about addressing your company or group of attendees, that organizing your structure and approach can seem like an impossible task.
However, if we take a look at some influential CEOs and the speeches they’ve given, we start to see that they’re all leveraging similar techniques or rules but doing so with some unique variations. All (impactful) keynote speeches seem to follow the same principles: Connect with the audience, deliver the new data or products (commonly referred to as the “meat” of the speech), then reconnect with the audience. Let’s examine how some of the best in the business get this done to help alleviate some fears, and get the ball rolling on your next big speech.
Connect with the audience
Some CEOs might struggle to relate to their employees. The larger a company is, the more distance there is between the leaders and the employees. This can cause issues as it’s crucial for a speaker to connect with the audience right at the beginning of the speech to ensure the audience is engaged in the presentation when the key components of the speech are delivered.
Telling a personal story is a great way to immediately come across as just another employee who has a life outside of work just like everyone else in the audience. When the listener comes to realize that their CEO or executive team member is more than just their title, they are more likely to empathize with them and care about the message that follows.
Stories the most common method of connecting with an audience but another way is to simply change the dynamic. A great example of this is the way the CEO of Oracle, Mark Hurd, sits behind a desk for his entire speech at Oracle OpenWorld 2017. He takes on the appearance of a relatable talk show host when he’s back there. He doesn’t open with a story, but his presence on stage is so relaxed he doesn’t need to!
If you can take a more relaxed approach to the presentation then that’s great. But if you still need to keep it formal, opening with a short personal story will do the trick.
Give them what they came for
Now that the audience is engaged with your speech and wants to hear more, we can get into the “meat” of the presentation. This second portion of the speech is almost always reserved for the informational portion of the talk. If we look at a couple examples of famous keynote speeches, we see that the presentation of information is key. Even if you have to address very complicated topics, the presentation needs to be simple and easily understood by the audience.
Let’s take a look at Elon Musk’s speech from Tesla Energy in 2015 as an example. The main event of Musk’s speech was to introduce his concept a battery system that could power everything from a personal home to entire cities. This is a huge idea, so how can you boil down all the potential material and broad concepts into digestible slides? He does a fantastic job of highlighting the shocking data points, also known as “adding wow moments” into his speech. Musk shows a graph that highlights the rise of carbon emissions from the dawn of the industrial age to the present day, and into their predicted rise in the future. Not only is this graph hard to forget, it helps to prove his larger points and support the overall vision for Tesla and the world.
Another important note is that Musk uses mostly images instead of text. A speech is much more impactful for the audience when the information they need is coming from the speaker, not the slides.
Of course, we can’t mention corporate keynote speeches without mentioning the person who was potentially the best at it, Steve Jobs. His Keynote speeches became iconic for the products Apple was releasing, but many would argue the way in which the products were presented was even more important. Like Musk, Jobs used slides in his presentations, but they were almost always one image or one word. Jobs’s personality and leadership skills lay in his ability to simplify the complicated. By limiting his presentation to single images or words and using storytelling as a means to express his ideas, Apple’s products became more than products we purchase. They became extensions of our personality.
Watching The original iPhone announcement from 2007 is still a thrill ride. It was just 11 years ago, but it’s still hard to imagine a world where the idea of merging your music, phone, and emails into one device was new! Jobs merely cycled through three different photos in order to build anticipation. We can almost audibly hear when the audience gets it and puts it all together, without Jobs saying a word. He introduced an incredibly complicated piece of technology for the time with simple imagery. This also makes it easy for people to explain the idea to others, increasing the chances of the idea perpetuating and spreading.
Reconnect with the Audience
Now we do recognize that these are some extreme examples. Most CEOs or Executive Keynote speakers don’t have the opportunity to launch world changing products. They have to give performance updates filled with numbers and other internal company data. However, even if it is the case that the meat of your presentation is more data focused, it is essential that you reconnect with the audience at the end of the speech in the way you did in the beginning. This will make audience members much more likely to remember your points.
One of the best examples of this reconnection I’ve seen wasn’t from a CEO at all. It was in a TED Talk by Benjamin Zander. The final story he tells is about a young man whose life was changed by the music Zander was teaching. It served as a great way to both prove the point of his talk, and endear the audience.
Another great closing technique is to make sure to use inclusive language in your speech. Listen to The closing speech by Gregg Renfrew at the Beautycounter Leadership Summit from 2017. As the founder and CEO of Beautycounter, it’s very important that her employees share her vision. She uses words like “we” and “our” when referencing the jobs they’ve done and what they still need to do. This bonds the speaker with the audience under a common cause.
Regardless of the size of a company, addressing them as a keynote speaker can be difficult. Keep in mind the point is to connect with the audience first only then will they care about the information you are going to provide. Here’s a quote from Toastmaster that sums it up:
“People rarely come up to a speaker three years after a given presentation and say ‘I’ve been thinking about your fourth point on leadership.’ However, what they do say is, ‘You know, I still think about that story you told about raking leaves with your son.”
This article dealt only with the presentation portion of the speech. And, of course, there is so much more to learn. If you’re looking for more information related to basic preparation, and tips on overcoming the fear of speaking, check out this video by Michael Neuendorff.