The Best Thing We Can Do to Prepare for A Keynote

Imagine a giant convention center ballroom. This ballroom is ready for a conference keynote.

At the front of the ballroom is a stage, with a huge screen. There are cameras, and teleprompters, and row after row after row of seats, just waiting for the audience to fill them. Backstage there are dozens of people running the tech, staffing the green room, and being on call. Before the speaker ever steps onstage, a huge amount of logistical effort took place to get them ready and to prepare the room. 

Then, let’s look at the other side, at the audience. Every person in every chair had to make plans, book flights, board their dogs or arrange childcare, get someone to cover their Tuesday meetings. They spent money, and they spent time. And all that before the speaker ever says a word! A keynote speech is high stakes partially because so much had to happen in order to bring it to life. 

We care about being in the same room. It matters to us, as audience members, to have an experience in real time, with other people. We aren’t choosing to watch a recording. We aren’t choosing to read the white paper. We want to hear what the speaker has to say, as he says it.

So what does this mean for us as speakers? 

First, it means that as we prepare to speak to an in-person group, we need to honor the impulses that created the event. Why are we here? What can we hope to gain from gathering together? What do the people listening to me deserve?

Second, we create a strong deliberate intention. What do I want the audience to feel, think, or do as a result of what I say? What are the things I need to do to make sure this experience is about and for them? 

Third, and this is a little nebulous, but we need to bring our real selves to our speech. Not our perfect and polished selves, but our real selves. The way we really talk, laugh, move, and interact. This authenticity is what makes the live experience unique and irreplaceable.

And finally, we need to remind ourselves that it is a real gift of time and attention to be gathered with other people. How can we make the most of it?

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