Innovating Keynotes, Part II

I am surprised by the reaction to my last post. It appears I’ve hit on something of interest to my readers. One of the responses was basically a query as to “how” one might develop more interesting keynotes. The short answer is it requires creative thinking. The longer answer follows.


Getting your stories together is a real challenge. Keep a notebook and every time you think of something from your past, write it down. Even the ones that don’t seem big enough or good enough. Prototype your stories with friends for reactions — sometimes what you think is obvious is profound to others.

Yes, you can tell a story about someone else, if — you give attribution (are honest about origon) and make a personal connection. For example, I often talk about Steve Jobs as being the kind of leader that inspires innovation in his culture.

Being Interesting

Creating “interest” or engagement in what you are saying is the biggest challenge of all. This is something you have to brainstorm about all the time. Take a story and then ask yourself: How can I deliver this in an interesting way? Brainstorm ideas with yourself and involve others if they want to help. You will come up with ideas. You need to experiment, try things. There is no easy answer, but the proof is in the response. Do people react? Pay close attention?

If it’s possible find an improvisation class, and take it. They teach you in these classes to invent things on the spot. I’m not saying to do improv when keynoting. I am saying use improv to develop one. Watching improv is another great way to get ideas for your own talks.

I would suggest reading Viola Spolin’s book, Improvisation for Actors. Also see if you can order a book by Del Close and Charna Halpern about improv. These games will give you ideas for different ways to deliver content, but you will have to be creative in figuring that out and adapting them.

Another idea is to watch speeches on TV on on YouTube and see what kind of techniques people use to keep attention.

A few other ideas:

  • Audiences love “big” or broad gestures
  • Use the entire stage, don’t stand still all the time,
  • Use body language to communicate your message, use your Whole Body
  • Do the unexpected, be dramatic, but be authentic while doing it
  • Vary your tone of voice from a whisper to a shout
  • Consider where a song or a bit of a dance could work, audiences love it.  If this is not your style, fine, but remember, speaking is really show business, even in the corporate world. You forget that fact at your peril
  • You don’t always have to be yourself… act like someone else… (your wife, a politician, a movie star, a gangster). Characters bring a bit of fun and interest into things
  • Consider using a “prop” to demonstrate something. (i.e. to demonstrate quantity of ideas bring a large clear bag of ideas on Post-its). Bob Hope always had a golf club in his hand. On the other hand, don’t overdo props, then you’re Gallagher

Ways to interact with audiences:

  • A quiz they can take as you speak
  • A contest of some kind, give things away to audience members while speaking (i.e. books)
  • Asking for ideas or thoughts shout them out, this adds a reality to talks if you directly respond or use them
  • Asking questions that make them think, before giving the answer
  • Have them write things down
  • Paired shares with their next door buddy (i.e. discuss a point you are making)
  • Having them think about how they will make some point real in their lives, how they will “take it home”

Remember, even if you are just talking, if you are engaging, it is interactive. This is because you are interacting with the minds of everyone you are speaking to. Interaction does not always have to be Overt, it can be in their minds.

I hope this is helpful.

Posted in Innovation, Public Speaking