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8 Nov 2017 in Uncategorized

How to write a keynote talk

Writing a keynote talk can be a daunting task if you’ve never done it before. And so when I was talking with my friend Shani Langi, who heads up the Newco Festival, I offered to give some suggestions for her community members who will be talking at the next Newco event on August 24th.

Empathise with your audience

The first thing you need to do is understand your audience. My favourite quote about empathy comes from the American Indian tradition. ‘In order to understand a man you must walk a mile in his moccasins. And in order to do that, you must first take off your own’. This simple wisdom explains the starting point of your planning. Find out what your audience wants to learn from you. If know your audience already this will be easy to find out, but if you are new to them, ask other people who do know them what will add the most value. This is vital. If you are talking to CEOs about your field of expertise, pitch it high. And if you are talking to uni graduates, lower your sights. And consider what they really want to know about you and your business.

Define your purpose

You need to an overarching reason for delivering your keynote talk. What is the headline. Consider how you would answer this question ‘The reason for me being here today is to help you…. ‘

Map out 5-8 chapters

Just like books that are broken down into chapters, keynotes need to have a structure to them to help your audience to stay engaged and follow your talk. If you are an expert in your field, this shouldn’t be too hard. In my 2017 Newco talk, I chose 8 main chapters which you can watch above.

Make chapter 1 powerful

Your audience will often be listening to more than one keynote, particularly if it’s a 1 day conference. So you need to bear in mind, people get listening fatigue and switch off. In the first minute of your talk, people’s subconscious will be deciding if they buy into you, or not. So start with something powerful. A hook is sometimes what this is called. Just like a shiny fish hook which attracts a fish to your bait, you need to provide a powerful reason why people should give you their attention.

Read up about VAK

Google search for ‘Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic’. It’s a body of work from NLP which explains how people learn 3 ways. These are from sight (what they see in the room), sounds (your voice) and touch (how they feel). Your audience will each learn from you in different ways, so consider how you can honour each of their learning channels.

Use imagery

A picture tells a thousand words and it’s easy to use this to your advantage. In your slide deck include powerful imagery which tells your story. There’s a ton of free imagery on the web. I like pexels and there’s more sites like that. When you use images, I like to fill up the entire slide with them and add a few words over the top.

Avoid excessive words on your slides

When you build your slides, avoid putting excessive words of them. Slides are best used as simple, powerful placeholders, not a series of notes that you can read from. Again your audience should spend most of their time looking at you and the slides can simply help tell your story.

Tell your authentic story

People want to know about you. Don’t be afraid to tell your story. This is a great way of building rapport with your audience.

Seek feedback (but not too much)

If you’re new to talking then you’ll probably want to seek feedback from someone. Be mindful how many people you show your talk to because each one of them will have an opinion and if you take it all on board, your writing phase could talk a lot longer.

Practice (lots)

I have a simple rule when I give a talk. Prepare well, practice heaps and then let go on the day. The nerves of delivering a talk are a natural part of the process and one way you can mitigate their impact is by knowing your talk inside out and back to front. This comes with practice. I will often spend a whole day delivering my talk in the week build up to an event. This way I am seeding the content into my subconscious. And this allows me to stop worrying I will forget what I want to say. You can use cards on the day as reminders of course, its just that I am not a fan of them. If you want to engage your audience, you won’t achieve that by looking down at cards for 50% of your talk. They want to know you are interested in them and eye contact plays a big part in that.

Consider filming it

A keynote, when delivered well can be used for future marketing objectives. I did a TED talk in 2014 and it’s still helping me meet new people today. If you feel like filming it, get yourself a good cameraman who understands sound, room lighting and set up. It will cost a few thousand dollars to get it done well, but can be used for many years afterwards. Richard Hoskins shot my TED talk and Newco talk and his website is here. I rate him as 11 out of 10 and he’s a lovely guy to have on your team on the day.

Support yourself

It can be stressful getting prepared for a keynote, so if you can get all the worry and nerves out your system before the day by managing your wellbeing, you’ll be calmer on the day. Get a massage, go to the gym, do some yoga, meditate or do whatever else helps your nerves and on the day you’ll be fresh faced and ready to take on the world! If you’re seeking a professional coach to help you bring your talk together give me a call. I’d be happy to help you get prepared for your big day.



If you want to know more about me, watch my TED talk. And if you are seeking help with something, call or email to book in your free consultation, and lets start the dialogue.

Call (+61) 02 8402 2086. Email

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