March 14 2022
Congratulations! You’ve been selected to present a keynote speech on your area of expertise. Now comes the hard part — developing a presentation that will effectively engage and resonate with your audience. Whether you’re presenting to an audience of 25 or 2,500, you’ll want to ensure that your keynote speech hits the mark.
Below are five key ways that you can ensure your keynote speech leaves a lasting impression with your audience, for all the right reasons:
It’s important to understand the type of event you’ll be attending, as well as the expectations of the audience. For example, if you’re speaking at a scientific forum to an audience of academics, your talk about the latest advancements in biotech drug discovery and development — peppered with highly scientific terminology and theories about complex cellular processes — will likely be well-received and easily comprehended.
On the other hand, that same speech will likely fall flat if presented to a group of biotech investors. Although they may understand the basics of the science, these investors are probably more interested in WHY they should invest in your company —instead of the fine details of research process.
The key takeaway? Make sure you thoroughly understand your audience, including their background and level of experience relating to the topic on which you’ll be presenting. This insight will allow you to tailor your speech accordingly.
Once you’ve considered your audience, it’s time to develop your content. Regardless of the topic, there are few important considerations for any presentation. First and foremost, is your content accurate? Anything you present, from statistics to attributed quotes, should be thoroughly fact-checked and appropriately cited to original sources.
Secondly, is the content of your keynote speech proprietary? Unless your event is private and requires non-disclosure agreements, virtually anything you say can and likely will be shared externally. Additionally, many events will invite and encourage media attendance — meaning, for better or worse, portions of your speech could end up being front-page news.
If you are discussing financial or other sensitive information, it’s probably a good idea to vet your discussion points with a member of your legal or financial team to ensure the data you’re sharing is approved for public consumption.
No one wants to be lectured for 45 minutes. When developing your keynote speech, consider ways to meaningfully connect with and engage your audience. If you’ve considered the needs of your audience and built your speech accordingly, you’re already on the right path. That said, there are additional tools you can use to ensure your audience remains actively engaged from the start.
One public speaking tip is to start with a personal story, which can make you more relatable to your audience and encourage them to invest in what you have to say. Whether humorous or humbling, sharing a part of your personal story allows viewers to get to know you on a deeper level and, thus, builds trust.
Conducting real-time audience polling is a great way to ensure your viewers’ full attention. Tools like Poll Everywhere and Turning allow you to build a range of questions into your presentations — from true or false to multiple choice and even short answers. Audience members can then respond using their smartphones, allowing them to share their opinions, feedback and experiences in real time. Ultimately, this leads audience members to become more actively engaged in the presentation.
PowerPoint presentations have long been a mainstay of the keynote speech, but are they really the best way to increase audience engagement? According to recent scientific studies on the human brain, using a PowerPoint presentation during your speech can actually decrease comprehension and retention. It turns out that human brains aren’t great at multitasking, which means your audience can either listen to your words or focus on your presentation — but they cannot do both (well) at the same time.
Does this mean you should trash your PowerPoint presentation entirely? Not exactly. Instead of text-heavy slides that require a higher level of focus from your audience, limit your deck to engaging images and high-level text — such as a single figure highlighting a financial goal or a title slide to introduce your next topic. This will allow your audience to quickly read your slide and return their focus back to what you’re saying.
If you’re interested in an alternative to the standard PowerPoint presentation, consider starting with a briefing document — an approach favored by Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. This involves providing attendees with an overview document that contains the relevant ideas and requested decisions, and then allowing time before you speak for attendees to review the document. An added bonus of this approach is that attendees get to keep this helpful handout for future reference.
The final — and perhaps most important — step is to practice, practice, practice. Take the time to thoroughly familiarize yourself with the content of your keynote speech. If you’re using a PowerPoint, make sure your content matches the slides and try out different transitions until you find the ones that work best.
Keep in mind that technology is not foolproof. Wireless connections can go down, teleprompters may get stuck, or someone may trip on a cord and unplug your device. If the worst happens, you should know your speech well enough to proceed without technology — or at least with the help of printed notes.
Giving a keynote speech to a large group can be nerve wracking for even the most seasoned speakers. However, if you take the time to familiarize yourself with your presentation and have appropriate back-ups in place, chances are you’ll be more relaxed and prepared when it’s time to take the stage.
If you follow these five key steps to building a compelling CEO speech for your company’s upcoming annual meeting, you’ll have taken the time to thoroughly research your audience, prepare an engaging speech and practice to perfection. At that point, all that’s left is to take a deep breath, smile and confidently take the stage. You’ve got this!