How to nail a keynote speech

in Lifestyle by Helen MacDougall
(3 Ratings)
Keynote speech

Keynote speech basics


A keynote speech introduces a topic for a meeting or another event, like a political function or college graduation ceremony.


Winston Broadbent, managing director of Saxton Speakers Bureau, says the keynote address not only lays down the framework for the program of events, but also sets the underlying tone and core message for the event.


“The keynote speaker may set the scene, act as a drawcard or provide an uplifting motivational address providing a theme, content or emotion,” says Broadbent.


Business speaker Tony Gattari from the Achievers Group in Sydney agrees. He says keynote speakers need to be passionate, transparent, vulnerable and authentic.


Be an expert


  • Know your subject matter. “If you want the audience to believe you, you need to be able to walk the walk,” says Gattari. “A lot of people give the best version of the truth – but not the truth itself – and this shines through.” If you don’t know what you are talking about, don’t get up on stage.

  • Know your audience. Who are you talking to? What is their language, their culture, their style? You don’t have to use street slang to connect with a younger crowd; use language that your audience will understand and respect.

  • Confidence and credibility are hugely important. Never apologise for a mistake. If you start your speech with, “Sorry, I’m late” or “Sorry, I have a cold” you immediately lose credibility.


Be structured


  • The perfect presentation has an introduction, body and conclusion. A clearly defined structure gives you the freedom to improvise as you go along, and also makes it easy for the audience to follow.

  • Conclude with a vivid anecdote or story. It’s these anecdotes that your audience will remember most, not facts and figures.


Be engaging


  • Body language is vital to a good speech. Be open and expansive. “A lot of speakers hide behind a lectern, and this can be off-putting for an audience,” says Gattari. If you’re confident, you’ll be able to move freely on the stage, or even amongst the audience, using natural hand gestures.

  • Ask questions. Get your audience involved in what you are saying.

  • If using tools such as PowerPoint, they should only be used to enhance your argument. The best tool is storytelling through your voice alone.


Be yourself

  • Don’t make the mistake of trying to mimic another speaker you admire. Your role is to serve the audience, and the best way to do this is to be honest.

  • Memorable speakers are not those who boast about their achievements ad nauseam. “It’s not about perfection,” says Gattari. “I always discuss my setbacks along with my successes. It is more inspiring for the audience.”


Be entertaining


  • Humour goes a long way, especially when delivering the driest of topics. However, remember to keep it tidy – bad jokes can bomb just as badly as no jokes at all.

  • Be creative. Your audience will have heard many speeches before. The more unique you are, the more likely you are to create impact. Dare to be different.


Be prepared


  • Arrive early, know your space and check all equipment is functioning properly.

  • Take time beforehand to focus. “I exercise at the gym before a talk,” says Gattari. “I also don’t speak to anyone two hours before a speech to make sure I’m in the zone.”


The best keynote speeches are those that resonate with their audience. This is not done through content alone, but through a passionate delivery that inspires the audience with credibility, creativity and humour.

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This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.

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With six years of Advertising behind her and a commendable portfolio in tow, Helen decided to follow her passion for writing and set up as a Freelance Writer in 2012. Her writing shop, Copyfox, offers copy for predominantly digital channels - optimised website copy, website content and articles, eMail marketing activity and social media content and management. As well as a writer, Helen is also a Digital Producer, with a strong technical knowledge of online strategy, digital design and build.

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