Today’s post is by Sara Carter, an experienced tech expert who established her blog, Enlightened-Digital, to share her passion with others around the Web. After 15 years in the industry, her goal is to bring information on all technology to the masses. Her philosophy is to create each article so anyone – whether a consumer or technology expert – can understand the content.
Delivering a successful keynote speech can be daunting. There are so many ways to go about addressing your company or group of attendees that organizing your structure and approach can seem overwhelming.
However, if we take a look at some influential CEOs and the keynote speeches they’ve given, we start to see they’re all leveraging similar techniques or rules – but doing so with some unique variations. All (impactful) keynotes seem to follow the same principles:
- Connect with the audience
- Deliver the new data or products (commonly referred to as the “meat” of the speech)
- Reconnect with the audience
Let’s break down how some of the best in the business get this done.
#1: Connect with the audience.
As a CEO or executive of an organization, it can be hard to relate to each employee across the company. It’s crucial for a speaker to connect with the audience right away to ensure they’re engaged and absorbed by the presentation when the key components of the speech are delivered.
Telling a personal story is a great way to immediately come across as just another employee who has another life outside of work just like everyone else in the audience. When the listener comes to realize that their CEO or executive team member is more than just their title, they are more likely to empathize with them and care about the message that follows.
Stories are the tried-and-true method of connecting with an audience – but another way is to simply change the dynamic. For example, Oracle CEO Mark Hurd sits behind a desk for his entire speech at Oracle OpenWorld last year. He has a cup of Starbucks coffee in front of him, and even a cup of pencils. He doesn’t open with a story, but his presence on stage is so relaxed he doesn’t need to. He comes across as a relatable talk show host just hanging with the crowd – and that plays incredibly well with the audience.
Whatever your technique, the key is to make sure the audience empathizes with you and can relate to you. Once you’ve accomplished that, you can move into the “meat” of the presentation.
#2: Give them what they came for.
Now that you’ve made the audience feel comfortable and interested in what you have to say, it’s time to deliver the central message of the presentation. The middle of any keynote speech is reserved for the informational portion of the conversation. What differentiates good keynote speeches from great ones is the kind of information being shared.
Take Elon Musk’s keynote for Tesla Energy from 2015 as an example. Musk’s vision to develop wall-mounted batteries to support his continued quest for powering the globe is revolutionary thinking. How can you boil down all the material and broad information into digestible slides? He does a fantastic job of highlighting the shocking or adding “wow” moments into his speech. For example, Musk shows a graph that highlights the growth of carbon emissions up to the present day, and their predicted rise in the future. This graph is not only hard to forget; it helps prove his larger points and support the overall vision for not just Tesla, but the world.
Musk also used slides with mostly images instead of predominantly text. The information the audience needed to understand came from him – not the slides.
It’s impossible to mention corporate keynote speeches without bringing up the master, Steve Jobs. Jobs’s speeches became iconic for the products he revealed, of course, but many would argue the way in which the products were presented was even more important. Like Musk, Jobs used slides in his presentations, but they were almost always simply one image or word. Jobs’s personality and leadership skills lay in his ability to simplify the complicated. Everyone in the world could understand his vision immediately. By limiting his presentation to single images or words – and using storytelling as a means to express his ideas – he turned Apple products into more than just physical devices. They became ideas or expressions of personality.
Watching Jobs’ 2007 iPhone announcement is still a thrill ride. Even though it was a short 11 years ago, it’s hard to imagine a world in which the idea of merging your music, phone, and emails into one device was actually new. All Jobs needed to do was cycle through three photos to build extreme anticipation until his big reveal. Introducing a complicated product with simple imagery was the key. Now anyone who saw that can easily explain it to the next person, and the next person and so on.
#3: Reconnect with the audience.
Most CEOs don’t have the luxury of launching new iPhones or unveiling software that can change the world. They have to give performance updates filled with numbers and other data. Even if you’re required to deliver that kind of information, make sure to reconnect with your audience when concluding your speech and they’ll be much more likely to remember some of your points.
One of the best examples of establishing this connection at the end of a speech wasn’t even from a CEO; it was in a TED Talk by Benjamin Zander. His closing story, about a boy whose life was completely changed by the music Zander was teaching, served as a great way to both prove his point and endear the audience.
Another great technique is to close with inclusive language. Listen to Gregg Renfrew’s closing speech at the Beautycounter Leadership Summit last year. As founder and CEO, she needs to ensure she’s still relatable to her employees. She continuously uses “we” and “our” to create common ground between herself and the audience.
Final point: Tell your story
There’s a great quote from an article on Toastmaster that reads:
“People rarely come up to a speaker three years after a given presentation and say ‘I’ve been thinking about your fourth point on leadership.’ However, what they do say is, ‘You know, I still think about that story you told about raking leaves with your son.”
These are the kinds of impressions great CEOs leave with their keynote speeches. Connect with the audience, show them the products or data, then reconnect. It’s that simple.