I don’t necessarily hate public speaking. However, leading up to the event, I felt the full responsibility of not only delivering a good presentation but also teaching the audience valuable, actionable information — and that was very intimidating.
I wanted to do a good job, and I wanted to be a good teacher.
Therein lies the importance of keynote presentations: to be effective, they should be educational and entertaining. Do you have a keynote presentation in your future? Read on for some advice from professional speakers.
First, what is a keynote presentation? Glad you asked.
You may also be tasked with a keynote presentation in order to secure funding, make a sale, or update stakeholders or executives. Whatever stage you find yourself on, delivering a keynote presentation is an important responsibility as a public speaker.
How to Give a Perfect Keynote Presentation, According to the Experts
I spoke with four professional speakers on how to deliver a near-perfect presentation. Here are five pieces of advice they shared.
1. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
When it comes to public speaking, practice quite literally makes perfect. Every expert I spoke with mentioned how frequently they rehearse their presentations.
“However much you think you need to rehearse, rehearse 10 times more than that. When you show up to a concert, you expect that the musicians know their songs, and you certainly don't want the first time they try to play it to be right there on stage. You owe your audience and the folks hiring you to speak the same respect,” said Melanie Deziel, international keynote speaker and founder of StoryFuel. (She received this advice herself from Michael and Amy Port at Heroic Public Speaking.)
Provided by Melanie Deziel
As more presentations and events become fully virtual, the likelihood of technical difficulties also grows. Rehearsing your content can help you weather any interruptions or last-minute changes.
Rehearsal not only leads to content mastery; it allows freedom in your presentations. “The more you rehearse and become comfortable with the content, the freer you'll be to take chances, experiment, and truly focus on your delivery, rather than trying to remember what comes next,” shared Deziel.
How do these experts recommend practicing your presentations? “[Use] a mirror,” said Olivia Scott, keynote speaker and founder of Omerge Alliances. “I take the time to see how I'm being received, I look at my body posture, and I look at everything to make sure that I feel good about what I'm delivering. This isn’t exactly a tool or technology, but it's a way to practice and rehearse.”
Additionally, consider asking friends, family, and trusted colleagues to listen to your practice runs and provide feedback on your presentation.
2. Ask for feedback.
Speaking of feedback, expert orators know to ask for it on a regular basis — from friends, peer groups, mentors, audience members, and clients. “Find a support crew and connect with other speakers in the industry,” mentioned Karen Hopper, keynote speaker and data strategist at M+R. Hopper personally recommends Shine Bootcamp, which provided her with lifelong friendships, helpful feedback, and a priceless education about public speaking.
Provided by Karen Hopper
“We help each other with feedback on our pitches, topics, outlines, and presentations, and we celebrate each others' wins,'' said Hopper. “ ... It’s well worth surrounding yourself with people who will cheer for you and who will give you honest feedback — the fastest way to get better is to ruthlessly seek out that feedback.”
Clients can also be an incredibly helpful source of feedback. If you’re asked to speak at an event or conference, consider asking the people who hired you. “I ask my client for their reaction immediately after every presentation. It’s important to know how they felt, and whether the presentation achieved their goals. Every time my client is happy, that’s my most successful presentation,” said Jeff Toister, keynote speaker, author, and customer service expert.
Lastly, the best feedback often comes from the source — in this case, your audience. Whether you ask questions during your presentation (which we’ll discuss next) or ask for feedback following your presentation, it’s never a bad idea to know what your audience thought about your keynote.
Feedback may look different if giving a remote keynote presentation, but it's still possible.
“It’s been a creative challenge to adapt a talk I'd hoped to give in person to work in a virtual environment. It's much harder to tell how your talks are received online, without being able to see nodding and note-taking and hear laughter and clapping. But all the feedback I have received [over email] indicated that my talk successfully changed the way many people are thinking about their content idea generation process, and that was the ultimate goal of the talk: to change how people think,” shared Deziel, referring to her recent keynote at Content Marketing World 2020.
3. Engage your audience.
Nobody likes being talked at. Sure, delivering a keynote presentation involves you doing most of the talking, but it doesn’t have to be a one-way conversation. Many of the experts I interviewed encouraged some sort of audience engagement or interaction to enhance your presentation.
“People love to be involved in a presentation. Rather than explain a concept to my audience, I find a way to have them experience it,” said Toister. “For example, when I share how multitasking hurts productivity and causes us to make more errors, I have the audience try a brief multitasking exercise so they can experience the problem themselves.”
Presentation engagement also takes practice — just like your presentation content itself. “ ... Entertainment comes from the performance itself: the way in which you deliver that content and the energy you bring to that delivery. This is a separate skill you need to practice. Work with a coach, watch back recordings of yourself to identify opportunities to improve your craft, and watch videos of top-notch comedians, poets and other speakers to see what you can learn from them,” encouraged Deziel.
Lastly, as important as engagement is, don’t let technology stand in the way. While smartphones and polling software can make audience interaction easier, they can also get in the way of you connecting with your audience. “I prefer to just have people stand up, raise their hand, or clap to participate in the poll. It gets the audience moving, and I don’t have to worry about WiFi connections or whether the polling software is working,” said Toister.
4. Prioritize your content as much as the delivery.
While entertaining and interacting with your audience is helpful and exciting, it shouldn’t take precedence over your presentation content itself. “Nearly all of what the audience can learn from you comes from the content: the stories you tell, the examples you share, the facts you cite and the other information you explain. Carefully crafting those materials and testing it out ensures that the audience will get the information they were promised from your session,” said Deziel.
Tools like PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Slides, and Canva can help you hone your content and develop a story within your presentation. A 2018 Prezi study (another presentation tool option) showed that 90% of people believe a strong narrative makes for a more engaging, interesting presentation. Data can help form arguments and explain facts, but stories stay with your audience long after your time on stage.
Storytelling is yet another way to engage with your audience, especially by evoking emotions like humor. “It’s entertaining to ask questions, saying, ‘Can anyone relate to this? Has anyone ever had this type of experience before?’ and then getting them involved with some laughter around those experiences. Laughter always helps,” said Scott, who presented at INBOUND 2020.
Hopper, who was also a Breakout Speaker at INBOUND 2020, agreed: “Don't be afraid to be funny or drop in jokes — there are studies that show that laughing actually helps your brain retain information better, so not only will your audience have a good time laughing with you, but they'll also get more out of your presentation. It’s a win-win!”
5. Focus on the audience.
Finally, everyone can agree that public speaking is either revered or feared. If you relate to the latter and find yourself nervous when giving presentations, turn your focus on the audience.
“Speakers easily get nervous when they focus on themselves and worry too much about their own performance. Focusing on your audience first takes the nerves away and redirects your attention to making sure your audience gets something of value from your keynote,” shared Toister.
That’s the goal of a keynote presentation — to provide value to your audience. Regardless of what story you’re telling, what tools you’re using, or how you’re engaging the crowd, as long as you deliver a presentation that inspires your audience to think differently — even for 30 minutes — you’ve given a perfect keynote presentation.
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Originally published Nov 3, 2020 7:00:00 AM, updated January 13 2021