How I Wrote A Killer Keynote Speech

A great keynote starts with the writing
A great keynote starts with the writing
Image Credit

I’m not sure about you, but one of the things that I most look forward to and dread at the same time is being asked to give a keynote speech. Giving a keynote speech allows you to show off the importance of public speaking. I love the attention and the ability to stand in the spotlight; however, I also dread the work that it takes to create a really good speech. That’s why when I was asked to give the keynote speech at the 2012 IEEE USA annual meeting, my heart sank even as I told the organizers “yes”…

The Request

Every keynote speech starts the same way: with a request. In my case, the request came from the president of the IEEE USA organization. He knew that I was going to be at the annual convention anyway and he knew that I was a good public speaker. I know him as a friend and so when he asked, I could only say yes.

I next followed up with him to find out what he wanted me to talk about. The IEEE is a very large professional engineering organization and it has a lot of different things going on so there were a number of different things that I could cover. I wasn’t sure so I had to ask.

I was surprised to discover that the president was very clear what topics he wanted me to cover. He wanted me to make sure to talk about professional career development activities offered by the IEEE, how these activities help to attract and retain members, and how the loss of members could affect the overall organization. Whew – that’s not too much to ask from a keynote speech now is it?

The Speech Building Process

When I sat down to create my keynote, the very first thing that I wanted to do was to come up with a goal for my keynote. I spent a lot of time thinking about this, but finally what I came up with was this “Make members want to hold more professional development meetings and maximize them as opportunities get more people to join the IEEE organization.” It’s a lot of words, but I felt that it captured what the president had asked me to do.

Next, I did some research into how I could go about teaching an adult audience. What I discovered was that there were four things that I needed to cover. These steps were to answer why, what, how, and what if.

After I came up with all of these things, I then spent the rest of my time brainstorming ideas about what I could include in my keynote. I came up with quite a list and some of it was really good and other parts were junk, but they were all raw materials for me to use to build a keynote with.

What The Keynote Ended Up Looking Like

In the end, I felt that I was able to create a very good keynote speech. I started my speech by asking my audience what they wanted their legacy to be. I then transitioned into trying to answer the “Why” question. This dealt with challenging the audience to determine how they would like to go about changing the world.

I then moved on to dealing with the “What” question. I asked everyone to start to read obituaries and reminded them that we are all living on borrowed time. It’s how we use our time that will count in the end. This lead to dealing with the “How”. In order to answer this question, I instructed the audience to make the most of the conference that they were attending.

As I was wrapping up my speech, I tackled the issue of “What If”. I was able to share with the audience that the organization was willing to provide them with extra funding if they held enough meetings. I also talked about Dr. Norman Borlaug who had done fantastic things with growing food in difficult climates. His actions had truly changed the world and I urged the audience to do the same.

What All Of This Means For You

The one type of speech that will get you the most attention is the keynote. It’s a great way to demonstrate the benefits of public speaking. When you are delivering this type of speech, all eyes will be on you for the entire speech. This means that you had better do a good job of writing this speech.

When the IEEE USA organization contacted me to deliver a keynote speech for them, I was both thrilled and terrified. I talked with the president of the organization in order to find out what was most important to him. Next, I sat down to write my speech outline. I decided to use the Why, How, What, and What If format. In the end, the speech that I created met the needs of my customer.

The good news is that when you are asked to write a keynote speech, you need to understand that you can do it. It may seem like a big task, but as long as you take the time to find out what they are looking for then you’ll do a great job. Make sure that you have the time to do a good job!

Check out a video of this speech here:

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: How many times do you think that you should practice a keynote speech before you give it?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Communicator Blog is updated.
P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Communicator Newsletter are now available. Subscribe now: Click Here!
Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Webinars have opened a new door for public speakers. It used to be that in order to reach a group of people with our message and share with them the importance of public speaking, we had to get in our cars and drive (and perhaps fly) to where the audience was. Once there, there was the effort and hassle of getting ready and getting on stage. Most, if not all of these issues have been resolved by webinars that we can now deliver from the comfort of our own homes. However, as with all such things, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about doing this…