Tales From The Frontline Of Speaking: The Story Of A Keynote

Here's How Dr. Jim Anderson Prepared To Give A Keynote Speech
Here’s How Dr. Jim Anderson Prepared To Give A Keynote Speech

Sure it’s all good for me to go on and on about how you can improve your public speaking skills; however, what happens when I get the call to come and deliver a keynote speech in front of a room of strangers? It’s times like this that everything that I’ve learned about public speaking gets put to the test. Do you want to know how it all turned out?

Getting The Call

Every speaking gig starts with a call (or an email). In my case I got an email from the folks who were setting up a meeting of product managers in Chicago called ProductCamp Chicago. They had read one of my blogs that talks about my views on product management and were wondering if I’d be available to be their keynote speaker.

In my case, flattery always works. I did a quick check of my schedule and then told them that I’d love to do it. They had taken their time in getting in touch with me: I had just under two weeks until the big event. Clearly I was going to have to move quickly.

Creating The Speech

Having accepted the offer to deliver a keynote speech, I was now faced with the challenge of figuring out just what the heck I was going to talk about. Although I had never met my audience before, I knew what they did for a living and the challenges that they were facing.

The organizers had asked me how much time I wanted for my keynote (how many times do you have the opportunity to determine that!). I had told them that between 30-45 minutes would do me fine – on a Saturday morning, I figured that was just about all that any audience would want to sit through no matter how good of a job I did.

After having racked my brain for a few days, I finally decided that what I needed to talk about were the sweeping changes that I believe are going to be transforming the field of marketing. If I did a good job, then this topic would catch the audience’s attention and get them thinking about whether or not their jobs were going to go away. Always a good way to capture your audience’s attention!

Making It Stick

Although I generally prefer a more free-form style of speaking in which I create an outline and talk from, this was a case where I wanted to make every word count. That meant that I needed to write out my speech word-for-word. In 12-point Arial font it ended up filling up 10 typewritten pages. I speak at about 150 words a minute and that gave me 4,973 words or about 33 minutes of speaking if I didn’t speed up or slow down too much.

Having written the speech out, I now had to commit it to memory. I use a image / action association technique to do this and it served me well this time out. I finished writing the speech on Tuesday and flew up to Chicago so I had roughly 3 days to commit 10 written pages to memory. It turns out that that was just about right with a bit of a push on my part.

God’s Angry Wrath

In all of my haste to create and memorize a speech, I had not had time to create any slides for the speech. I stated to feel that I needed some on Friday morning but figured that I could just slap them out on Friday night. Well wouldn’t you know it, the electrical thunderstorm to end all electrical thunderstorms rolled through western Chicago on Friday evening and where I was staying lost power at about 5pm. No power meant that my laptop wasn’t going to work and I didn’t have any access to the Internet to get images for my slides. So much for that idea!

Things got just a bit more complicated the next morning. The house that I was staying still didn’t have any electricity and it’s on well water (pumped by an electrical pump). This meant that there wasn’t going to be enough water for me to take a shower. Can you say sponge bath?

By the time I actually caught the train to go into Chicago, I really wasn’t all that worried about giving a half hour speech in front of a group of strangers. So many hurdles had already presented themselves that I basically figured what else could happen?

One Final Trick: Just Say No To Q&A

The organizers had asked me if I wanted to have a Q&A session after I was done speaking. I actually really don’t like those: if nobody asks a question, then I am sorta left hanging there and that’s never a fun feeling.

I told them that having a Q&A session sounded like a great idea, but I wanted to do things just a bit differently: I’d be the one asking the questions. My hosts agreed so I took the time to create 5 questions that I felt that anyone could answer after listening to my speech.

Since getting called on by a presenter to answer questions after a speech is the second thing that I hate the most, I came prepared. I had stopped by a store the night before and purchased chocolate bars, some with nuts, some without. People who answered my questions get a chocolate bar for their efforts. Who doesn’t like chocolate?

In the end, the speech went off without a hitch. I had no problems remembering what I wanted to say, when I wanted to say it. The audience seemed to enjoy themselves and I got many complements when it was all done. The folks who had invited me were especially grateful. They said that I had “…hit it out of the park…” and that’s when I knew that it had all been worth the effort!

– 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 speech before you feel that you could have it fully memorized?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When it comes to wrapping up a speech that you are giving,you want to do it rightand not leave your audience wondering why you stopped talking all of a sudden. Two great ways to do this are to use the “jigsaw puzzle” and the “future vision” closing techniques…