Five Thoughts on Public Speaking and Keynotes

Last week I gave my first ever keynote address. It went surprisingly well. I’ve done public speaking in the past (actually this is my third conference presentation in the past year), but I was worried about this keynote. I wanted it to be legendary. I spent a lot of time preparing and rehearsing the presentation and in doing so I came across several resources that are very much worth sharing.

  • 1) Don’t try to be legendary. Despite my initial goal, one thing that I learned from my preparation was that you should not go out with the goal of being the “best” or giving a “better” presentation than the other guy. In fact, you should just chuck the whole competitive streak. Garr Reynolds in his (highly recommended!!!) book Presentation Zen says that we should aim to CONTRIBUTE. It’s not about being the best, it’s about making a contribution to the people who are attending your presentation. This not only took a huge weight off my shoulders but it also helped me realize the focus is not on me, it’s on the audience.
  • 2) Come up with a good title. If you’re the keynote, chances are the conference director already has a topic in mind, but you should still develop the title yourself. This will really help you find the main point of your presentation (see number 5) and can also be a nice place to kick off brainstorming. Here are a few tips from an article by Toastmaster about a good title:

Make your title active. Make the title descriptiveMake the title concreteMake your title catchy…A clever name answers ‘W-I-I-F-M’ (what’s in it for me) to get the individual’s attention,” Sather explains. It answers the question: Why should I listen to this speech? Read more.

  • 3) What will the audience remember in a week? I’ve taken two facilitation courses with ASAE taught by Jeffrey Cufuade. (Can I just say I loved those courses?). When I started prepping for they keynote, I turned to his website, for some ideas and resources. One thing that stuck out to me was his advice to think about what you want your participants’ thoughts, feelings and actions to be weeks after your talk.
  • 4) You are developing three distinct parts for a presentation: your slides, your personal notes, and a handout to be left behind for attendees. This was another tip from Reynolds in Presentation Zen. It might seem simple, but I think a lot of us just develop slides and notes and fully intend to hand those slides over as the handout. But, really, how useful is a slide deck to the audience?
  • 5) Develop your core point and why it matters. After I settled on a title for my keynote, the number one thing that helped the process the most was doing this (yet another Reynolds tip). I sat down, opened a notebook and wrote out the core point. Below it I wrote a one-sentence reason why it mattered. You should go back to this throughout the process and ask yourself with each new slide and each new point you are thinking about making, “how is this relevant and does it support my core point.”

Bottom line? Read Presentation Zen.

Want to talk to me about speaking at an event? Get in touch at


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About Stephanie Y.

I'm a professional news writer in Frederick, Maryland. I blog at S.Y. Ciphers.

One response to “Five Thoughts on Public Speaking and Keynotes”

  1. Vanda says :

    My intelligent girl, love what you’ve done to prepare. Especially the reaction to wanting to make a legendary presentation. I believe you’ll be a success with your smart approach to what you are doing and writing.

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