How to Give a Great Keynote Speech – A Step by Step Guide

So, you’ve been asked to be a keynote speaker and deliver a keynote speech. How do you make sure your speech stands out and gets remembered? And what pitfalls should you avoid?

These are the top Keynote speech tips from the coaching team at Benjamin Ball Associates, based on our 15 years’ experience of supporting business leaders.

What’s different about a Keynote speech?

A keynote speech is more than an ordinary conference speech. Your keynote may be the reason people come to the event. It frequently sets the tone for the day. You’ll probably be the first speaker and that means your audience has high expectations.

A Keynote speech is also a powerful marketing opportunity. With these high stakes, the pressure is on you to deliver.

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How do you prepare a great Keynote speech?

You can only be a great keynote speaker if you start with great content. That means writing a powerful talk that your audience wants to hear. But what are the elements of a great keynote presentation? These are some of the most important things to get right.

Top tips for a compelling keynote presentation

1. Know your audience

A great speech is about your audience.  Whatever the subject of your talk, when preparing your keynote, you need to talk about what it means for them.  For example:

  • If you are talking about new laws, then tell us how will these improve the lives of the audience. 
  • If you are talking about changes in your business, what will that means for those in the audience. 

This means you write your speech for your audience and no one else.   See how Dan Gilbert involves his audience in his talk. “The Surprising Science of Happiness”

2. Have a clear intent to your keynote speech

Great talks have a singular purpose. You should decide exactly what you want to achieve with your keynote. The clearer your intent, the more likely you will achieve this. For example, in his TED talk, Christopher Emdin uses his six minutes to achieve his one objective. 

How to do this? Write your intent on a post it note and keep this over your desk as you prepare your talk.  This should be your guiding light.

3. Prepare clear messages in your keynote presentation

Great talks are easy for your audience to listen to and understand. One way you can make it easy for your audience is by having clear messages that you want your audience to take away. We often use the TakeAway Test to check the clarity of our clients’ messages.

4. Tell stories in your keynote speech

Storytelling is at the heart of any great talk. One of our top bits of advice for clients is that “Facts get forgotten; Stories get repeated.” You can use stories in many ways – to start; to connect with your audience; to give examples; to illustrate what you mean. See how Susan Cain uses stories in her TED talk The Power of Introverts.

You can learn more about powerful storytelling here

5. Use all the tricks of great speech writers

Speech writing is an art and a science. That’s why speech writing is a paid profession. Simon Lancaster, a well-known speech writer, talks about speech writing tricks including speaking in threes, using contrasts and metaphor in his TED talk. So, if you want help using these tools and turning your talk into an impressive Keynote address, please get in touch.

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What mistakes do you need to avoid in a keynote speech?

In our experience, these are the biggest mistakes made by speakers over and over again. Read this and make sure you don’t fall into any these public speaking traps.

1. Don’t be boring

It may sound obvious, but this is the key failing of keynotes. Because people don’t prepare properly, they deliver a mediocre speech. The good news is that it can be relatively simple to turn an ordinary conference talk into a powerful keynote. We’d be delighted to transform your draft into a compelling Keynote.

2. Don’t let your keynote speech be too formal

Great leaders speak using a conversational style. Short words, short phrases, simple words and colloquial phrases make a talk easy to listen to. Good writing is hard work, so keep at it until you know you have a great talk. Or use an experienced public speaking coach to help you draft your words.

3. A Keynote speaker does not give a sales pitch

Some of the worst keynote speeches are promotional pitches. Much better is to grab attention and demonstrate how good you are, rather than tell people how good you are. Let your audience conclude that you are brilliant – don’t tell them.

4. Don’t say too much

It is easy to try and cover too much in your talk. A common mistake is to pack your talk with more information. But the best talks tend to be simpler and focused. We’ve improved more talks by cutting stuff than by adding stuff. A great talk will say less, but say it better.

5. A keynote speech is not an essay

The spoken word and the written word are completely different. You need to write for the ear, not the page. This is where a speech writer or a public speaking coach are so useful because they can help you translate your ideas into powerful spoken language.

6. Don’t rely on PowerPoint

Prepare a great keynote speech first. Only then decide if you need visual aids. And visual aids do not need to be PowerPoint. A PowerPoint presentation is not the same as a keynote speech.

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How do you deliver a keynote presentation?

Once you have written a great talk, you then need to deliver it well. If you have a bad talk, it will be hard to deliver well and you will never look good. But with a well-written talk and a carefully prepared speaker, you can be very impressive. These are some things that you need to consider:

1. Project your voice

A Keynote Speaker is a performer. Speaking as you would in a small room will not work. You need to look and sound impressive to make an impact. What does this involve? You need to think about the energy you put into your voice; how you vary your pace and tone and how you command the room. Fortunately all these techniques can be learned. We do this every week for leaders giving keynote talks.

2. Use many pauses in your keynote speech

Pauses are the secret trick that the best speakers know. Pauses are powerful because they help your audience and they help you. As a rule of thumb, great speakers will use pauses every 5-10 words, and will frequently pause for somewhere between ½ – 2 seconds.

3. Own the stage

With your body language and your eye contact you can look impressive. A speaker will seen to be comfortable and will look as if being on stage is natural to them. All this is a trick. Many speakers feel nervous, but they have learned how to appear confident. We can help you look confident.

4. A Keynote speaker will look the part

What you wear, how you behave and what you say must all link together. If what you are saying and how you say it do not match, you will lose your audience.

You are offering your audience a package and all elements in the package must fit together. It’s no coincidence that the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy always wears military fatigues when he speaks in public. It’s all about projecting the right image. What image do you want to project?

5. Practise

The one thing that distinguishes great keynote speakers from ordinary ones is the time they spend practising. Obviously, the more public speaking you do, the better your will get. So if you don’t speak frequently, dedicate extra time to practising your talk.

And by practising, you should keep improving and refining what you say. Never be happy with the first draft of your speech. The best speakers are editing right up to the last minute. And of course, call us in to help. We can transform you from a nervous speaker into a confident, compelling communicator.

How to Deliver a Brilliant Keynote Speech

So, how do you prepare your next keynote address? You are welcome to use all the advice above. Or, to make it simpler, we could help you. Before you give your next Keynote presentation, get in touch. We’d be delighted to help you prepare and deliver a compelling speech. Our keynote speech coaching is fast and efficient.

Contact us to become a great keynote speaker

About Benjamin Ball Associates

At Benjamin Ball Associates, we help our clients to communicate better. You get presentation coaching for executives.

Over 15+ years the award-winning BBA team has coached thousands of senior executives globally to present powerfully. You get access to a transformational toolbox of presentation skills & techniques to help you become a clear, confident communicator.

We’ll help you create a powerful first impression that hooks and engages your audience immediately, and we’ll transform you to deliver clearly, confidently and with impact.

Speak to Louise on +44 20 7018 0922 or email to find out more and discuss your upcoming speech or presentation.

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Contact us for a chat about how we can help you with your presenting.

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Contact us for a chat about how we can help you with your presenting.

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