BY Russell Wardrop

DATE: 17 SEP 2019


Shoots, Leaves And Sometimes Eats: How To Get Value From Your Keynote Speaker

Keynote speaking is a buzz for those who do it, ask any retired sportsperson. It's as close as they get to the feeling of competing. Then there’s the money, keynotes do not come cheap. But if the conference zeitgeist is captured and neatly packaged into a ball of inspiration it’s worth it.

That does not always happen though. A star does what is said on the tin, poses for a few pics and is whisked off to their next gig. It’s stuffing yourself with easy carbs when something more sustainable might be had.

Working with just shy of 100 cranial and facial surgeons in Toledo I found that there’s an alternative to shooting, leaving and occasionally eating. With the help of an insightful and persistent Corp Comms lead I delivered a series of intensive “The Pitch Doctor will see you now…” small group workshops on the theme of my keynote, Pitch Doctor: What To Do When TED Calls, on the afternoon and following morning of the conference.

It was hugely rewarding for all of us. I can safely say your big name is unlikely to deliver this kind of learning workshop, even if they agree to stay around. If you are considering this approach here are three things you need to bear in mind.

If you need a “name” for marketing purposes you have little option than to find one. I am the last to deny that it can be a lot of money well spent, having been in the room as terrific celebrities of every stripe have strutted their funky stuff. The sweet spot is when the keynote theme fits snugly in to both the character and achievements of the speaker, but too often what is delivered has a feeling of boiler plate about it. Make sure they get the company name right at least.

Ask the question: Is this person box office enough to sell tickets? And if the troops need to turn up anyway, what is the added value?

Value For Money
Conferences have themes and are learning events, not just networking opportunities so value for money is paramount. Any Board worth its salt will interrogate the significant cost of having hundreds of people corralled in a smart venue for a few days, with a fancy off site gala dinner thrown in.  Conference organisers often have difficulty finding quality from start to finish and tracks can be badly attended because they are not up to snuff. We have all asked a colleague about a workshop we are down to attend and being met with a shake of the head, so check our emails instead. You may get a text message when they are in the room, doing something daft with Lego.

Ask the question: What might I do with it if the “big name” cancelled and I had a pile of money on my desk?

Learning Objectives
Learning objectives are increasingly important at conferences and team events. Go white water rafting in your own time (and leave me in front of the telly, please). If your keynote speaker can do this, in other words if they do “learning“ for a living, there is an opportunity to create an event that has delegates feeling integrated into the theme of the day, expecting to contribute and go away with real personal development goals.

Ask the question: What are our strategic learning objectives, how does the conference fit in to them and what does the keynote need to add?   

After some logistical chat I delivered a series of short, intensive workshops to small groups of senior surgeons. We covered every aspect of the keynote. The big picture was painted for them in the auditorium, so what followed was a forensic examination of how you put into practise the tools and a lot of debate about the merits of integrating technology, movement, content, structure, storytelling to the more strategic issues of blended learning. They were a demanding bunch, taking immense satisfaction from quizzing an expert who a few hours earlier had told them they were doing a lot wrong when they stood in front of their peers.

Coming immediately after the keynote and with no time to be wasted they were conducted at breakneck speed and dealt with areas the delegates self-selected in the first few minutes. Both the keynote and workshops were filmed and will be used again with this group as a part of a longer-term plan.  

The “big name” and “no name” options for keynote presentations both require significant investment. The former lives long in the memory as a feeling while the latter brings facts, action learning and sustainability. Porridge with banana and honey rather than Sugar Puffs.

Need help with your conference?
If you would like to find out more about how Kissing with Confidence can help you create a winning conference with meaning then why not get in touch today.




Don’t miss out on monthly updates from our blog to motivate and inspire you to become a Rainmaker. Subscribe now!