Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

July 08 2013

The One Thing Your Keynote Should Do Before the Speech

By David McMillin, Staff Writer

You know what’s really refreshing? When the speaker on the stage seems to really know what matters to the audience in front of them.

When I saw Jason Jennings open the PCMA Education Conference in Denver, the acclaimed author and leadership speaker delivered more than a canned keynote address. Jennings showed that he took his opening speech more seriously than adjusting a few lines and inserting the term “meeting professionals.”

SEE ALSO: 5 Quotes for Meeting Professionals to Live By

How does he do it? In addition to an hour-long discovery call with the organization, Jennings says he asks to talk to 10 people who will be in the audience to learn about them, their challenges and their goals. Before he began his speech on June 25, he provided a recap of those challenges and goals that helped everyone in the room recognize how well he understood their day-to-day hurdles.

Jennings said that five key elements emerged from his conversations. All the interviewees:

1)  Feel a constant pressure to do more with less

2)  Face intense pressure to perform

3)  Feel unappreciated and not properly valued by their companies

4)  Indicated that they need to be faster and more nimble

5)  Feel over-scrutinized as a cost center

From the moment Jennings began speaking, it was clear that he knew how to speak on the same level as the 600+ attendees who sat in front of him. Jennings wasn’t a keynote speaker on a pedestal. He was someone that knew how to identify with the audience in front of him.

Now, I realize that some keynote contracts may not allow for a provision to request that the speaker spends more time getting to know your audience. Some big-name speakers may not have the additional time to make 10 phone calls.

However, you can still take additional steps to inform them of an audience’s needs. Ask some of your faculty to make a list of the most pressing issues they’re facing in the workplace, or invite some of your most dedicated volunteer members to join your keynote for breakfast. Provide your keynote with some facts and figures about the trends that are shaping the lives of the members of your organization. The further you can go to educate your keynote on your audience’s needs, the more likely you’ll be to make that investment pay off.

Do you have any strategies for ensuring that your speakers have a strong grasp of who your attendees really are? Share them in the comments section below.

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