5 Things I Learned After Giving 6 Keynotes in 9 Days

Trains, coffees, jokes, insights, questions, answers, and hashtags

August 10, 2017

During the last week of June and the first week of July I gave 6 keynote speeches in 9 days. While I've given a lot of talks at a lot of universities and conferences (this week I was at the University of Manchester and Arts University Bournemouth), I've never done that many keynotes in that span of time. It was a hectic run filled with day trips from London, a few overnight stays, multiple train stations, countless coffees, and several semi-successful jokes.

Thematically, all of my talks are related to each other. I frequently use building blocks from past presentations as inspiration for future keynotes. Themes like employability, critical thinking, digital literacy/capability, community building, and lifelong learning are ever-present.

Whilst on the train, either riding to a venue or returning home, I found myself reflecting on things that I learned from the previous engagement and what I might incorporate into the next talk.

Here are 5 things that I learned after giving 6 keynotes in 9 days:

1) Preparation is everything. With so many talks in such a short amount of time it is important to create, prep, and hone each presentation so that it matches up with audience expectation and provides new ideas, strategy, content, and takeaways.

2) Always be flexible with technology. From audio glitches to HDMI cable failure, presentation technology is not infallible. I carry both the VGA and HDMI display adapters for my MacBook and am ready to go sans digital if necessary. And, I embed all videos into my slide decks so that I don't have to rely on whether or not a venue's WiFi can handle playing an HD video alongside all of the social media shares (Twitter + hashtags for the win!) that are taking place during my talk. In fact, my presentations don't require the Internet at all as this is one less thing that can fail which means it's one less thing I have to think about as I focus on giving a high quality presentation.

3) The opening remarks of a keynote matter just as much as the close. Sometimes it's difficult to come out of the gate with massive amounts of energy during a keynote. Waking up at 4:30AM to catch an early train isn't easy. I try to engage with attendees before my talks and get a sense of what people are interested in regarding the keynote topic. It helps to make those connections in advance as you can then reference them in your talk. Personalizing a keynote in this way seems to work...even if you're speaking to 300+ people.

4) Stay comfortable. Speaking in front of hundreds of people is an exciting thing to do. It's also incredibly exhausting. I make a point of dressing as comfortably as I can...my "keynote shoes" are basically fancy running shoes. Trust me, shoes are so important because as a speaker, I'm on my feet walking around a stage for hours at a time. And, don't tell anyone in the UK, but I don't even own a suit. I figure that my content matters more than the formality of my sartorial appearance.

And, always insist on being miked up. My voice can get a bit gravelly towards the end of a keynote. Wearing a wireless microphone really helps save my voice for the next talk.

5) Slide design and keynoting is a combination of art and teaching. I've written a lot about presentation tips, so I won't go over all of that again. However, if the people in the back row of an event can't read your slides (due to font size, too many words, etc.) that's problematic.

Don't put everything that you plan on saying in your talk on your slides. Edit and then edit some more. Remove as much as you can from your slides so that your content is focused and timely (I usually start with 100+ slides and then whittle the deck down). The deck is a guide for your keynote. My talks are carefully prepared extemporaneous exercises. Use images/text to convey ideas, embed emotion...think of the deck as the metal beams of a scaffold. Your slides help you build something meaningful for your audience.


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