Four Winds’ Keys to Keynotes (Part 1)

We’re often asked what goes into a great keynote. We’ve talked with customers, partners and presenters to gather their thoughts. We’ve taken time to dig deep into the surveys we’ve conducted on our top ranked keynotes. All that information is condensed here into our two-part guide on what and who it takes to deliver a truly exceptional experience at your event and beyond. After you’ve read through this first section, we’d love to hear more from you so please share your experiences, both good and bad, in the comments section. Then, stay tuned for part two.

We’ve had the opportunity to be part of some pretty incredible keynote speeches over the years. Some with  audiences of just a few dozen and others in the thousands. The topics have ranged from internal sales  conferences that set the marching orders for an army of sales professionals, to huge events like CES where  the success of the speech drives the stock price up or down. In both these extremes, we’ve helped  brainstorm messaging for just the right impact.

We’ve designed product demos to show on stage, researched  and suggested expert guests to join an executive in front of huge audiences. We’ve launched new products,  and of course created some incredible visuals to make the whole experience memorable.

Along the way we’ve noticed that customers often don’t take advantage of the full visual impact of just the right kind of video, animation, projection mapping or other incredibly impactful and memorable visuals. All too often, visuals are an afterthought. Simply stated this is a lost opportunity to wow your audience and drive the keynote home. If you don’t want to communicate in the most effective way possible, why open your mouth at all?

The following thoughts are based on an average audience size of at least a thousand people but, these tips can be applied to an audience of one if need be. Have questions, just ask Let’s get started with a few things to consider when you’re assembling your keynote team, and it should be a team, because the keynote is more than just a fancy meeting with great A/V.

Give the time, attention and investment that your keynote deserves.

The “show” is as important as any other project your company takes on. You wouldn’t (shouldn’t) ship a product that wasn’t ready for your customer, so why would you take the stage with a presentation that’s not ready for your audience. Don’t forget, the audience is the presenter’s customer. When you deliver a keynote or a high-level speech it’s the presenter’s job to move that audience to take action. You can make sure it’s the right action by doing your homework and working out the “product” beforehand. If you’re not willing to devote the time, attention and budget to succeed, save the effort and don’t do the keynote; seriously.

Know your audience.

This one is fundamental in any communication, but let’s dig deeper. It’s likely your audience will be segmented so you’ll have to know how to talk to each part of that audience without leaving other parts behind. Why are they attending the keynote? Are they hoping to learn a tip and trick on how they can sell more? Are they interested in hearing the latest strategy from the CEO so they’ll be able to serve the customer better? Are they members of the Press, and interested in how they can share the news and scoop their competition? (Remember, your keynote is news to someone somewhere.) It’s a good idea to know the answers to these questions at a minimum.

Know what got each of them in that room and speak, just enough, to that topic to make sure they’re happy they came, and then reveal a bit more so they’ll be back next time. The best way to do this, is through stores not facts and figures. It’s safe to weave the key stats in but be entertaining and fun. Now that you’ve shared and revealed a kernel that’s of particular interest to each segment of your audience, give them a way to reference and relive it. Are you webcasting your keynote live? Will there be a press package for news outlets? Are you creating a highlights video for the entire event? Where can your audience find these assets, so they can share them across their social channels? Make it fun and easy for them to share the stories you shared with them.

Address the right topics.

Remember this keynote is an opportunity for you to show you’re in touch with the market, your employees, the competition, and the critics. Chances are it’s an annual event or an event driven by changes in the ecosystem your business thrives in. Sometimes historical information is key to show the progress and validate the messaging you’re sharing. Do the homework and consider how this positions your audience. Talk about and focus on the struggles and triumphs that led to this moment on stage. Remember, tell stories. Be open, address critics head on, empathize with competition but then differentiate your company and your products. Never denigrate the competition.

If you don’t have something that breaks you out of the pack, chances are you won’t be remembered. Have a clear “visual language” for each section of the speech. This will make it easy to remember. Within your corporate branding guidelines, use icons or colors to represent complex concepts in each section. This visual language can take the form of eye popping slides, but consider using the venue itself for a stunning impact. What if your slides were a living projection on the floor, ceiling or stage surfaces? What if they animated? What if the entire mood and look of the room could be controlled by the presenter?

Consider using projection mapping in addition to, or instead of simple two dimensional visual aids. Maybe you can dress the audience and involve them in your keynote story. There’s no limit to what can get attention and make an impact.

Show don’t tell.

Often diagrams and animation will be key to share the subtle nuances your audience needs to understand.  If, for example, you’re delivering sales related information, it’s easy to lose the non-sales folks in the audience. But what if you’re describing the interconnected nature of a product you’re launching and how it works? In either case, if you make that information visual the whole audience will be engaged.


We’re ten times more visual than auditory by nature, showing uses thirty percent of the cortex where hearing uses only three percent. Once you’ve got them leaning forward to see what’s next, they’ll be naturally curios to learn more. A live product demo may be called for or an in-depth animation to help explain the concept. Consider an expert or favorite customer joining your speaker on stage to drive the point home or to share their story. If your favorite expert or customer can’t be there in person, maybe a testimonial video showing the information is the answer. You’ll gain credibility and respect if you show people the product in action or have a third party show the experiences they had with the product.

There’s a lot to consider here and, let’s face it, each of these tips could be expanded in much, much greater detail. How can any one person expect to cover all this information? They can’t. Remember that team I mentioned in the beginning. Teamwork is the key. We’ve seen wildly successful speeches have incredible impact when a team is mobilized and given the freedom to address these areas in depth. Time to gather the team.

This brings us to the end of the first of this two-part article. We’d love to hear your thoughts and comments, and have you share your experiences. Stay tuned for part two.

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