Why do I have so much more fun delivering keynote presentations now than before? Once upon a time I used to think it was about delivering a great keynote but what makes a keynote great? Clearly it needed to be packed with information that the audience did not already know, or be a tale of outstanding achievement. So what’s changed? It’s actually the same change I needed to make to enhance my ability to coach athletes onto the podium at major championships. But what is that?
If it was based on my ability to bring knowledge to the athlete, or based on my own athletic achievements, that would present a couple of issues: firstly, I would always need to know more than the athlete, and secondly, I would need to have achieved more than or at least equal to whatever they aspire to. The challenge now is that I work with athletes on the Paralympic programme, who all know far more than I do about what it’s like to train and race with their impairment, plus they all aspire to compete at a far higher level than I ever did. I would end up creating dependence and making myself the ceiling for their potential.
The same is true when it comes to delivering a keynote. The audience will always know more about their specific circumstances than me, plus almost every organisation that I speak with aspires to be best in class either nationally or internationally which is far more than I ever did. So, whether it’s sport or business, how do I add value?
I now realise that for me it is far more effective to bring relevant proven principles around teamwork, leadership, change & performance and combine them with the ability to generate thought in others.
It is the quality of thinking that will determine the quantity of change once the conference is over. Ask yourself, how many great presentations have you sat through; presentations that motivated, inspired and entertained you? What specific changes did you make as a result of hearing any of those presentations? If you are typical, not much will have changed. Worry not, that doesn’t make you delinquent. It simply means the level of thought was not sufficient for you to connect what you were hearing to what you actually needed to be doing after the event.
Now that’s the area that I play in, and is why I have so much fun. First of all, it’s not about me, nor do I have to bring lots of new information as I’m not attempting to give anyone the answers to their specific challenges. Given that they will know much more about their circumstances and context than I do and the chances of me coming up with something truly relevant are slimmer than a vegan on a cattle farm.
Conferences are held for many reasons. Sometimes they are a celebration, in which case stay in the moment and celebrate big time. Increasingly however, there needs to be some return on investment. The conference is used to signpost a new chapter, a new challenge, a new ambition, and some changes are required to deliver a successful outcome. Typically, the bottom line is that performance needs to improve.
People perform to their level of thinking, hence my preference for bringing some proven principles and crafting a conversation that challenges each person in the audience to think about their own situation and how they can use the principles to generate some forward movement. If the audience is 200 strong, I’m aiming for 200 heads to be putting the most relevant pieces together and coming up with 200 ideas to go away and action. Even if only half of those ideas come to fruition, the positive cumulative effect would be significant. And the likelihood of the ideas being actioned is determined by the relevance perceived by the individual, and the capacity to perceive relevance is determined by the level of thought.
So why do I have so much more fun delivering keynote presentations now than before? Well, as I've explained, it's not about one person simply sharing their thoughts with an audience, but rather one person helping them to take ownership of the ideas generated by the speech leading to action and then progress. A process that will continue long after the event has ended.
Which would work best for you?