On Site: Keynotes that Buzz not Bomb

We've got our list of referrals, we've scanned the speakers bureaus and speakers associations and even listened to some presentations, but we still aren't certain that our show's keynote choice is going to hit the home run we absolutely require. We need this to be the word-of-mouth hot spot for the show and, with the price tag generally attached, failure is not an option.

Fortunately, there are some tried-and-true ways to eliminate those who most likely won't score the big points.

Right from the first contact, are they enthusiastic about collecting everything possible about your likely audience? Do they want to know everything from what a "day in their life" is like to the most frustrating struggles inherent to their industry? If not, they aren't even close to making full contact with the ball.

Do they have so many handlers that you don't get much time to speak freely and openly before you sign a contract? Many of the "top" speakers unfortunately have started to believe in their own PR and seem aloof or distant. If they come across that way to your receptionist or registration staff, they certainly aren't going to be genuine on stage, and your group is smart enough to recognize that.

Are they stuck in their script? When a speaker has a "hot topic" that they've ridden to the top, they tend to hold on to it for dear life. When the audience wants to go in another direction, they are often clinging to the safety of their "act" and aren't flexible to what is happening in the moment. Connection lost.

Fun is fundamental. Speakers aren't hired comedians but we all like to have a good chuckle while we learn. The most memorable moments are laughs that are organic to that particular session, rather than a canned comment or observation that the speaker throws in to each talk. By organic, I mean that it comes from a genuine audience exchange or interaction. It comes from the natural exchanges exclusive to your engagement and your people.

Finally, does your speaker ask a lot of questions and, most importantly, listen to the answers? Interaction and hands-on role playing are fun and entertaining ways to keep the crowd awake and plugged in to the message. When your group actually "does it" they remember it. While many keynoters are not known for group involvement, there is always a place to have some interaction if a tone of safety, respect, and goodwill has been set.

Your keynote is a signature for your show. If the speaker doesn't feel that kind of responsibility to the success of your show, keep looking. There are keynoters that blow the socks off a group without saying the same old thing over and over; they share, laugh, and speak—all while meeting the needs of your exact group. You just need to find them.

MJ Gilhooley, president and owner of Gilhooley Consulting Inc., a Cincinnati-based marketing agency, frequently offers Keynotes, seminars for corporate, association, and non-profit groups. She has published hundreds of articles in newspapers, consumer and academic magazines, and industry trades. To contact her, call 800-347-9014 or visit www.gilhooleyconsulting.com.

Originally published January 01, 2008

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