Last weekend I had the honor and privilege of serving as the keynote speaker at the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society’s induction ceremony at Harrisburg Area Community College. It was a special, yet nerve-wracking occasion. I’ve done public speaking many times before, but nothing could compare to preparing to speak in front of hundreds of people, including the president of your own college. I’m happy to say that as nervous as I was, my remarks were very well received. As a matter of fact, I’m still receiving compliments and feedback on how well organized and inspirational the speech was. And that’s not to toot my own horn. But it showed me the importance of careful preparation for any public speaking engagement.
Have a presentation or public speaking event coming up and not sure how to tackle it? For this week’s post, I thought I’d give you an all access pass to my simple process of crafting the perfect speech.
ORGANIZING YOUR SPEECH
Step 1: Establish a theme.
The theme you establish will serve as your anchor so that you don’t get too far off course as you write the rest of your speech.
The most effective speeches are woven together by a common theme. While you may be the queen of anecdotes and quips and you’re typically able to pull out an inspirational message at the drop of a hat, a keynote address is not the time to fly by the seat of your pants. Do a little research on the organization or event that you’ll be speaking at and organize your theme around that. So for example, with this recent speech, I learned that the society’s theme was “Frontiers and the Spirit of Exploration”, so I organized my theme around being a pioneer. The theme you establish will serve as your anchor so that you don’t get too far off course as you write the rest of your speech.
Step 2: Make clear and concise points that inspire your audience.
Again, a keynote speech is not the time to ramble. The purpose of the keynote is to inspire and/or to make an important statement about a relevant topic. Your end game with a keynote speech should be to motivate your audience to do something. So each of your points should be inspiring your audience to move toward that goal. And your goal should be clearly established through the theme that you’ve selected.
In order to inspire your audience, you have to connect with them.
In my speech, each of my points described a characteristic of a pioneer in hopes of helping my audience see that they too, possessed those same qualities. This is what you call, making a personal connection. In order to inspire your audience, you have to connect with them. They have to be able to see some fragment of themselves in your message. So think of each point as a tiny mirror, showing your audience members an image of themselves as they can be. Their BEST selves.
Step 3: Keep it succinct, impactful, and sweet.
Typically, a keynote address is one of several activities happening during an event (i.e. graduation, induction ceremonies, awards, etc). So while your keynote speech will be a focal point of the evening, you don’t want to drone on and on because there is a lot that needs to happen throughout the course of the program. Typically keynotes are anywhere from 10-15 minutes in length; so keep your remarks limited to this time frame, or whatever time limit has been given to you . But don’t get hung up on the length. Focus more on writing powerful content that will make a 15 minute speech be so engaging, it will feel more like 5 minutes.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.
Step 4: Practice, practice, practice.
It’s not enough to just write it. You can construct an amazingly brilliant speech, but you need the perfect delivery to make it effective. This is why you need to practice. Stand in front of a mirror and read your speech. Take notice of vocal inflections, emphasizing key points. Practice your gestures and facial expressions. Remember that 80% of what you communicate is through non-verbal signals so this is the best time to make sure that your words and actions align. If practicing in front of a mirror is a little too weird for you, recruit a friend to be your audience.
Step 5: Meditation
The day of the speech, you’ll, no doubt, have a little anxiety. I know I did. I wouldn’t recommend spending the hours before the event agonizing over the speech. Instead, find ways to calm yourself. Visualizations are always good. Imagine yourself doing an amazing job and everyone connecting with you. Think about how important your assignment is today. You have the ability to influence minds in a positive way. Don’t take this lightly. Take pride in it. And when the time comes, JUST BREATHE.
For more tips on crafting keynote speeches, I recommend the following article: