How the Keynote Address is Changing YPO


Whether it’s a sales conference, user conference or a one-off event for a major announcement, the keynote address remains a central and often defining element for corporate events. In a bustling event packed with smaller panels and guest speakers, the keynote is meant to be a nexus of cutting-edge ideas and high-profile thinkers that will set the tone for everything to come.

While corporate event keynotes have been a staple of numerous industries for decades, the trends regarding their organization and execution have changed significantly over the years. Setting a prominent industry thought-leader in front of a podium in a packed auditorium may have been standard practice in years past, but media consumption and event attendee habits have all evolved as we enter an information- and content-rich digital culture. Even the most fascinating ideas can be rendered bland and uninspiring if the keynote isn’t tuned in to how audiences prefer to be delivered information.

Even if a certain approach to keynotes has historically been successful, it pays for event organizers to take a fresh and sober look at how they plan, execute and appraise the relative success of their keynote speeches. That in mind, much of the conventional wisdom surrounding putting together a keynote still remains valid. The key is to just ask the following questions that will help you identify what areas to focus on, allowing you to carve out an impressive and memorable keynote.

Who Should Speak?

While speeches from C-suite executives are the heart of user and sales conferences, companies that have reached a comfortable level of success – and have the budget to match – can and should branch out with outside speakers. This decision is tied to the larger concept of a right-sized event. As Entrepreneur contributor Don Mal put it, “Star power is great, of course, but there’s no need to go beyond your means.”

The logic behind this is sound: Companies that haven’t reached household-name status may find that having celebrities or inspirational guests as part of the keynote lineup alongside the CEO and chief marketing officer is distracting, takes up too much of the budget, or doesn’t correctly express the brand image they want to convey. Rather than pouring budget into flashy speakers, consider looking into presenters who represent a unique perspective that will intrigue attendees.

Mal explained that young companies’ user conferences rely on much more than their lineups of speakers to build connections with customers. Interactive sessions and opportunities to converse in more relaxed settings may help prevent the event from feeling like too much of a “commercial” for the company’s services.

What Kind of Format and Content Should Speeches Have?

Representing a true evolution over the past few years, Inc. columnist David Nihill specified that long keynotes have been replaced by short speeches. Taking less time doesn’t diminish the importance of a speaker, or the value of the insight, but instead represents a way to be better attuned to the attention span of the audience.

This is a new approach inspired by the ubiquitous TED Talk series of educational lectures. Nihill even suggested that when there isn’t a set time limit – as is often the case with keynotes – potential speakers should give themselves a maximum speech length to aim for. Short and impactful keynote speeches, from 20 to 30 minutes long, should also be designed for modern audiences – not just in length, but in stylistic flair. That means bringing visual flash to the presentation and potentially using humor or intentionally provocative ideas.

Regardless of content, opting for short, video-friendly speeches is critical for companies seeking to connect with audiences. Even when there’s a lot of information to be delivered, a speech can and should be broken up by topic into “bite-sized” pieces. Consider that, according to AdAge, it is critical that you hook audiences before the two-minute mark in a video or else risk losing them for the remainder. In our media-saturated culture, shorter, catchier bursts of info – packaged into easily digestible portions – can also be repurposed as evergreen content beyond that initial keynote.

keynoteMixing short, arresting speeches with dynamic presentations of new tech makes for a memorable keynote.

Which Next-Level Technologies Will Help Speeches Stand Out?

In addition to video streaming, which has become increasingly common in recent years, the next generation of information technology may inspire even greater changes. For instance, Smart Meetings explained that creating the illusion of an in-person keynote via hologram-style telepresence systems is a rising trend.

The use of virtual and augmented reality systems to add new possibilities to keynote speeches is one of the areas organizers can explore more fully in the years ahead. Combined with innovative on-site technology like projection mapping, the often neglected visual aspect of keynotes is getting a much-needed second look. Whether the goal is to bring an executive around the world virtually to address a far-away crowd or to add an interactive element to a speech, event technologies are poised to keep changing the keynote experience.

While events scheduled for 2018 are well into the planning stages, keynotes are often one of the last elements to fully be locked in. That means there’s still time to make changes to the format or content of keynote speeches. Organizers can consider setting lineups of speakers that will appeal to their audiences, break the content of speeches into manageable pieces and add new technology tools that will transform the experience. Carefully paying attention to attendee preferences and interests leading up to the event will help organizers calibrate keynotes to create something arresting, memorable and – most importantly – resonant with audiences.

2018: Time to think about conference keynote best practices.

2018: Time to think about conference keynote best practices.