“That was the best keynote speech I’ve ever heard”. These are the words that every professional speaker wants to hear from a client or audience member. Last month it happened to me after giving a speech to over 1,000 CEO’s, advertising executives and marketers. In this post I thought I’d share my 10 step process for using the latest artificial intelligence combined with some old-fashioned speaking skills to craft a winning presentation, keynote or speech. Let’s begin…
I should first provide you with some background. As an international keynote speaker I give lots of speeches each year, mostly to multinational companies and associations, and for audiences in every industry imaginable. Last month I spoke to groups of CEO’s, senior executives and association members in Europe, USA and South America. This month I fly to Dubai, Doha and then Thailand to speak to lawyers, accountants and bankers. It doesn’t matter whether I’m presenting to an auditorium of thousands or a meeting room of 50 senior executives, my goal is to educate, inspire, entertain and help individuals and organisations unlock their creative potential.
STEP 1: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE ANALYSIS OF AUDIENCE
When a client or one of the speaker bureaus that represents me confirms me to speak at an event I start by analysing the client, their audience and their industry. As I speak about business creativity, innovation and artificial intelligence I don’t conduct this analysis like most speakers. I start by using IBM Watson, a suite of artificial intelligence tools, to help me understand the personality, characteristics, psychographics, needs and values of the client and the audience. You can learn about the science behind it here.
If the client is an association the AI analysis is very easy to do. I simply provide the AI with the Twitter handle of the association and within seconds I am able to see what is important to this association and their members. Here is a visual representation of the personality and psychographics of the National Speakers Associations, an association I spoke to recently. I can immediately see a sense of freedom and openness is very important to these people. As a result I will use images, stories and metaphors that speak to those values.
When I speak to a smaller group, say 50-150 senior leaders from a company or industry, then I use the AI to analyse 2-3 of the key influencers or decision makers in the room. Earlier this year I gave a keynote to 40 CEO’s from some of Europe and Asia’s largest telecoms companies. I fed IBM Watson a few articles and interviews from three of the most influential and respected CEOs in the room who I also felt were representative of the group. This allowed me to understand the personalities of the key influencers and decision makers in the room.
As an example below is the personality and psychographics of Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and I can immediately see he values trust highly, is adventurous and outgoing. Therefore if he is representative of the other executives in the room I would provide more trust indicators in my presentation (e.g. testimonials, supporting evidence) and also use imagery which plays up to their sense of adventure.
Finally I will conduct traditional research on the client, the person who has invited me to speak (usually the CEO, Executive Director, CMO or Events Director), the company or association, and the speakers and topics from their last event.
STEP 2: TAILORING CALL
Once a client has booked me to speak, contracts have been signed and any deposits are paid then my assistant will schedule a ‘tailoring call’ with the client. The purpose of this call is to fill in the blanks and add the fine detail that the artificial intelligence analysis is unable to provide.
We will discuss the event theme, their objectives for the event and my speech, when and for how long they want me to speak, and any sensitive issues that should be avoided. I will ask them which paid international speakers they have hired before and what they liked, and didn’t like about their speeches. I use this checklist when conducting any tailoring call with a client.
I then ask the client this very important question, “what could I do in my keynote that would make you say ‘that was the best speaker we’ve ever had’? This let’s me know what success looks like for them, the client.
I’ll then follow-up by asking a slightly different question that I learned from speakers AJ and Rory Vaden. The question I ask is “how do you want your audience to feel immediately after hearing me speak, and also three months after the event”.
Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. In my case the audience will learn how to unlock their creative potential, grow their business, adapt to change and build a creative company culture. What I really want to know by asking this question is “how do you want your audience to feel”.
STEP 3: SPEECH OUTLINING
Now I have a good understanding of the audience and the objective of my keynote I can begin to start outlining it. I will first create a mind map to outline the research from the AI and tailoring call, the structure of the the speech itself, and do a general braindump. Here is an example of a mindmap I did for a speech I gave in Singapore to Asia Professional Speakers Conference.
On a large table I then lay out one cue card for every two minutes of my speech. So if my keynote lasts 40 minutes there will be roughly 20 cards.
Next I divide the cards into groups of four. Each group will represent one of the classic P’s that my speaking coach Fredrik Haren taught to me, but which goes back to the Ancient Greek rhetoricians like Aristotle. You see in any keynote you want to know your four P’s. This is the scaffolding that you hang your ideas from. The four P’s stand for position, problem, possibilities, proposals. Let’s looks at each of these in turn.
My first five cue cards, and the first 5-10 minutes of my speech, will be used to lay out my Position. The position of a speech is something that everyone in the room can agree on. For example when I give my signature SUPERCREATIVITY™ keynote the position is that “business is changing at the speed of light and that exponential technologies such as artificial intelligence are creating new disruptive business models and making some jobs disappear entirely”. This is unlikely to be a revelation to the audience. Stories about the future of work and how machines will take our jobs are in the media every day. However it’s important when starting any story, from a business keynote to the Wizard of Oz, that you start with the ‘ordinary world’. This makes people comfortable and builds trust.
The next five cards and ten minutes is then used to share the Problem. What is the single underlying problem or challenge that you are trying to solve. In my SUPERCREATIVITY™ talk I tell the audience that the problem isn’t that machines will take their jobs, it’s that jobs of the future require us to be more creative and that the real problem is that 60% of the working population do not believe themselves to have this skill. In other words the majority of people in organisations do not possess the one skill that will ensure that they survive and thrive in this fourth industrial age. Now that’s a problem!
I then move onto the third P, the Possibilities. For the next ten minutes I paint a picture of what is, and then what could be. I take the audience from the lows of “here is how we currently do it” to the highs of “but here’s an example of what is possible if we unlock our full creative potential”. The Possibilities is where I use the three industry-specific stories and pieces of content that I have researched (see Stage 4). The author and speaker Nancy Duarte describes why this structure is so powerful in her excellent TED Talk. There is a reason that great speakers from Steve Jobs to Dr Martin Luther King Jr have used it.
Finally the last five cards and ten minutes of the talk offer the Proposals. I share with the audience a framework and actionable tactics which they can use to achieve the desired outcome. In my case I might share my Six Principles of Business Creativity or the Five Stages of the Creative Process. A trend that all professional speakers need to be aware of is ensuring they get the balance right between the inspirational, motivational and big picture narrative while at the same time providing useful tactics and takeaways. Most of my clients want a balance of roughly 70% inspiration/strategy and 30% tactics/takeaways but every speaker should check with their client to ensure that their keynote is both inspirational and impactful.
Watch this video where I describe exactly what I do when outlining a speech.
By the end of Stage 3 I will have outlined my speech but will have glaring gaps as to the Possibilities. This is what the next stage is all about.
STAGE 4 – RESEARCH THREE STORIES
At the heart of what we do as professional speakers is storytelling. Stage 4 is where we go in search of stories that are relevant to the industry we are speaking to and the outcome we want. At the end of this stage you should have three diverse stories or pieces of pillar content to use in your keynote.
Perhaps the best speaker I know for researching industry/client specific stories and content for their keynotes is my friend innovation speaker Josh Linkner. Josh taught me to look for seven types of content and then choose three which are most appropriate for the audience. Those seven types including content which is humorous, touching, thought-provoking, is about the underdog, has a surprising twist, is cool, or just contains a mindblowing stat.
In Stage 1 and 2 I used artificial intelligence and a tailoring call to discover which of these seven types of content could work best. For example with my National Speakers Association example the audience personality and psychographics would mean that I would probably select stories which are humorous, thought-provoking and are about the underdog because these would be most likely to resonate. I personally like finding stories which contain a twist or a ‘surprising truth’ as my friend, futurist speaker Patrick Schwerdtfeger would say.
In addition to selecting three stories or pieces of pillar content for my keynote I also need to ensure that they are multi-modal. The multi-modal keynote content strategy is something that Josh teaches at his 3 Ring Circus events but it essentially means choosing content which will appeal to all sections of your audience. You want to choose stories which appeal to the head, heart and gut. The first story I choose might be a very head orientated story (e.g. uses lots of stats) but the second would be one that pulls on the audience heart strings. You also want to ensure you are using different mediums such as story, statistic, video, interactive or a list. I like having plenty of audience interaction and showing impactful videos to illustrate my points. If I were speaking to an audience size or type where lots of interaction wasn’t as appropriate I would probably go heavy on story, stats and lists.
Another factor when selecting keynote content is blending the personal with the external. For example when I teach a framework I share tactics and takeaways that can be applied in someone’s personal life and also from an organisational perspective.
Another way you can use this multi-modal approach in selecting content for your keynotes is by choosing stories and examples for different company sizes. I might share one story about how a small Silicon Valley startup does better brainstorming sessions while another story would be about how a billion dollar telecoms company in Asia is implementing artificial intelligence in a business unit. I will also use examples from wildly different industries because some of the best ideas come from taking a cross-industry approach.
And finally one thing I noticed early on is that too many speakers only share stories from their home country. American speakers will talk about US companies, European speakers highlight case studies from European companies and so on. As a international keynote speaker I like to share stories from around the world. Both myself and keynote speakers like Fredrik Haren and Mike Walsh get booked to speak at major global conferences, those events where a multinational company will bring in executives from all of their worldwide offices. Fredrik, Mike and I have all lived and worked in multiple countries so we have a global perspective. If your audience is global then your speaker should be too. The world is a big place!
By the end of Stage 4 I will have three diverse stories to share with the audience. I’m guessing that less than 1% of speakers will bother to do this level of detailed research. I believe I serve the audience and client better by going the extra mile.
STAGE 5 – FIRST DRAFT
I now have my outline, my three pillar pieces of content, and a ton of research on the client, the audience and their industry. Now I’m ready to start writing the first draft of the keynote. In my case I use a tool called Scrivener to write the first draft. I like how I can create cards on the left hand side which reflect the physical cards I created in Stage 3. As I write I’ll often add an idea for what a good image or video might be for the powerpoint slide itself.
A 40 minute keynote equates to around 6,000 words. If I have a good outline I can write the entire first draft in a day. As I type I speak the words out loud because unlike book writing I need to know how the words feel and flow. Also I write in complete silence because I found that if I have music on in the background it would affect the rhythm and pacing of what I write!
At the end of this stage I will export the draft text as a pdf because I will need this for Stage 6.
STAGE 6 – ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE ANALYSIS OF SPEECH
In stage one I analysed the audience using the IBM Watson artificial intelligence tools. In Stage 6 I need to analyse the first draft so I can see how this matches up with the audience. To do this I feed the pdf of my draft keynote into Watson and it will give me a report on the personality and psychographics of my keynote. Here is what it told me about one of my recent draft keynotes.
You can immediately see here that while it scores off the charts for openness, intellect, authority-challenging and trust it is weak on stability, gregariousness, and orderliness. This may not be a problem if my audience also scores low for these factors.
However on the talk I gave last month in Ecuador, South America the AI analysis of the audience showed that they had very high levels of gregariousness, had a fiery nature but were also quite orderly in their thinking. Therefore in my second draft and rehearsals I knew I needed to increase my use of humour, be bigger with more physical with movements and expressions on stage, and also provide them with a step-by-step process that fed into their need for order.
STAGE 7 – SECOND DRAFT
Armed with the AI analysis of my first draft I now get to work making the changes to my keynote. This could range from some slight tweaks to a major rewrite depending on the feedback. Recently I was booked to speak in Scotland to an audience of lawyers and judges. This AI showed me that the audience valued ‘duty’ very highly yet my draft presentation was poor in this area. So I ended up finding a more appropriate story that demonstrated the point I wanted to make while speaking to a sense of duty and honour.
Usually I write the second draft at a standing desk because I’ve found I’m able to achieve a different kind of energy in my writing when I stand as opposed to when I sit. I can literally feel if a line will work or not.
It is also at this stage where I build out the Powerpoint presentation. A 40 minute keynote will generally equate to 30-40 slides. I generally adhere to the rules of good Powerpoint presentations as described by Garr Reynolds in his book Presentation Zen. Using services like Pond5 and Videoblocks I try and use beautiful and impactful visuals that illustrate my points. I use text very sparingly (mostly white text on dark backgrounds) and prefer displaying contextual models and diagrams as opposed to lengthy lists. I learned that from one of my creativity heroes Dr Edward DeBono who while he spoke would draw simple diagrams which were projected onto the screen behind him.
As an international keynote speaker I’m always very conscious that English is unlikely to be the mother tongue of everyone in the audience. Therefore I need to remember that while it’s words that make people listen, it’s visuals that make them remember.
STAGE 8 – REHEARSAL
At this stage we start to put it all together by rehearsing the keynote. I learned how to rehearse a speech from Michael Port and Dr Nick Morgan, both masters of their craft and who have excellent books on the topic. In addition to that my wife is a professional actor so she is always offering guidance and feedback in terms of how I deliver the words and physically move on the stage.
For me a rehearsal starts with reading the speech a couple of times so I can understand it’s topography and geography, it’s high points and low points. It’s like a guitar or piano player learning the basic chords and changes of a new song. It’s very raw at this stage and definitely not ready to be seen by others!
Next I find those points in the speech that I really want to emphasis and those which feel weak. I will then develop these using classic oratorary and rhetorical technique such as alliteration, call and response, wordplay, opening and closing loops. I love studying great speeches by Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Winston Churchill, Cicero and today’s TED Talk speakers.
Then I start playing around with the ‘beats and breaks’ of my speech, those sections where I am looking to make some kind of dramatic change in my presentation. I’m now starting to find the pulse and dynamics of a keynote.
Next I move to ‘blocking’ my keynote, essentially knowing where on the stage I want to be for different parts of the speech. Mentally I picture six points on the stage and will coordinate my movement around those depending on the effect I want to produce. For example I will usually start a speech in the power position of stage center and slightly downstage. The only exception to this is if I am speaking after a particularly strong speaker who has built the audience up. In that case I would start my speech from whichever point on the stage they finished. In other words they have anchored that point on the stage in the mind of the audience and I want to benefit from this.
Early in my speaking career I would pace back and forth when I spoke. Learning blocking taught me how to use my body and physical movement in a more deliberate way and to not annoy the audience!
After I have worked out the blocking of my speech I figure out which other area of my performance I want to accentuate. For example if you want to make an audience instantly trust you there are certain body movements and postures you can adopt at the start of your speech. One of these is called the ‘truthplane’ as described by Mark Bowden in his wonderful book of the same name. I may also sparingly use NLP techniques that I learned while training with NLP co-founder Dr Richard Bandler to improve my non-verbal communication on stage.
The final part of rehearsing is giving your speech in front of trusted friends. In my case I test my speech in front of my wife first because not only is she an actor and jazz singer but she can be totally honest in her feedback. If it’s a brand new speech or a big event then I will also film my rehearsal and send it to my speaking coach who will provide suggestions on how it can be improved. Some of my colleagues are members of speaker masterminds or associations which provide them with this level of feedback. You absolutely should give your speech in front of someone before you ever do it for real.
In terms of memorising the speech I record the final version of my speech using the audio recorder on my phone and then listen to this recording while out running or in the car. This technique probably works for me because before becoming a professional speaker I earned my living as professional jazz drummer and can remember most things by ear.
STAGE 9 – DELIVERY
A week before the event my team and I will usually reach out to the client and provide the Powerpoint slides via Dropbox or Google Drive if they have requested it. Most of the time clients are happy for you to just hand them a thumb drive with your presentation on the day of the event. If I am speaking first thing in the morning my preference is to arrive the day before and do an audio visual check that evening. If I am scheduled to speak in the afternoon then I will usually do an AV check in the morning before the attendees arrive into the conference hall or meeting room.
This brings me the audio visual check itself which should take less than five minutes if you are working with a good AV team. The first thing I check is that the Powerpoint slides are working. Most of the time the AV team will provide me with a clicker to advance the slides but I also travel with my own ‘speaker bag’ which includes multiple clickers and adapters. When checking your slides you need to make sure that it will all look good from the audience perspective and that any videos or audio you have embedded works.
Next I check the confidence monitors, which are display monitors that sit on the stage and face me so I can see my slides. Most large conferences will provide two visual monitors, one which displays the current slide and another which shows the next slide. In truth I can do a presentation without any confidence monitors because as a speaker you should know your presentation inside-out, backwards and forwards.
Then it’s time to check my microphone levels. My preference is to use a headset microphone although sometimes I will use a lavalier mic or even a handheld microphone if that is all they have. I check to make sure the microphone levels are such that my voice can be heard in all parts of the room. When speaking in larger rooms and on big stages I also ask for audio or foldback monitors. This is important because as a speaker your biggest asset is your voice. If you can’t hear yourself on stage there is a danger that your will push your voice too hard and do it damage.
While I’m checking my slides and microphone during the AV check I am also walking around the stage. This is for two reasons, one psychological and the other technical. Firstly like an actor I need to own every part of the stage and get comfortable walking around it. I am also going through the blocking in my head, working out where on the stage I need to be at during my different sections of talk, and how I’ll enter and exit the stage.
However I’m also using my AV check to figuring out the position of any spotlights and the angle of any video cameras. The last talk I gave was at a conference which was using five cameras and a live video edit of me speaking was being projected onto one of the screens behind me. It is therefore useful if I know which cameras are wide and static and which will follow me and do close-ups. Thanks to keynote speaker Ron Kaufman for teaching me that particular trick!
I’m also checking for emergency exits and if it’s an event where a VIP or high profile politician is also speaking I may be briefed on any emergency protocols. Prior to being a professional speaker I also managed rock bands and festivals so being on stage has always felt like home to me.
If another speaker is doing their AV check just before or after me then I take this opportunity to sit in the room and get a sense of what it looks and sounds like from the audience perspective.
Around thirty minutes before I am due to go onstage and speak I will find a quiet room and do my final pre-flight check as my speaking mentor Rob ‘Waldo’ Waldman might say. I’ll mentally rehearse the intro and outro of my presentation to ensure I start and end strong. Speaker Hall of Fame inductee Sally Hogshead also gave me a great tip which is to have a screen shot of the overview of my presentation on your phone so you can take a quick look at it to remind yourself of the geography of your speech. Here is an overview screenshot from a recent presentation.
As a professional ‘presenter’ we need to ensure we are ‘present’ so next up in my pre-flight check it to check in with my breath and body. For me I find taking five minutes to do some kind of breathing exercise and light physical stretching helps me to find my centre and become present.
Earlier in my life I had the good fortune of working with some of the world’s best jazz, opera and pop singers. Something I took from them is the importance of warming up your voice before you go onstage and and cooling down afterwards. So I’ll also take five minutes to do some simple and playful lip trills, buzzes and vocal warmups. I’ll also do a short vocal cool down within an hour of coming off stage.
As I stand at the side of the stage about to start there are usually three things going through my mind. The first is me trying to reconnect with the passion, excitement and emotional core of the message I want to share with the audience. Secondly I am reminding myself that my job is to serve the audience. And finally I am mentally rehearsing for the final time the opening of my speech.
Once onstage I start to go through my speech while at the same time trying to feel the energy of the audience and sense what they are reacting to. My goal in the first two minutes is to hook the audience with an opening story that makes them lean in while at the same time building enough rapport that they are willing to come on a journey with me. When it goes well a speech feels like an improvisational conversation between you and the audience. Like in jazz, with a keynote speech there are no such things as mistakes, only opportunities. Only you know the script so it doesn’t matter if you get off-track a little. If you have prepared well and are genuinely passionate about your content and serving your audience then it is unlikely that the audience will start throwing vegetables at you!
STAGE 10 – 360 DEGREE FEEDBACK
As soon as you finish your speech you want to connect with as many of the audience as possible. This provides you with an opportunity to start getting feedback on your presentation from the audience. When an audience member comes up to you to tell you how much they enjoyed your speech you should ask them three questions. Firstly ask “what for you was the key message or take away from my speech?”. This lets you know if your message is getting through. Then ask them “what part of my speech do you wish I had spent more time on?”. This provides some clues as to how to develop your speech. Finally ask the audience member “would you mind filming a short video testimonial” and then take 30 seconds to film their testimonial with the camera on your phone.
Most events will also survey their audience to obtain feedback about the speakers. You should absolutely ask to see this feedback. If the client hadn’t thought about conducting a survey then you should create a survey yourself using a tool like Surveymonkey and ask the client if they could share it with the attendees via email.
My team and I always request to do a debrief call with our clients around ten days after the event. This is for two reasons. One is so we can get feedback from them on my speech. The other reasons is so we can share with them any data my team and I generated on their audience while doing the initial research using artificial intelligence, responses from any onstage questions, or post-event surveys we carry out. Associations in particular value this information highly because it can generate ideas for future events, trainings, articles or blog posts for their members.
If a speaker bureau is involved in the event then I will also find out from them what feedback they received from the client. A good bureau will actively ask for feedback from their clients. A happy client makes for a very happy bureau relationship!
I film nearly all of my speeches so I can review them later and look for opportunities for improvement. I don’t know of any speaker who actually enjoys watching videos of themselves speaking on stage. I certainly don’t. However it’s only by watching videos of your performance that you can hope to develop your skills and content. Athletes and musicians film their practice sessions so they can dissect them afterwards. Speakers who are serious about mastering their craft should do the same however uncomfortable it may feel.
A benefit of filming your speeches or getting the footage from your client is that you can then share this with your speaking coach or mentor. They will be able to suggest areas for improvement. I recently shared a video of one of my talks with a very skilled speaker whose feedback I greatly respect. He was quickly able to show me how one part of my speech could be improved by changing how I framed a particular story.
Finally most professional speakers are members of a mastermind or speakers association. These are also useful if you are looking for feedback on your speeches.
My goal in writing this rather long article was to take you backstage and give you an insight into my ten step process for writing and delivering keynotes. Feel free to use whatever you find useful and throw away the rest.
If you are interested in booking me to speak at your next conference, event or company meeting then you can check my availability HERE or reach out to one of the speaker bureau partners that I work with (list below).
Meanwhile if you are interested in learning about how to become a better speaker or build a career as a professional keynote speaker then grab a Free Pass to International Speakers Summit HERE or join the waitlist for my advanced speaker training HERE.
Finally if you know a friend or colleague that would find this article interesting then forward it to them now.
Keynote Speaker on Business Creativity, Innovation and Artificial Intelligence
James Taylor is represented by the following speaker bureaus: