Podcast       About       Newsletter

The Importance of Keynote Speakers with Richard Dunn

Copy of joe mertz with picture
Copy of joe mertz with picture
Written by: Richard Dunn

So you want to hire a keynote speaker?

Let me set the proverbial stage for you: you have been working on your event for twelve months+, thousands if not hundreds of thousands of man hours, venue negotiations, DMC meetings, CSM meetings, BEOs, space grids, travel docs, production design, and you’ve even hand picked your walk in music and set the room temperature.  In the closing moments of a flawless multi day function, the houselights go dark and the final voice your guests will hear, is the voice of your $10,000 – $100,000 keynote speaker.  Anxious?  Sure you are.unnamed-3

The truth is, your attendees will remember, with almost 100% certainty, how your meeting began, and how it ended.  Everything in between will be selectively prioritized and either filed in or flushed from memory.

Before I get to the point of this article, I’d like to thank you for reading this far and now I’ll answer the question as to why you care what I think.  Well, it’s not that you care what I think specifically, but you may care about the opinion of someone who has sat through hundreds of hours of keynote speakers as a black clothed, wall flower that is a member of the technical crew.  (Lighting designer to be specific.)  Now there’s one other pretty compelling reason that you may want to listen to the ramblings of a road weary button pusher like myself.  When your event is over, and you begin asking your subordinates or coworkers what they thought of the crowning moment, that you spend thousands of hours/dollars on, what do you think they are going to say?  There is not a lie detector strong enough to separate the fact from fiction that you will hear.  I on the other hand see the reactions, hear the side conversations, catch honest earfuls from the lobby to the loo and back again.  All under the cloak of my trusty show blacks.  And the word on the street is what is going back with them, contrary to what you may think.

Why?

Other than “It’s how we’ve always ended our meetings” why are you hiring a keynote speaker?  You want to make an impact, and ultimately, you want to get more out of or give more to your attendees.  Do you know how to pick a keynote tailored to your goal?  Well, other than wild speculation, there is no way I could know exactly what your needs are, but I do know there are three main buckets of motivational speaker that you will be choosing from.  You won’t find these listed anywhere, and I doubt most speakers even know where they fall, but it all comes down to three choices.

unnamed-2Do you want to Educate, Motivate, or Intimidate your attendees?  If you’ve been exposed to the world of keynote speakers for more than two weeks, you’ll start to realize I’m right.  All three of these buckets can be extremely effective, and by knowing the difference, you can be more confident in your choice.

These classifications by no means guarantee the effectiveness of the one delivering the message.  I have heard aces and asses in all three groups.

Here are the groups as I see it……

Those that educate.  

The speakers that typically fall into this category are people that have gained knowledge from either study, work history or collecting data, and are hired to share their knowledge to your attendees.  Many times this vessel is merely trying to move information from their brain to yours.  No specific agenda and what you do with this information is up to you and is of no concern to them.  The deliverer has no stake in how you perceive the data.  (Although those that hired them understand the correlation.)

Many times, these speakers are chosen because of the extreme relevance of their gatherings from their study, work or collected data.  Some examples of speakers that fall into this category are scientists, trend followers, doctors, procedure experts, regulation experts, or key opinion leaders to name just a few.

I have sat through many educational speakers that bring to light information that directly impacts the business at hand.  The most dramatic story I have that would showcase the effectiveness of an educational speaker, would be to discuss Peter Hinssen.  Peter is a technology expert and you could hear a pin drop as he was sharing the advancements of the unmanned car and all it’s advantages, to a company that relies on delivery vehicles as it’s primary source of revenue.  Peter was not trying to convince or persuade anyone of anything.  He was not trying to motivate, nor was he trying to encourage or engage.  He was simply revealing information he has collected to a company that might be interested in that data.  He was an extremely effective educator.

Those that intimidate.

Some may argue that these speakers are actually meaning to intimidate, but from years of watching and listening, whether it’s their intent or not, 9 times out of 10, it is how it’s perceived (and remembered).
These speakers tend to have held very high positions in government, corporate America or have amassed large amounts of personal wealth from their own businesses.  These speakers tend to reveal their own interpretation of success.  A great deal of time is spent telling about how they did it.  A similarity to the educator, these speakers are not interested in how you perceive their speech.  It’s how they did it, and if you can learn from it, good for you, but it’s of no concern to them.
Now to be fair, it may not always be crystal clear who may or may not be an intimidator.  When this category of speaker drops into story telling mode, the antidotes typically reveal very tough, very unapologetic, almost aggressive type A behavior.  
As I was listening to a female CEO answer the question….”How do you balance being a good CEO and a Mom?” her response saddened me.  She said, “I’m a good CEO because I’m not a very good mom.”  That response was met with thunderous applause and I guess she was the right pick for that crowd.
As you research your presenters and watch recorded presentations, pay close attention to how laser focused they are on themselves.  Most of these presentations will end with a flimsy, thinly veiled attempt to tie in what they just spoke about, to your business.  
I was listening to a high ranking military official discuss his successes with military strategy when his comments literally made my stomach churn.  As he was coming to a close, he mentioned how the soldiers on the front line of battle that would be the first to climb the hill, and the first to engage in combat, are the leading force of the unit and what often times determines success.  (Here comes the kicker)….. much like your sales force is the leading edge of you company taking out the enemy one by one.  I can’t remember the last time a member of a hardware store had to bring a letter to the front door of a home and tell a mother her son wasn’t coming home… he died selling paint.  It’s tacky and unbecoming to make such a comparison in my opinion, but then again, I would not be the target audience for this presenter.  This presenter is well educated, well decorated and more than well compensated for his effective delivery to certain audiences.
These pandering tie ins are incredibly evident to your audience, and in my very personal opinion, insulting.  Many times you will be in such awe of the name and rank onstage, you may feel the patriotic rush of sales in your veins and agree with him or her.  Trust me when I say that your audience may not respond in that way at that moment.

Now is the time for me to backtrack and dig myself out of this verbal hole I’ve dug and tell you that many times, especially with aggressive, competitive sales teams, these presenters are very effective.  Your discernment needs to be spot on to know if your audience will listen to these presentations and will be prepared to rise to the challenge.  Sometimes the “I’ve done it and you can too,” speeches are just what the Q2 results need.

Those that motivate.

The last and most sought after keynote (IMHO) is the Motivator.  The speaker that has written a presentation with the intent to encourage action from those that hear it.  These presenters are seeking a shift from the listener.  Be it emotional, introspective, practical, operational, procedural or any reaction that will encourage the audience to change. 

This, as you can imagine, is a wide open category.  Politicians, to explorers, artists to Olympians, scientists to inventors, pilots to prisoners.  If someone has a story to tell, someone is willing to pay to hear it.
From here on out, my thoughts are more centered on describing the types of motivational presentations than explaining what a motivational speaker intends to do.  (Pretty much why you’ve read this far huh?)

 

In very broad strokes, a motivational speaker is drawing from a personal experience.  An event or a specific time in their life.  To help you focus on what may be right for your company, here are some general categories for motivational speakers.

Those that have trained physically for a specific situation, and they speak on excelling in those areas.

Those whose chosen work has put them in a specific situation, and they speak on excelling in those areas.

Those that have overcome odds of a situation they did not choose, and how they excelled in those situations.

Those that have trained physically for a specific situation.

These presenters, typically athletes and sports figures, are fascinating for their abilities to hone their bodies and shatter perceived limitations.  The summation of their presentations are, If I can, you can.  Motivation by example.  Anything is possible.  Keep trying, you’ll get there someday.
The speeches are laden with sports analogies, examples of a fraction of a second being the difference, pure dedication, and about a will to be better than the next guy. Many times it’s the name draw that captures and keeps their attention.  Many of the speakers that fall into this category have a very limited window of time to cash in on their accomplishment.  Fame is fleeting and so are their speaker fees.
Next are those whose chosen work has put them in a specific situation, and they speak on excelling in those areas or situations.  
Presenters that fall into this category have taken an occupation or interest and have pushed beyond all understandable boundaries.  Scientists, explorers and first responders have all been through the speaking circuit and have successfully captured and encouraged audiences.  
This group of presenters has reached the very top of their chosen fields and very well may have been included in the “Educator” bucket earlier on in their career.  But since then, they have attained unattainable feats.  Made new discoveries.  Been a hero in tragic situations.  As impressive as their accomplishments may be, they chose to be in that situation and have conquered the circumstances.

unnamed-4I’ll give 2 examples of 2 very different people that fall into this category.  The first is Robert Ballard.  Mr. Ballard is an explorer.  Not just any explorer, but a world renowned explorer.  You may have heard of one of his discoveries, the titanic!  This Holy Grail of discoveries (one of his many awesome accomplishments) was the connection I feel he needed to connect with anyone that would like to listen.  His presentation is absolutely riveting.  He was a definite hit with this particular audience.
The next person that falls into this category of taking an occupation beyond understandable boundaries, is NYPD officer Daniel Rodriguez.  He was one of 1st responders near the twin towers when they collapsed on 9/11.  His story is spine chilling.  It is a somber presentation that actually resolves in a message of hope and unity.  You may also know that he is a seasoned tenor.  He ends his presentation (the one I worked at least) with God Bless America.  There are no words to describe the raw emotion of that moment.  It was one of the most emotional show moments I have ever been a part of.  I was moved to tears.
I chose those two examples to show how diverse keynotes can be, but still bring a challenging message.  
The last category of motivational speaker is the person who has overcome circumstances they did not intentionally place themselves in.  As different as these presenters are, the common theme is overcoming adversity that was placed upon them.

Personal opinion time…..these are BY FAR my favorite presenters.  These people transcend everything corporate entertainment stands for.  The benefit from listening to these stories is not about becoming a better sales person, a better accountant, a better supplier, or a better manager.  These presentations make you want to be a better person.  They immediately align your priorities.  They put into perspective the challenges of earnings, the pressures of quotas, and force you to examine who you are and what’s important to you.  

In turn, after you hear the stories of someone who has miraculously survived a seemingly crushing life event, the challenges you face don’t seem as daunting.  “If they can handle that, surly I can handle this!”  
There are 2 examples that I will use.  They couldn’t be more different, but both are people that have overcome odds of a situation they did not choose, and how they excelled in those situations.
The first is Nick Vujicic.  Nick was born with a rare disorder called tetra-amelia syndrome.  It is the absence of all 4 limbs.  When I had the privilege to hear Nick, he came onstage in his customunnamed made wheelchair that he controlled with a small appendage where his leg would have been.  He comes along side of a custom built platform in which he shuffles his upright body from the chair to the platform.  This is where he proceeds to address the audience about overcoming his disability.

Every syllable of his presentation is uplifting.  He removes any ability for you to feel sorry for yourself.  As he nears the end of his presentation, he allows himself to fall forward on his stomach.  The audience gasps.  From the lying position, Nick relates his position to what you may be facing in life.  How can you possibly be expected to keep going after a devastating fall.  Then he blows your mind.  When he poses the question of what to do when you think you can’t go any further, he quietly puts his head down and lays still.  There is absolute silence. You can literally feel your heart pounding.  
And then he does the impossible.  With no arms or no legs, without any assistance, Nick gets up.  It’s powerful, it’s emotional, and is, without a doubt, the most effective illustration of “picking yourself up” I have ever seen.  If you ever thought of hiring Nick, do yourself the favor and Google his name and watch his story.  You will be a better person.
The next person that inspired me greatly from his presentation, was Captain Charles  Plumb.  
His presentation begins with a dark stage.  After he is introduced, an area of light shows up on stage.  This area is exactly 8’ x 8’.  Captain Plumb then walks into the light.  Before saying anything else, he explains that this 8’ x 8’ area of light is where he was kept captive and tortured for nearly 6 years.  As the weight of his story lays heavy in the room, the lights gradually come up and he launches into his full story.  As a Navy pilot, he successfully completed 74 successful combat missions.  On his 75th flight, just 5 days before the end of his tour of duty, Plumb was shot down and spent 2,103 days as a POW.  His devastatingly powerful story is riveting.  There has never been a moment in my life, let alone in a work situation, that I was more aware of the blessings and fortunes in my life.
As Mr. Plumb continues, he delicately relates his experiences to what your audience may be going through.  He does this in such a way as to not cheapen his story, or cause a thinly veiled attempt at  comparing a sales problem to his experience.  unnamed-1
These two examples from this last category of motivational speaker are designed to meet your audience where they are.  It’s an approach that demands your attendees search for more.  It’s exposer to a story that results in personal development.  It’s then easy to redirect those feelings into a discussion of personal development.

That’s the world of Keynote speakers as seen from my point of view.  Here’s a quick recap to help boil down what you just read…..

Recap of the buckets:

1- Those that educate
-Presenters that have gained knowledge from either study, work history or collecting data, and are hired to share their knowledge to your attendees with no regard as to how the knowledge is perceived.

2- Those that intimidate
-Presenters that have held very high positions in government, corporate America or have amassed large amounts of personal wealth from their own businesses.

3- Those that motivate
-The speaker that has a presentation with the intent to encourage action from those that hear it.  These presenters are seeking a shift from the listener.  Be it emotional, introspective, practical, operational, procedural or any reaction that will encourage the audience to change.

3 types of motivational speakers

  • Those that have trained physically for a specific situation, and they speak on excelling in those areas.
  • Those whose chosen work has put them in a specific situation, and they speak on excelling in those areas.
  • Those that have overcome odds of a situation they did not choose, and how they excelled in those situations.

Here’s my last chance to explain that this article by no means, encompasses the totality of the keynote speaking conversation.  I could almost admit that this article was written out of frustration.  Frustrated by watching 25 years of clients randomly choosing keynote speakers to end their events with little to no regard to the goal of the keynote.  

You need to remember that the most sought after speakers are booked solid.  What that means is that whomever you use, be it a booking agent or a speaking bureau, will be trying to keep your business.  Their main goal is to sell you someone.  If you can’t get who you want, they will sell you who’s available.  It’s up to you to make sure they deliver the message you’re looking for.  Don’t be blinded by name or rank or accomplishment.  

It’s your meeting.  It’s your message, make it count.

 


Richard Dunn is a  20 years Entertainment Industry Professional with Lighting Design, Technical Directing, and Stage Managing experience. He is also a proud husband and father who resides in Atlanta Georgia.unnamed-5

Click learn more about Shoflo

 

Signup

Production Channel Newsletter

More from our blog

See all posts

Signup

Production Channel Newsletter