Category Archives: Keynote Ideas

Two Unforgettable Keynote Speeches and Why They Were So Good

It is that time of year when the successful, the esteemed, and the sages are orating all over the country. We’d all benefit from turning an ear to their decrees of wisdom.

2014 Graduation SpeechesThese days, we are all privy to the pearls wisdom from the elite through social media. As a result, we have on record some of the most profound and universal principles that have guided the successful for decades.

Graduation and commencements are still taking place. Bill and Melinda Gates will be speaking at Stanford in a few weeks. The first of its kind joint commencement speech will surely have some noteworthy truths shared. But for now, we have chosen these two very different speeches to glean from.

Colin Powell at High Point University

Colin Powell gave the May 3rd commencement address for High Point University. The General’s calm authority is powerful. His recent talk echoed much of his core beliefs regarding the importance of a life dedicated to service, compassion, and making the choice to be a problem solver for others.

Here are some of his words of advice for the class of 2014:

  • “Make sure you share the talent and the time and the treasure you have with others who are in greater need than you.”
  • “Go forth and raise strong families remembering that all you can ever leave behind is your reputation, your good works and your children for the next generation.”
  • “As you go through life, listen to the other side. Have your eyes and your ears and your heart open to counterviews…”
  • “If you want to save the world, start by saving just one kid. That’s what it’s all about.”

You can see General Powell’s speech here in its entirety.

Jennifer Lee at the University of New Hampshire

Jennifer Lee was the honored speaker at her alma mater, the University of New Hampshire. Who is Jennifer Lee? Lee is simply the first female director of a Walt Disney Animation Studios feature film and the first writer at any major animation studio to become a director. That is a big deal. Then she takes it up a notch and writes a little screenplay, Frozen, which goes on to win the Academy Award for the Best Animated feature film.

Looking like she may be a former model, Lee was humble and honest in her appeal to the graduating class of 2014. Like many creative people, it seems that this groundbreaking director has wrestled self-doubt and won. She shares, almost in the tone of a “12 Step meeting,” what happens when self-doubt takes root. She describes how it clouds everything you do and see. It is the opposite of wearing rose-colored glasses. Lee shares, “The lenses of self-doubt are nasty and thick, big and filthy and covered in swamp scum. They are the lenses of, ‘I’m not good enough.’”

Ms. Lee shares from her heart for nearly fifteen minutes. She takes us on her journey through adolescent and young adulthood. Her story is one that everyone can identify with on some level. All, except that blockbuster hit she has on her resume, of course!

Ultimately, Ms. Lee’s speech was worth sharing as another example of how women are respectfully breaking through ceilings. Even having the vulnerability to share authentically, in the vein of Brene Brown, is a bit revolutionary. She implores the graduates to join the revolution.

“When you are free from self-doubt, you fail better. You accept criticism and listen,” Lee told grads. “If I learned one thing, it is that self-doubt is one of the most destructive forces. It makes you defensive instead of open, reactive instead of active. Self-doubt is consuming and cruel and my hope today is that we can all collectively agree to ban it.”

Ban self-doubt? We couldn’t agree more.

There is also no doubt that there will be other great speeches given over the next few weeks that deserve to be shared. Let us know if you spot one so we can all learn from the lives of the successful.

~ Jennifer

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Filed under Colleges, Keynote Ideas, Leadership, Speeches

Checklist and Tips for a Buzz-Worthy Keynote Address

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The purpose of a keynote address is motivation. It’s meant to inspire and energize a crowd and to leave them ready to take your core message and put it into immediate action. The skill behind a buzz-worthy keynote address is the ability to adapt your speech to your audience, keeping it dynamic and interactive. You core message should be planned in advance and may remain the same from speech to speech, but every time to give your keynote address, it should be slightly different to account for the different audience. To help master this skill, here is a checklist of tips to review before you write or deliver your next keynote address.

Know Your Audience

First and foremost, know your audience. Be sure this is something you speak with the meeting organizer about before you craft your keynote speech. What is the age, gender, common interests, education level, etc? All of these things will help you create a compelling message that resonates with that particular group of people. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience. What is most likely to motivate you?

Ask a Rhetorical Question or Survey the Audience

This speechwriting tip is commonly recommended, but it’s with good reason! Start with a question that makes your audience think and immediately draws them into the conversation. You can either begin with a rhetorical question which is more thought provoking, but doesn’t require an answer. Or you can ask a question that requires the audience to raise their hands or shout out a response. Taking a quick survey of the audience can help you gain an accurate assessment of their opinions and interests which can determine the direction of the rest of your speech. Again, keep in mind your audience. The size and other demographics will help you determine the best question to ask.

Tell a Short Story to Connect

A personal story will help you connect with your audience and position you as a peer. Ideally the story should be boiled down to a brief few lines and clearly tie into the theme of your keynote address. Incorporate humor, emotion or suspense as the story allows. Evoking these feeling from your audience right from the beginning will have them sitting up in their chairs with perked ears waiting to hear what you’re going to say next!

Be Prepared to Change Course

If you’ve given enough speeches, you have inevitably encountered an audience that simply wasn’t feeling your vibe. This is a signal to change the course of your planned speech. Yes, it requires thinking on your feet and flexibility, but it can save the power of your message! If you need to “wake up the audience” throw in a funny or radical anecdote, move to a new point or ask an impromptu question. These are tools you should always keep at the top of your mind when giving a keynote address. It’s important to rehearse your planned speech, but it’s just as important to be able to veer away from the plan when the audience calls for it.

Inspire and Motivate

This is the ultimate purpose of a keynote address. Your speech should be easy and enjoyable to listen to, but it should still have a deeper message that motivates action. Before you write one word of your speech, you should write your core purpose and refer to it often when putting your ideas together. The best speeches include a clearly identifiable theme that inspires a new way of thinking.

Keep Your Message Simple and Repetitive

We talked about shaping your keynote address around a deeper message. This message should be simple and included in various parts of your speech. Saying it just one time won’t inspire the majority of the audience to act upon it. You must repeat it again and again. Weave this message into the beginning, middle and end of your speech. Tie every idea that you can back to it. No matter what part of your speech resonates the most with your audience, they will be sure to catch your message.

Close With a Call to Action and a WIIFM

Finally, you should end your keynote address with a clear call to action as well as answer the question “What’s in it for me?” People can be motivated to act for various reasons, but one of the most compelling is if it benefits them in some way. You should be able to highlight at least one benefit of your desired action and convey this to your audience. Maybe your action is to volunteer for a particular charity. Sure, the one mostly benefitting from this action is the charity, but you can appeal to your audience with their own benefit of helping the community, meeting new people or adding it to their resume. Any action should have a perceived benefit, otherwise what’s the motivation to get out there and do it?

Keep this checklist on hand or commit it to memory for the next time you need to craft a keynote address. By following these simple tips you will see a profound difference in the way an audience responds to your message. Most importantly, they will be left inspired and motivated to make your message their own and turn your words into action!


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Speech Openers that Capture Your Audience

Communication Theory in a Social Media World

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Filed under Keynote Ideas, Speeches