From the Other Side of the Lectern

Chip Bell
October 31, 2014

Chip Bell

Best-Selling Author of Take Their Breath Away, Wired and Dangerous, Customers as Partners and Managers as Mentors
Motivation Speaker

Keynote speakers are an odd lot. Most of us have egos the size of Texas and quirky requirements that can drive a meeting planner absolutely nuts. Our superstitions about how to get a standing ovation may outnumber the attendees in your audience. We can be as finicky as rock stars and as unpredictable as teenagers. We can’t be controlled, but we sure can be managed.

Please overload us with info about your audience

You may not think we’re listening when you go on and on about the demographics, objectives, roles and information about who will be on the clapping side of the lectern. But, we do pay attention. We have to in order to tailor our remarks and personalize our approaches. Be bold and suggest a few typical attendees we could interview. You know the audience, we don’t. You’ve watched your past speakers succeed and bomb—and you know why. Let us in on what you know.

Invite us to help you market

Sure, there are times we are so swamped we can barely organize our audiovisual requirements and arrival times. But we can often be a gold mine of marketing ideas and resources. We have mailing lists that could increase your attendee count. We have content that, with a bit of tweaking, might be just perfect for release a few months before the event. We have seen forty eleven ways our keynotes have been promoted, publicized and positioned at previous engagements. We also can suggest ideas for concurrent sessions or next year’s keynoters.

Don’t forget to tell us about the quirks and potholes

Give us your best guess on what is unique, odd or atypical about your audience. Let us in on anything happening that might have bearing on our topics, our presentation times or our styles. If we knew the association president resigned the day before we arrived, it might cause us to rethink how we say “thanks” when we are introduced. Warn us of jokes used so we won’t repeat them. If the audience is almost solidly Democrat, Baptist or Martian, give us a heads up. We want to be successful, and we want to make you look great for hiring us. Help us help you by telling us what you know.

Give us plenty of lead time on special requests

If you want us to attend the reception the night before, we need to know in advance to schedule earlier flights. Want us to sit by the president at the breakfast? Then send us his or her bio before we arrive at the reserved table. Prefer we hang around at the coffee break following our keynotes? Tell us before we arrive so we can tell our cab drivers not to pick us up right after the curtain closes following our speeches.

Don’t try to tell us how to do our jobs

If you don’t think we’re pros at what we do, please select another keynoter. Let us do what you are paying us to do. If we want to walk out in the audience, don’t make us stay on the dais. If we want to stand during our part of the panel discussion, please don’t insist we sit. If we ask for handheld cordless microphones and they’re available, don’t give us a lavaliere cordless microphone just because the last keynoter wanted one. We have unique critical success factors. Please honor them rather than make assumptions about them.

Schedule our rehearsal time when the room is empty

Keynote speakers believe there should be a touch of enchantment in their appearances. Even when our egos are on a tight leash, we still think the audience prefers just a bit of mystery regarding the persona under the spotlight. Please don’t force us to do microphone checks and slide walkthroughs while the audience is eating their continental breakfast in the meeting room. If we have to “reveal” our stuff before the show, audience surprises are spoiled.

Protect our “spirit of greatness” time

Our first three minutes on stage are the most important; it is the time we build rapport with the audience. It is also the time we are most likely to be a bit anxious as we read the audience and settle into a rhythm. We can deliver those first three minutes with perfection if we have time before we are introduced to get into the “spirit of greatness.” Don’t fill our “getting centered” time with dragging us around to all the senior leaders we just have to meet. Save the meet and greet until we are done. And, we just might rather wait backstage than entertain the folks at the registration desk.

Run interference on our behalf

We have little control over the setting once we are on stage. If the sound is too low, we will more likely raise our voices than signal the sound guy. If the wait staff in the back of the room is talking too loud or clanging dishes, we are not going to stop our speeches to play school marm. We need you to intervene on our behalves. If attendees are sluggish getting back in the room after the coffee break, we need you to help herd them in so we can start the keynote on time. If our keynote is slated to end at noon, a delayed start boxes us between going over (and looking unprofessional) and rushing the speech we planned for a set amount of time (and looking unprofessional).

Give us honest feedback after the event

We all want to stay great at what we do. That means feedback on what did and did not work for your audience. We want your opinions, but we really want to hear from your attendees. Get us feedback as soon as you can. Please do not sugarcoat the truth. We may pout in private, but we only improve with candor.

If you liked our work, help us market

We love affirmation, but we love advocates even more. If you liked our work, write us a letter on your letterhead stationary. E-mails are great, but we can use letters as testimonials in securing future engagements. Tell your colleagues what you liked about what we did. References are as fabulous as fees.

Keynoting can be a lonely occupation. We fly in alone, stay in a strange hotel, attend a conference where we know no one and arrive late or leave early, thus missing the sense of an event completed. All that dour, however, can be enlivened if we get helping hands from meeting planners intent on bringing out the best of what we enjoy giving.

For more information on how to book Chip Bell for your next event, visit premierespeakers.com/chip_bell.

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