Delivering a Keynote Presentation: 7 Steps to Success

Middle market managers are sometimes asked to give a keynote presentation, whether at a company event, a conference or a local chamber of commerce meeting. It's an honor to be asked to share your know-how. After all, midmarket leaders are often important members of their local business communities. However, if you want to be asked back, you'd better know how to effectively deliver a keynote.

It's important to keep your keynote presentation in perspective with your life and job. If you fail, you'll still survive and likely won't be fired.

Here are seven tips for success:

1. Know the audience. You'll do a much better job with your keynote if you customize it to the needs of your particular audience. If the attendees are more technical or already know about the topic, you likely won't need to explain too much background or terminology. If it's a more general audience, however, you should spend more time bringing the group up to speed on foundational issues. In general, buzzwords and jargon will confuse laypeople.

2. Have a clearly defined time frame. If your time limit isn't clear as your plan your keynote, ask the event's sponsor. There's a huge difference between preparing a 10-minute and a 60-minute presentation. You'll be able to deliver more detail and anecdotes in 60 minutes, whereas 10 minutes is akin to an overview.

3. Have a clear, simple goal and audience takeaway in mind. Think of your presentation as a bridge. Your audience starts on one side of the bridge, and your presentation takes them across. How will they think differently afterward? It's a solid goal, for example, to make your audience aware of the difficulties in pricing your company's products, or to update them on sustainability initiatives. One takeaway is enough. Prepare every minute of your keynote with the goal in mind. If something in your presentation isn't helping your audience cross the bridge, then eliminate it.

4. Combine facts and emotion to tell a story. A keynote full of facts will have your audience yawning and disengaged, while one packed with emotion will leave attendees wanting more factual support. Your job is to tell a story that connects with both the head and heart of every listener. Combine facts with stories; move from an abstract, theoretical mindset to a more specific, detail-oriented one. You might start with a concept or story to illustrate a point, then bring in facts for support. Never forget that people are engaged through both their brains and hearts, so aim for both places.

5. Know your material cold. This one can't be stressed enough. It shouldn't appear that you've prepared and practiced your keynote, even though you have. Try to be conversational in tone, like you're chatting with a group of colleagues who've expressed interest in the topic. Knowing the material cold will make your delivery more natural, allow you to better connect emotionally with the audience and help you pick up when things go wrong. If your projector fails and slides can't be shown, you'll be able to move forward without visuals. Don't be overly tethered to notes or a script; these can limit your ability to engage the audience.

6. Rehearse — with an audience. Find someone you trust to offer honest feedback. This is preferably someone from your company who knows the topic and can offer advice on content and delivery. Every word, slide and movement should be carefully considered. If it's not going to move your audience across that bridge, then dump it. It's better if you can take a video of yourself. You'll want to simulate the experience, so if you can rehearse in the same location as the keynote, that's ideal. Obviously, you'll want to test your equipment and plot out how much space you have to move around.

7. Be positive and have perspective. Yes, you will be nervous. This is performance anxiety, and it's a great motivator for you to prepare in a way that will benefit the audience and your reputation. Take a few moments during the presentation to stop and breathe. Force yourself to slow down to keep nerves from racing. Ask yourself, "What's the worst that could happen?" Put this one short event in perspective with your whole life, at work and at home. In the worst-case scenario, perhaps the sponsor won't invite you back, but you'll have gotten some great experience, and you'll survive.

What other tips would you offer to middle market managers giving a keynote presentation? What mistakes have you learned from in the past? Tell us by commenting below.

Boston-based Chuck Leddy is an NCMM contributor and a freelance reporter who contributes regularly to The Boston Globe and Harvard Gazette. He also trains Fortune 500 executives in business-communication skills as an instructor for EF Education. Circle him on Google+.

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