Monday, 22 April 2013


The story of my life!

In October I shall be giving a 'keynote address' to the 8th World Conductive Education Congress.

I have give quite a few keynote addresses over my life, not just in the field of Conductive Education. I have also slept through quite a few more presented by others, or read a book or just slipped quietly out through the back door near which I had taken my seat for precisely this purpose. I know people who do their their marking in keynote addresses, or use the time to prepare their own forthcoming presentation for later that day – or just read a book. One might start dutifully listening with pen poised – but how often is there anything worthy of note (simple test: how often have you gone home from a conference and searched eagerly through your written notes for what 'the keynote' said?)

Now, after three years' break, here I go again. Usual panic. What can I say? How to give the punters what they deserve (and for the most part are paying for)? And a new thought, what is a 'keynote address' anyway?

I believe that the term may originate from the United States.

(I am resisting writing the term with capital letters, though I note that it is common to do so.)

What is a keynote address?

When I was younger I presumed that this was one of those questions to which everyone else already knew the answer. I did not not wish to proclaim myself an oik and an ignoramus by asking it, so I kept mum. With the wisdom of hindsight, I now suspect that many other people did not know either, and  like me were keeping their heads down. This would certainly explain the uncertainty that now surrounds the term.

In the 21st century we of course have the Internet, so we can ask embarrassing questions like this in the discrete privacy of our own homes. So tonight I did, and found loads and loads of conferences and meetings and congresses with their one or more 'keynote presentations', or (more grandly still?) 'keynote addresses'. And when I zeroed my search in on what the term actually means I found a whole gamut of cynical, mocking, dismissive and head-shaking analyses of the whole notion.

Here is a good-natured, light-hearted one, written by Mike Hourigan who appears to earn part at least of his living by making such presentations –
Generally, when people say they want a Keynote Speaker what they mean is we need to hire someone who can talk to our audience for about 45 minutes and they will probably cost a lot of money.
The term Keynote Speaker is one of the most misunderstood in the meetings industry. Many people confuse the term Keynote Speaker with motivational speaker, inspirational speaker, plenary speaker, breakout speaker, industry expert, closing speaker, business speaker, juggler, ventriloquist, illusionist, and any former Miss North Dakota or Miss Rhode Island.
Any of the above speakers could actually be a keynote speaker, but most professional speakers are not actual Keynote Speakers and most Keynote Speakers can’t or don’t do all the rest.
A Keynote Speaker should be able to capture the essence of your meeting and be able to highlight it to your audience in a short period of time. In order to capture this essence, the Keynote Speaker should be willing to spend the time researching your industry, your issues, and your audience.
Once this vital research is complete, your Keynoter can mold the presentation into a unique and distinctive moment just for your audience. Your Keynote Speaker may use humor, audience participation, show funny clips, or even sing. No matter, what shtick your speaker employs, their job is to weave your keynote message into their program in a memorable and fun way.
Here's an extract from another, by Shari Alexander, offering some concrete guidelines that I wish were better known and more often followed –
Another important thing to remember about keynote speakers is that their speeches are not content rich. That’s not a slam, it’s just the nature of a keynote speech. You will never hear a keynote speaker give you the 22 step process to successful sales. A keynote is known by its theatricality, storytelling, and emotional content.
I often consider keynote speaking to be like a one-man show. It is an engaging and emotional experience put on by one person with a microphone. And when we see the best do it, it’s unforgettable.
Keynote speeches usually only have 3 main points followed by a slew of illustrative examples and stories to demonstrate or “drive home” those few points. Popular mantras of keynote speaking are “Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry” or “Open with a laugh, end with a tear.” Basically, it is the job of a keynote speaker to take you on an emotional ride of sorts. Just like a play or movie. To make it a memorable experience, a keynoter taps into your emotions. Makes you feel things in order to think about things in a different way. Some may see it as manipulative (and those pessimists will always be around). But I see it as a beautiful and underrated art form.
The rest of this page is well worth reading too:

And there are lots more out there.

Does such stuff help?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. It reminds me of those enjoyably frustrating construction manuals that IKEA provides with its kit furniture: only intelligible when you have already worked out what to do for yourself.

In the panic of creation I shall probably just do my thing anyway, hang on tight, fly by the seat of my pants, and watch their eyes.


I see that the provisional programme for the 8th World CE Congress now announces FOURTEEN 'keynotes':

Er, yes.

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