Did you know the usage of the term “keynote” is rooted in the history of music? Back in the late 1600s, a keynote referred to the first note of a musical key. The term carried over from music to describe the main idea of a speech – sounded at the beginning, resolved to at the end, and setting the prevailing tone throughout. Keynotes move us – both musically and vocally.

Although marketing professionals are no strangers to keynote speaking, not every individual is quite as persuasive on stage (or virtually as it now more often is) as they’d like to be. But that doesn’t mean you can’t work on your delivery to take your presentation to the next level.

Crafting an engaging speaker session is not easy, particularly when many business events are now taking place online in a virtual environment. It’s more challenging to gauge audience interaction and find your flow. It takes skill, trial-and-error, and practice. The following tips should help to prepare you.

01. Understand your audience

Just like you would in your role as a marketer, research your audience. Who are they, and what can you provide that is of value to them? What is this audience interested in hearing and learning about? When you comprise your presentation in terms of the wants and needs of your audience, you are on the right track to delivering an effective, engaging and memorable session.

Suppose the event or conference occurs annually; search online for reviews and blog articles. Check out YouTube for videos from the event; what sessions received higher views and why? Most conferences have a dedicated hashtag that attendees are encouraged to use throughout the event. Carry out a search to identify the main talking points, the speakers that users mentioned most, and what presentation slides grabbed people’s attention. It’s common to see attendees snapping pictures of the speaker’s screen when interesting data is shared rather than trying to scribble it down quickly.

Life becomes meaningful when one sees himself as an actor within the context of a story.

George Howard

02. Tell a story

Our brains love stories and are a constant in our lives. In fact, research estimates that as much as 65 per cent of all human interactions take the form of social storytelling, or perhaps more commonly known as gossip. Stories cause us to feel emotions, and emotions are a signal to the brain that whatever we are experiencing is valuable. As a result, the brain pays much more attention to information that is charged with emotion.

Moreover, good stories tend to stay with us. One estimate suggests that we can recall facts up to 22 times more accurately when they are part of a story rather than just isolated data.

Think about the story you want to tell and ensure the visuals you use throughout supplement this rather than repeat what you say. Need some inspiration? Just check out some of the many inspirational TED presenters renowned for storytelling and evoking emotion in their talks.

03. End with a positive takeaway

The most effective presentations not only tell a story but also have a positive resolution. Your takeaways can take the form of a vital piece of wisdom or advice relevant to your target audience. The attendees can then easily package these key messages into short, memorable phrases or soundbites that they can quickly write down, recall and share.

Today, most audiences are sharing those soundbites on social media platforms (mainly Twitter) in real-time as you speak. Make it easy for them and write their tweets for them. Consider putting them on your slides. Think in soundbites and make it easy for your audience to consume your speech. Your insights could quickly gain traction and become viral during events.

04. Create a killer deck

Today, almost every speaker accompanies their talk with some kind of visual slide deck. An audience teeming with marketing professionals will appreciate a slick visual presentation that is well-designed, engaging and clever. It’s important that your slides do not merely consist of text repeating what you are saying. Try to avoid using text as much as possible as it can end up being more of a distraction than informative. Instead, use your slides as props – visuals that drive an emotional response that compliments your verbal message.

People think in pictures, so use that to your advantage. For example, fill the screen with a compelling image that deepens the point you are making. That way, people will focus on what you are saying instead of reading.

A successful talk is a little miracle – people see the world differently afterwards.

TED curator Chris Anderson

Whether you are delivering a keynote speech for the first time or looking for ways to improve, these essential tips will help you make it a success.

For more reading, check out our post on best practices for marketing during the pandemic.