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445 - Diary of a Keynote Speech

Learning TRENDS by Elliott Masie - May 9, 2007.
#445 - Updates on Learning, Business & Technology.
53,505 Readers - - The MASIE Center.
Host of Learning 2007 - Oct 21-24 - Orlando, Florida, USA

1. Diary of a Keynote Speech.
2. Learning Leaders Academy - Filling Fast.

1. Diary of a Keynote Speech: A number of TRENDS readers have asked me to write a short diary about how I go about giving a Keynote speech. I thought the one that I delivered yesterday to the senior leadership of the Coast Guard would be a good case study.

* The Background: About six months ago, my office was contacted by the U.S. Coast Guard to see if I was available to present to the very senior leadership of their organization. They were having a Leadership Retreat that would include Admiral Thad W. Allen, Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, their top 56 Admirals and a few dozen spouses. The Coast Guard is embarking on a major reorganization and one of the key challenges is generational change as well as continuous learning.

* Needs Analysis: Planning a speech like this is a combination of traditional needs analysis and expectation negotiating. It starts with the key question of how they heard about Elliott and why I was wanted.

One of their top leaders (and his wife) had heard me deliver a keynote at a Joint Education event for the Pentagon and they wanted me to bring the same message and energy to this leadership activity.

Next, my team and I engage in a series of discussions to determine the audience, the expectations and the "degrees of freedom" that I have as a speaker. It became clear that my speech was going to be a departure from more Coast Guard specific content and needed to be relevant for the leaders as well as their spouses.

Just One Slide? One item that came up here and in other presentations is how many slides would I use. Luckily, the Admiral who had seen my speech before remembered that I used just one slide. I made up a one page mindmap slide - with six bullet points in a circle around the title "Learning in a Flatter World". This gives me the chance to make the keynote more about telling relevant stories and less trapped by successive PowerPoint slides.

On-Site: Once I get onsite, there is a another wave of needs assessment.
Immediately upom arriving, I started to have conversations with my contacts and others about the issues that they are facing and other dialogues that are ongoing at the meeting. I spent time in the elevator and at the bar with random participants gathering "texture".

Final Prep: I woke up at 5 AM to finalize my planning. Some would hate to do this last minute design, but it is where it all comes together for me.
I create a "flow chart" for myself of key points, stories and even audience engagement activities. I have them timed out but there are several "Plan B" options. At 7 AM I meet with the AV Tech to give him my
1 slide and at 7:45, I meet with an Admiral to get a final context briefing. This last conversation adds lots of threads for my stories. In fact, I try out one or two themes and see his reaction.

The Introduction: I walk into the ballroom and mingle with the participants for the few minutes before the session begins at 8 AM. I get a chance to meet and talk with Admiral Thad Allen, the Commandant, and get a sense of his style and process. I immediately remember him from CNN, where he was finally sent into New Orleans after Katrina to pull together the rescue efforts. So, I add a story about a CEO in New Orleans during Katrina. I also see how easily he is relating to his core staff and the tone adds to my sense of "freedom" to push the group.

The Speech: The first 180 seconds are key. In that 180 seconds the audience is evaluating me and making a decision how engaged they will be for the coming 90 minutes. So, I start with a few polls and rapidly have them talking to each other at their tables. In other words, it immediately shifts from a speech to an interactive session.

I take a risk and talk about how most PowerPoint presentations should be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. And, I rapidly pushed into a discussion about how they, as parents, were viewing their children's generation.

For me, a keynote is a blend of pre-planned content, stories and activities ... along with improvisational elements that come from the participants and the "moment". When I ask them to all stand up, walk to another table and talk to each other for 3 minutes, it is all about engagement and dialogue.

Timing: Throughout the keynote, I am monitoring both my design and watch.
I ended up shifting two pieces of the speech, based on their reactions and gathered responses on a key topic. I left myself the last five minutes to pull it all together and to end up a keynote (no pun intended). My final point was that true Leaders must be Learners. I told the story about a newly appointed Commanding Officer of a ship who quietly placed four books on the mess table when he assumed command. He showed the crew that he was an active reader and learner, traits which were key to his style. I repeated the phrase Leaders as Learners and ended the speech.

Feedback: Getting feedback is an interesting process. I got heart-warming applause at the end and thanks for the leadership. But, the real feedback comes from hanging out at the coffee pot a few minutes later. People came up to thank me for speaking or said they liked the speech. My response is always to ask: "What were some of the provocative things about the speech?" It rapidly changes into a discussion about their experiences.

Personal: It is a real "high" to talk to a senior group like this. For 90 minutes, you have an opportunity to share and learn with the leadership of a key organization like the U.S. Coast Guard. It is physically and emotionally exciting. And, my model of continuous design turns it into a personal learning experience for myself. Each speech that I give adds to my knowledge base as a learning professional and helps prepare for the next speech.

Exiting: In some ways, the hardest thing to do is to leave for the
airport. I actually want to stay around, listen to other speeches and
dive deep into conversations with the participants. But, as a keynote, my role is to hit the right "key" and to move on. I can tell they have been coming to our website and have invitations to visit Coast Guard commands in a few parts of the United States, so the conversations will continue.

Nervous?: Finally, people ask me if I get nervous before giving a speech?
Not nervous, but fully engaged and aware. There is that sense that the unknowns will be all clear in a few minutes. My focus is not to have them like me or laugh at my jokes. But, rather I want to connect with them and add content or context to their important realities. This is awesome and can be even overwhelming at times. And, as I said, a good keynote connection can be a "rush" to me as a trainer and learning professional.

2. Learning Leaders Academy: We have opened registration for our Learning Leaders Academy to be held in Saratoga Springs from July 22 to 25th. This is for senior learning executives and is taught by Nigel Paine and myself.
We have already had over a dozen applications. Please register soon.

Upcoming MASIE Center Events:
* Learning 2007: Oct 21 to 24 - Orlando, Florida
* Learning Leaders Academy: July 22 to 25 - Saratoga Springs
* Membership in our Learning CONSORTIUM
Information at

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