Confidence & Connection, the keys to kick-arse keynotes

24 Jan 2018

It’s not widely known, despite Jen’s best efforts, that I once trained as an opera singer.

This is part of our Bulletproof Professional Speaker Branding series - download the NOT-so-white paper here.

There are such strong parallels between singers and keynote speakers, it’s at least part of the reason why we feel such a powerful affinity with them.

On the surface, it’s simple. Singers and speakers both share the same professional setting; right in the spotlight, holding an audience spell-bound… or so we hope!

But there’s a deeper truth that connects us, one that few others in the world can understand.

Singers are the instrument. Speakers are the product.

This also underscores a larger truth, that brands aren’t their logo, or their products, or any single element in isolation. Critically, a brand is every bit as much about its people as any other element.

But no matter which way you cut it, when performers fail, we fail in a very personal and intimate way. Typically the audience might not even notice our failure, but self-criticism is often worse than anything an external observer might say.

And aside from obvious, spectacular on-stage implosions, there’s usually just the one cause of self-induced failure on stage:

Lack of confidence and connection.

When we aren’t confident in ourselves or our message, audiences can tell. They won’t notice that you flubbed a line or skipped a slide - but they’ll notice if you lose confidence because of it.

So how does a keynote speaker ensure confidence every time they’re booked for a job?

If you don’t believe it, you won’t feel it… in which case you shouldn’t be saying, doing or delivering it. You might be on stage only to entertain, but even a monologue is a conversation - between the performer and the audience. As a keynote speaker, your audience is made up of people who are looking to you for guidance, inspiration and motivation. Part of delivering that is respecting their part in your performance.

This is why “performance” is a tricky word to use. When a singer, speaker, rockstar or actor gets on stage they’ve got a choice. They can either deliver the lines they’ve learned by rote, or they can imbue their stagecraft with purpose and engagement in that moment, and that audience.

Purpose doesn’t equal perfect (which, let’s face it, often just means ‘sterile’). Every performance is unique, personal and organic - mistakes and all. That’s part of what creates the emotional resonance with your audience. It’s not even your ideas that are unique. It’s you that audiences are booking. Your subjective take on the subject, your delivery.

They want the outcomes that only you can deliver. Whether that’s inspiration, motivation, morale or peak performance - they hired you as their keynote speaker for a reason.

So how does a speaker ensure confidence & connection every time they’re booked for a job?

The Speaker Confidence Trifecta

A brand and supporting materials that communicates the true essence of who you are.

It backs you, supports you, and emotionally connects to your audience; raising your profile above the mundane. It’s aspirational and inspirational, while being fully aligned to your purpose, both on a practical level and in your intent. It also sets expectations that much higher!

Topics that are aligned to your expertise, values and audience

When you’re on the stage, you’re the expert. Your speaking topics need to be completely aligned with your expertise and values, allowing you to speak confidently no matter what challenges are thrown at you. If the power goes out, can you continue without your slides? Does your ability to inspire, empower and disrupt disappear with the lights?

Many years ago I was in a performance of Les Misérables when the power went out in one of Brisbane’s many thunderstorms. It was during the powerful and stirring finale (“Do you hear the people sing?”) when we all plunged into darkness.

But we didn’t stop. We sang on without speakers, with the critical electronic instruments (which are specified by the Les Mis score) dead and relying only on a now-muffled orchestra located under the stage. We received the most exuberant standing ovation that night. Because we’d given it our all. We’d stayed true to the music, to its intent and its heart.

If you can’t do the same, you’ll struggle with confidence even without any challenges.

A clear connection to your client’s needs

If you’re not confident you can help your client within the duration of the keynote, why are you in the room to begin with? As we outlined in the Speaker Branding Not-So-White-Paper, topics should be broad enough that they can be tailored to any industry or event. It’s your job to ensure they have immediate relevance to the audience. If it doesn’t resonate NOW, it never will - you won’t get a second chance at impact…

And if you get it right, it’ll echo long after you’ve left the room.

Branding solves at least two of those three problems.

A rebrand is often a largely aspirational piece of work. A statement of what that business longs to achieve both internally and externally. It often inspires its own people to live up to, and grow into the promises of that new brand.

There’s a few reasons for this:

  • A brand should represent not just who and where you are now, but where you want to be in 5 years, 10 years… and more.
  • A good brand takes you from reactive to proactive. Your message is now meaningful, consistent and grounded in purpose. Your values are your guiding light.
  • A brand creates clarity and introduces constraints… When you’re utterly crystal clear on your values and messaging, you’re freed up to do the real work - no more messing about with templates and art. It’s done. It’s locked down. Just get on with the job.

From a purely practical level, a truly effective brand gives a speaker consistency. Consistency breeds trust - the touchstone of any successful brand.

From the moment a client first contacts you, to the moment you step off stage (to thunderous applause! We hope!), everything about your interaction with them is smooth, consistent and professional. From your website they contacted you on, to the email signature in your reply, to your topic PDFs, and to the slide deck on stage, you come across as the consummate pro - irrefutably worth the investment they’ve made.

That’s the edge that a real brand gives you.



The Bulletproof Guide to Professional Speaker Branding

Kelsey Brookes

Ex opera singer turned messaging consultant, I position clients through evocative content, craft their user's journey in code and make sure all our technical ducks are in a row.

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