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How To Be a Transformational Keynote Speaker

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2022-10-26

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How to unlock your potential as a transformational keynote speaker—and some of the hacks and practices that make speaking in-person or online able to land an enduring impact.

 

Keynote Speaking: From Informational Speaker To Motivational Speaker

When I first started keynote speaking professionally, it was because I had been invited by companies like Unilever and Tesco—that were my consulting clients—to share my technical expertise in disruption innovation, emerging technologies, and futuring. I didn’t even know that professional speakers existed. But I loved it!

Not being a comedian or Olympian, I focused on sharing my passion, knowledge, and craft at these most challenging of strategic activities. But it’s a tough brief to inform people about such amazingly rich and difficult areas of knowledge-work in a short period. I soon realized something more was needed and that it was an opportunity to develop my craft, and myself, in the process.

Learning from the intense experience of entrepreneurial coaching that I had been paying for as a 25-year-old founder of a fast-growing business—and inspired by various personal development courses I had attended—I added in a motivational speaker feel: aiming to leave my audience more knowledgeable but also with a sense of can-do, empowerment, and get-up-and-go to make stuff happen! But I witnessed that the ‘pzowie ‘feeling faded quickly after a keynote, unless I generated something powerful to lock in the elevated state of the audience.

 

Keynote Speaking: From Inspirational Speaker To Transformational Speaker

So I decided to step up again and become an inspirational speaker. I developed skills and not just informing and motivating an audience, but also at opening up for them, and with them, a space of possibility that they could step into as individuals/organizations/industries. I would use my passion, innovation nous, and speaking power to inspire people with the opportunities that were available to them to make a world-changing difference. I elevated minds and elated hearts and got them inspired by the opportunities within the ‘art of the possible’.

But, I started to think I was still missing a trick. I was not being ambitious enough! As a practitioner (and permanent student) of leadership development, complex change programs, and systemic transformation approaches, I realized that all the knowledge, motivation, and inspiration was not enough if the people in the room held on to outdated patterns of emotion, thought, and action—and if the culture of the organization or music of the system was resistant to change.

 

What Makes A Transformational Keynote Speaker Different

To create the conditions for a group of people—and the organization or system they are part of—to start or experience lasting, significant (even dramatic), and positive change takes everything I have learned, everything I have mastered, everything I have got in my brain, sinews, and guts.

As well as delivering high-quality content, to be transformational you also have to do most, if not all, of these:

  • Meet people where they are—they must feel seen, hear, and ‘got’ to enter ‘limbic resonance’ with us—before taking them higher
  • Rapidly show them that we are ‘like them’ whilst maintaining the transformative potency of being an ‘expert’ or ‘thought leader’
  • Share insights and ideas from our own “Hero’s  /Heroine’s Journey” in a way that makes our gifts or ‘boons’ super-relevant to the audience
  • Use insights gleaned from the client and live in the room to unfold a narrative experience that moves from context to concepts to concrete action
  • As the most subtle level, emotionally ‘weave’ the diverse set of individuals together into a collective moment of coherence
  • Touch the audience in an abiding way, reminding each participant of their inherent potential—and the creative potency of all life
  • Speak from and embody our purpose—I dedicate each talk to the wholeness and flourishing of humankind—and let go of attachment to any specific outcome or agenda
  • Let go of any desire for perfection and trust that whatever comes out will fit if we are present (I take notes with a pen and paper as I go, noting down ideas, errors and typos as I go so my attention does not get sucked up by the drive to optimize)
  • Be responsive to the moment with a talk that is ‘alive’ and fits what is needed right there and then—and whatever is emerging as we gaze out to the audience and feel their hearts
  • Be ready to relinquish our plans and flow in a second in order to stay connected with the audience—even if that means stopping,  sharing a fear, restarting, changing into a Q&A or anything else
  • ‘Hold space’ for everyone in the room to go through the often-uncomfortable and inconvenient experiences of deep change and transformation
  • Give people permission to be anxious or frustrated—but never let these emotions run amok in contagion
  • Presence the pain and suffering of not transforming—but focus on the joy and potential of transforming
  • Embody our wholeness as individuals—with all the frailties and foibles—and speak to the wholeness in others without ignoring their fragmentation
  • Model to the audience what it looks like to be both strong and courageous enough—and vulnerable and wise enough—to transform (without making it about us)
  • Pour immense amounts of “heat” into the space—to melt away “front”, open up cold hearts and dismissive minds, and bring the audience into a state where transformation can happen
  • Open up a ‘possibility space’ and then invite the audience to enter it— gently yet insistently ‘shepherding’ them emotionally and cognitively if they are reluctant to engage
  • Constantly scan the room to check for people who have dissociated out of fear or habit—and “reach” out to them to bring them back in and light up their eyes
  • When it can make an impact, presence our own breakdowns and breakthroughs—whilst ensuring that we have ‘processed’ our pain so it is compelling, not overwhelming
  • Use sticky words, memes, movements, sounds, imagery, and more to ‘anchor’ in the transformative state so it can be recalled in future
  • Weave facts, evidence, neuroscience, examples, precedents, and other ‘proof points’ into an emotion-driven experience that moves people inside and then outside
  • Use embodiment techniques—like breathwork, visualizations, chanting, drumming, dancing, movement, etc.—to engage people at a deeper level in their guts (in their ‘interoceptive’ neurology)
  • Use versatile stances, gestures, eye sparkles, emphasis, tone, cadence, pauses, and pace to ‘magnetize’ the audience members to shift state
  • Ideally, give people tasks, suggestions, or tools to cement in the change and make it more concrete

This is quite some feat! But it is possible.

And it is beyond rewarding. It is my purpose in action!

To make it a reality, I have redesigned my materials, reinvented my examples and narratives, regenerated my speaking style, unlocked new ways of being on stage and off, and designed an onboarding and briefing process that would give me the best chance at using those amazing 40 or 60 minutes of attention to plant the seeds of transformation within the hearts, minds, and guts of as many people in the room or online as possible.

I invite you to step into your full power as a transformational speaker, harnessing a reverence for the power of being simultaneously at-one with an audience—and a humble yet powerful catalyst of transformation within all.

If you would like coaching on how to develop your skills and transformational keynote speaking, reach out to me.

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