Let’s assume your technique is already stellar. When you present, you make excellent use of storytelling and humour, your delivery is vibrant and entertaining, and you speak at an intellectual level that holds the interest of professional adults, while also making the experience immersive and memorable. You use pauses, vary your tone, become energetically involved with each idea.

What more could you do?

Selling a keynote presentation is akin to selling a high-value experience. The better we all do it, the greater the perceived value of the concept in the market. For that reason, we should willingly share our insights into best practice. Moreover, the greater your own professionalism, the likelier it is you will personally receive repeat bookings.

Here are 10 things you can do to further raise the bar in your keynotes:

 1. Read books on your topic 

When you do, it shows. You present with greater nuance, and ‘more ideas per sentence.’ Your depth makes you a more convincing proposition and your authority is more readily apparent. You’ll know more about the problems and pitfalls and have greater insight into resolving the most common questions. Read around your topic too. You speak about innovation? You must also know about leadership, and about cultural change. No time to read? Try audio books.

 2. Make the study of persuasion a lifelong pursuit 

Start with the book, ‘Made to Stick,’ by Chip and Dan Heath. But make a lifetime pursuit of studying how to tell stories well, how to turn points into metaphors and aphorisms, and how to make your ideas come to life. Read about oratory, read about persuasion, read about behavioural economics. A little here, a little there, and you’ll pick up all manner of useful techniques.

 3. Get good client-briefs

Few things help you to hit the mark more effectively than a simple chat with the client before the day. What are they struggling with? What are they trying to achieve? How might an ideal version of their situation look? Client briefs radically improve the quality of your keynotes and your capacity to connect with an audience.

 4. Customize it 

A standardized presentation may be technically perfect, even technically brilliant, but it will still be out-performed by a customized one. Try for two forms of customization: ideas that relate directly to your audiences’ scenarios, and aesthetic touches, such as photos of their building, or inclusion of their branding. One or two such touches will greatly impress conference conveners, and show a level of care for your craft.

 5. Make the audience the main character 

We know that stories are the medium of human communication. Here’s an excellent device: In some of your stories, make the audience the main character. “You arrive at the office and you see this… Then you react like that… Then the next thing happens to you…” Hypothetical examples that use audience-as-protagonist are un-ignorable. They can play on fear and failure, or on strategy and success.

 6. Ask them challenging questions 

Our task is not always to instruct. Quite often, it’s to challenge, based on a degree of instruction. Guru-like, we share a little insight, then force them to face reality in new and useful ways. We give information, then turn accountability over to them by means of the right, provocative question. As a bonus tip, questions on slides actually work better than statements.

 7. Get on with it! 

Populate the period of time available to you with solid value, not time-wasting fluff. By all means, use humour and entertainment. But long rambling greetings, pointless audience exercises, self-indulgent asides and unnecessary formalities all dilute your effectiveness. Aim to be short, sharp, punchy and profound, rather than merely ‘filling time.’

 8. Raise the level of your slides 

Striking visuals always out-perform swathes of text. Questions out-perform statements. Simple, bold and visually appealing – these are our ideals for design. And remember that your slide should set you up, rather than explaining your point. Make it the itch, not the scratch.

 9. Tinker with your own aesthetics 

Our content is our greatest asset, but there’s no arguing that our physical appearance contributes to impressions. Could you get some fitted suits? Have your teeth straightened? Improve your physical fitness or tan anything that’s overly pale? Feeling good about your own physical appearance increases your confidence, and psychology also indicates that people more readily trust and believe good-looking individuals.

  10. Improve your intro 

Some people use scripted introductions. In that case, could you build in a little more humour, a little more punch? Others use video introductions as their openers. Could you make it even more vibrant, even more persuasive? Great intros form part of their total experience of you. Used cleverly, they also remove the temptation to sell to an audience, and allow the MC to deliver your secondary business message instead. This permits your own presentation to be more honest, and to deliver nothing but value, while still taking care of your marketing goals.

CSP Billy Selekane often speaks about the ‘privilege of the platform.’ The phrase is apt. We get to be guru, guide, psychologist and entertainer, and we get paid for the pleasure. Let’s take the responsibility seriously. Let’s offer overwhelming value, every time we set foot on the stage. Against undeniable excellence, there are few counter-arguments. In its presence, our industry blooms.


Douglas Kruger is a full-time keynote speaker and author of 6 business books with Penguin. He speaks on the topics of strategic rule-breaking, and expert-positioning. In 2016, in honour of excellence in his craft, he was inducted into the Speakers Hall of Fame by the PSASA. He is also a 5x winner of the SA Championships for Public Speaking through Toastmasters International.

See him in action, or sign up for his motivational newsletter, at www.douglaskruger.co.za 


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Douglas’s articles are always free for use in your magazines, newspapers or e-zines. Many have been previously published in magazines like Entrepreneur or online forums like Bizcommunity.com. They focus on entrepreneurship, public speaking, expert positioning and innovation. Please attribute any articles used, and drop Douglas an email so that he can also publicise your title.