Event Management

15 Tips to Hack your Keynote

Skift Take

There are event planners and clients among us who believe every keynote speaker must be a superstar. But there are times budgets, delayed flights, and other life annoyances preclude this from happening. When it does, a great topic and a fantastic presentation or format can replace a top name a lot easier than you think.

Whether you’re stepping into the role as a last-minute replacement or you’re prepping your CEO for their speech, here are a few tips on how your keynote can seem like the next big thing. Use these 15 hacks to elevate the quality of your event presentations.

Spend ¾ of Your Time on Graphics and Shareable Quotes

People cling to sound bytes and most people are visually stimulated. Your slide deck should have a lot of eye candy and Tweetable goodness. If you do the work on the images, people will stay engaged. If you provide digestible bits on the slide, they’ll be shared out.

Set Social for While You’re Talking

You already know your presentation. Remember those sound bytes you so lovingly created? Use a scheduler to share them out during your presentation. Again people love things that are pre-packaged. If you share them, all an attendee has to do is hit the share button. No typing required.

It doesn’t have to be just quotes. Share questions as well.

Don’t Write Out Your Presentation

Write out points you want to cover but never write it out verbatim. Writing becomes reading and no one has ever given an amazing presentation by reading cue cards (unless you have one of those really cool teleprompters that no one can see). All joking aside, writing makes things more solidified with less room for exploring what the audience is interested in. A good presentation allows for the serendipitous moment of an audience member striking a nerve or area of exploration. Go with it.

Come Out With a Bang

Not literally. Please don’t do this literally, but starting off your presentation with something memorable can nearly make up for a mediocre presentation. It’s often not what you say but how you say it. If you grab your audience’s attention early. They’ll stay with you. If you begin by mumbling and exuding low energy, your audience is already posting to Facebook and it’s not about you.

Involve the Audience Often

Some of yesteryear’s speakers would be surprised to hear a Q&A at the end of the presentation isn’t audience participation. Involve the audience often with questions, a show of hands, real-time text polls or electronic surveys. This can ensure your presentation goes in a direction they are interested in.

Keep the Focus Narrow

People have enough distractions on their own. They don’t need you adding a broad field of context to it. Keep the topic and message simple and poignant. If you’re worried it won’t meet the time requirements without rambling into other things, use the audience as a co-presenter and turn to them often for input and questions. When people are part of the discussion, they stay engaged.

Use a Story

People will listen to a well-crafted story for a very long time. They’ll also repeat and share it. Save the data for the slides and engage them through story.

More Them, Less You

Unless you are an inspirational keynote who is supposed to talk about your life, the stories you tell should be as much about others as they are about yourself. If you’re talking about your success in business, angle it from the position of how your clients were a success because of the way you worked together. If you need to talk about yourself, do so in a transparent way. Don’t make yourself into an all-knowing superhero. Be honest about mistakes. People love to laugh at mistakes and it helps them identify with you.

It may seem like an oxymoron, but make your story about others and it will resonate with more of your audience. You want the audience to feel involved not preached to.

Know Silence is Powerful

Silence is as effective as the slamming of a gavel if you know when to use it. Novice speakers want to get the presentation done. Advanced speakers choreograph and direct the presentations in their mind the way a movie director sets a scene and works with the actors on delivery. Silence is golden. Use it.

Walk Away from the Podium

One of the easiest ways to be remembered as a speaker is to do something completely different, something no one expects. This begins with ditching the podium. Engaging the audience behind a block of wood is hard. Roam the room, take turns sitting at tables with people, put the audience on the stage, whatever you can think of to shake up the audience. Make an impression.

Use Tech You Know

Audition your tech and set up as much of it as you can so that you know how it works. Those few minutes spent working with it will pay off in the presentation. It’s also worth it to make friends with the AV person.

Don’t Just Rely on the Audience Mic

Some people are shy and don’t want to ask a question into a mic. Give them the option of texting or posting a question instead during the session.

Watch the Audience

As a presenter in the 21st century, you no longer receive the approval of nodding heads and eye contact. Some very engaged people will show you only the tops of their heads because they are busy sharing everything on social. Look for other clues that they are with you and not growing restless. If they are, you need to increase engagement and the easiest way to do that is to take it off script and do something unexpected.


Not during your keynote but before and after. Read everything. Not only will it improve your vocabulary, it will present you with stories to use, and expose you to arguments, counterpoints, and otherwise expand your worldview. Plus, when someone asks you what you’re reading, you won’t have to make something up.

Remember Your Audience Is Also Outside of the Room

With social media, your audience is everywhere. Tailor your presentation to those in front of you but remember there may be others watching. Invite the secondary audience to continue the conversation at a later time with a hashtag or email and do your best to review and reply to the social media content about your presentation afterward.

In Conclusion

A great keynote in today’s uber stimulated world involves a lot of theatrics. How you say it is almost as important as what you say. Use technology to make an impression. Use body language and the power of silence. Tell stories. Most of all don’t just talk to your audience, talk with them. Make your presentation as dynamic as possible and appeal to their interests. These suggestions won’t make your job as a presenter easier, like traditional hacks are supposed to, but they will position you to be one of the most memorable keynotes they’ve attended and that’s the kind of hack most speakers long for.