Rice Speechwriting

Developing your keynote’s key message

key message keynote

What is the key message of your keynote speech?

You can call it a “throughline,” a “key message,” a “red thread,” or any number of terms that get at the same idea: Your keynote speech needs a central controlling idea that drives the rest of the content. This central idea serves as an editor–it will determine which stories and which statistics you want to include.

But if you are just starting out, this part can be the most daunting.

You have stories that you want to tell, most likely your own. You have a collection of thoughts and ideas that aren’t yet a speech. The throughline also helps you to become a better speaker when it comes to marketing. You become the “go-to” person for your topic rather than being a speaker who can speak on “anything.”

How do you figure out what to talk about?

First, start with you and the problem you solve for your specific audience.

One formula to use is the following: I solve X problem for Y audience through doing Z.

A few examples:

I help engineers communicate better with non-engineers by teaching them the essentials of storytelling.

I help new managers provide better feedback to their direct reports through using 360 degree assessments effectively.

I raise awareness of a rare disease to donors of all sizes by sharing my personal journey with the illness.

Each example includes a problem, a specific audience, and the method by which you’re helping them solve that problem.

What if I don’t know yet what to talk about or to whom I am going to speak?

If you need to take a step back, consider the intersection of your background and strengths.

Ask yourself the following questions:

What am I good at? If I polled 5 of my closest friends, what would they say? (actually poll them)

What topics that I post about on social media or my blog seem to get the most traction?

If you were to start a podcast (not that you have to), what would be the topic?

If you were asked to speak at the last minute, with little preparation, what topic could you talk about for at least 15 minutes if not more?

What problem exists in the world where you can give unique insight into how to solve it?

The best keynotes solve problems for their audience–they create a change in the listener

One more way to think about your keynote’s topic is by the problem you’re solving for the audience.

Where is the audience emotionally and cognitively when they enter the room? Where do you want them to be at the end of your talk? 

Do you want to change their emotional state? 

Do you want them to think differently about a problem? 

Do you want to challenge currently held assumptions?

How do you want your audience to view the world differently after hearing your talk?

Next steps:

Use the questions in this email, or download a copy of them, and answer them before you begin to write your talk. Then, use the answers as your own editor to decide what goes in the talk and what stays out of it.

You can also set up a keynote discovery call with me where we’ll go through the answers and discuss the best direction for your talk. Email me to get started.

Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash

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