The Ultimate Corporate Keynote Speech

If senior execs and event planners want great keynotes, presentations and workshops at their company, this is the work they have to do.

(This is NOT yet another post on how to present like TED. If you want that, go here, here, here, here, or here.)

This is a Call to Action for our senior execs and event planners to stop being so damn safe and to start risking actually exciting and leading people into the future! And to create completely different kinds of conversations because of the presentations they sponsored.

I just returned from an international gig with a beloved client who regularly asks me to speak at their wonderful events. In between two different gigs for them, I got the dreaded call: “Bill, we need to fix this.” I learned that I scored only 5 out of 6 on their evaluations. Fortunately, the client was much happier with the next event as I scored 5.75 out of 6.

But what good are great scores if we’re measuring the wrong things?

Let’s be honest. Most corporate events aren’t even in the same universe as TED (or BIF, PopTech, Do, 99u, Singularity, etc.). That’s because — long before the first presenter presents — one element is missing from most every agenda and planning meeting. An element that we all need A LOT more of…

Presentations that makes us think. Deeply. To truly think thoughts, and to feel feelings, and to take on challenges that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. It can happen in any number of ways: Excite us or offend us; make us laugh or cry; give us how-tos or big concepts; ask us to agree or entice us into heated debates — but, no matter what…the one thing this kind of keynote does is to challenge us push ourselves where we had not gone before.

I hope that I achieve that on occasion, but I’m not writing as a speaker. I’m writing as a passionate learner. I’m pleading for businesses and leaders and sponsors of events to treat all of us as passionate 21st century learners.

Challenge us more!

So often I hear from speaker’s bureaus and clients that they’re looking for motivational infotainment. Forty-five minutes to two hours of “Rah, rah, rah… But don’t make us question ourselves or our beliefs or actions. Don’t ask us to do the work we hired you to do. Don’t make us think. Give us quick, easy how-tos.”

Really? Do any of these executives get what TED et al are ultimately about? Have they never seen plays like Hamilton, or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, or Rent? Have they never watched The Twilight Zone or read To Kill a Mockingbird? Have they never listened to the Moth Radio Hour? Never watched a viral YouTube hit? Never sat in the midst of an exciting conversation?

All great presentations take our hearts and minds to new places. The best of the best challenge us to be better versions of ourselves, to push our own boundaries, while entertaining us too. They take a risk and ask us to do the same.

Dear Corporate Event Planners: Please… Bring on today’s Galileos who will tell us about today’s versions of the sun not revolving around the earth — who take us beyond our current safe, simplified, everything-can-be-solved-with-a-three-point-checklist, thinking. Who challenge us to find solutions to decades-old problems in the next 30 days. Who help us to look inside ourselves, and then hold us accountable to what we discover. Who don’t accept Yeah, buts… And won’t pamper attendees when they keep bringing them up. Who understand that if some of the attendees weren’t thrilled with the presenter, that’s OK. Taking some of us out of our comfort zone is often what’s required.

Of course, there are many presenters who do this. But they’re still not the norm. Certainly not for events that are designed for most of today’s managers and leaders by their own leaders. Much of what we get at those corporate events is predictably safe, rarely pushing attendees beyond their comfort zone. Usually packaging hard work to look a lot easier, so people will at least take baby steps.

We need more people to ask more of us than we are asking of ourselves. Not just the motivational circuit speakers who had their limbs gnawed off by wolves, but still climbed Mount Everest and won 127 Olympic medals. Ordinary thinkers and steel workers and artists, farmers and nurses, and frontline workers and managers, and, and, and… People who passionately believe that all of us can do better… Who believe we must do better if we are going to address today’s wicked problems. And who tell us so. Who initiate the wicked conversations and talk about the inconvenient truths that are currently off-limits. Who also tell us to dream bigger, much bigger.

We need more keynoters who piss us off! Who scare us! Who freak us out! Who make us pee in our pants with excitement!!

We need more keynoters who ask us to solve systemic, interconnected, hard problems. Who tell/ cajole/ plead/ admonish/ demand/ laugh/ cry/ motivate/ (and yes,) entertain/ us into putting on our Big Boy and Big Girl pants to face issues that still plague most organizations.

Of course we still need what all good-to-great keynoters provide:
• Great stories and great content
• Relevant steps to take to be more strategic in our jobs
• How applying the keynoter’s tips and insights will help everyone succeed
• etc.

But we also need more. There simply are not enough keynoters who ask more of us than we are asking of ourselves. But that’s not really the presenter’s issue. It’s the event sponsor’s. We must change the market for speakers.

To get there: We need more courage from our leaders and event sponsors.

The courage to take our thinking to new levels.

The courage to set the bar higher than we currently experience at most internal events and corporate-designed conferences.

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(Update: Original was posted on LinkedIn.)

— by Bill Jensen 
…who, regardless of how clients measure his success, always strives for one measure whenever he speaks:
The Aha that helps people see and do something they never could have imagined before he spoke. #NewWaytoWork #FutureOfWork
Jensen Site, Twitter, FB, LinkedIn

Bill’s latest book, Future Strong, is about the five deeply personal choices each of us must make to be ready for all the disruptive tomorrows heading our way.