This is the time of year when many CEOs and sales leaders are planning their sales kickoffs for the next year. In a time-honored tradition, they bring everyone together to share plans for the year, provide some training and opportunities for team-building and idea-sharing, and –not least—“fire up” the troops with excitement and extra motivation.
That’s where the keynote speaker comes in. Typically an outsider, maybe famous or at least semi-famous (depending on the budget), it is someone who imparts wisdom and timeless inspiration through heroic tales of struggle, sacrifice, hustle and ultimate victory. The audience is entertained, enthralled, and inspired –for about 20 minutes. Then it’s back to business, to the mundane world of quotas and new products, and the effect quickly wears off.
That’s not completely fair. There are many documented examples of people who have been especially inspired by a particular speaker, have stayed in touch, and have made a sincere and sometimes successful effort to change. I’ve had the honor of knowing some of these, and I still get occasional emails with progress reports from some of them. My favorite is the young Chinese engineer who went on to form a Toastmasters Club in Shanghai and who still keeps in touch. But the proportion of audience members who do this is easily in the very low single digit at best. One spark is usually not enough to start a fire.
It’s not the fault of the organizer, who has simply followed your instructions. And it’s not the speaker’s fault; she or he has delivered exactly what they were hired to do. But because most speakers make a living by talking to many clients, they can’t take the time to truly study each specific company or audience they address, master the intricacies and eccentricities of your industry, get to know key people individually, and remain involved after the speech to help instill and guide meaningful change. If they did, they would truly be worth their weight in precious stones; but they would also cost more than their weight in precious stones.
But, just as in the old Russell Conwell story, the diamonds you seek from afar may be just under the surface in your own backyard. The speaker you’re seeking who can actually do all these things is YOU: you know your industry, your company and your people, and you are there after the speech to reinforce the message and drive lasting change. (And you’re budget friendly!)
So, what’s keeping you from being your own keynote speaker and making a real and lasting difference? You may see two drawbacks, only one of which is real.
The imaginary drawback is your lack of an inspirational story. You haven’t climbed Mount Everest with your blind brother strapped to your back, you probably haven’t won a Super Bowl single-handed. That’s true, but if you are at the level where you’re making the decisions, you have probably faced and overcome adversity at some point, and it’s probably something your audience is more likely to relate to. You have a story. Even if you can’t think of one, you can always borrow examples from others who have, especially if it is an unsung hero within your own company. The stories are there if you look for them.
The other deficiency which may be real is that you don’t have the experience or the speaking skills of the professionals. That’s also true, but public speaking is one area where a reasonably competent but inspired amateur can outdo even the most seasoned professional. If your message is clear, sincere, and relevant, you can succeed. Truth trumps technique every time.
That said, you need to meet a threshold of competence and preparation, and that’s where a speaking coach can help. Someone who can help you distill your message, choose the right stories, metaphors and language to inspire and help you rehearse a strong and confident delivery.
It won’t be easy. It will take hard work on your part; even if you’re a competent presenter you may still need to raise your game to deliver an inspirational speech. It will force you out of your comfort zone, and it requires patient attention over time, but I can guarantee that the payoff will fare exceed your investment, and you will have a skill that separates great leader from good leaders. I know this because I’ve seen the effect that It has on employees when their leader accepts the challenge and personally delivers the truths they need to hear.
Leaders guide and inspire. You are a leader. Why would you abdicate that task to an outsider? Be your own keynote speaker.