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If you want to get the really big keynote bookings you have to understand that these bookings more or less only go to three kinds of speakers:

a) The famous person. (to give some star quality to the event and draw a crowd)
b) The Industry Expert (to give credibility to the event)
c) The really, really good speaker. (to inspire and awe the audience)

If you are not a) Famous or b) THE Industry expert you HAVE to understand that the path to getting the big keynote bookings is that you have to be a really, really good speaker.

Or to say it another way: If you are not yet getting those big, keynote speeches (and you want to) you have to work on either a) becoming famous, b) becoming known as a global industry expert – or c) make sure you develop yourself to be a really, really good speaker.

Let me give you two recent examples from two big conferences where I was one of the speakers to show that this is how it works:

1) OpenText.

Early July: Toronto, Canada, OpenText Global customer conference. 5000 in the audience.

Three days,
Three keynote speakers.

Day one: Wayne Gretzky – “The Great One” Say not more. (Famous)
Day two: Me. (Unknown and not industry expert.)
Day three: Michele Romanow – serial IT-entreprenur from Canada who sits on Dragon’s Den and is the youngest Dragon ever. (Industry Expert)

(From the program:)

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2) Global Leadership Summit

Early August: Chicago, Global Leadership Summit, 10 000 live and 390 000 (!) people in 128 countries on video link.

First Speaker: Bill Hybels – Founder of Willow Creek and Global Leadership Summit (Industry Expert)
Second Speaker: Sheryl Sandberg – COO Facebook (Famous and Industry Expert)
Third Speaker: Marcus Lemonis – Billionaire and host of TV-show “The Profit”. (Famous and Industry Expert)
Fourth Speaker: Me (not an industry expert and not famous)
Fifth Speaker: Bryan Stevenson – New York Times #1 Bestseller and 3 million+ views on TED.com (famous)

As you can see, the other speakers are in category a) and/or b) (and sometimes a), b) and c)…)

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But I am not famous. (I have, for example, about 6000 Twitter followers (which is nothing) and I am not a “house hold name”. (When I was introduced to the gold sponsors of the Global Leadership Summit on the evening before the Summit not 1 out of the 100+ people in the audience raised their hand when the moderator asked how many knew about me …

And I am not an industry expert on either leadership or IT by any stretch of the imagination.

That means that the ONLY reason I got selected to speak at these two big conferences was because the organisers thought that my qualities as a SPEAKER qualified me (and that my qualities as a speaker MADE UP for the fact that I am not famous or an industry expert. And also that my qualities as a speaker made me get the speaking slot over other good speakers who are famous and/or industry experts (there are, of course, no shortage of those, so they have to think my qualities as a speaker are so good that they put me on the stage even if they know that no-one in the audience will know who I am before I go up.)

And let me be very clear: I (!) do not think I belong in the category of “great speakers” either … But it doesn’t matter what you think of yourself as a speaker – what matters is what the people booking speakers think – and they apparently put me in the “C-category” of great speakers.

(I am also totally ok, with the fact that no-one knows who I am when I go up as I only care about the audience knowing who I am AFTER I am done with my speech.)

Both these two conferences are perfect examples of how the speakers got selected to stand on the main stage as main keynote speakers.

And both of these conferences could literally have chosen any speaker in the world.

So to summarise: To get the big keynotes you have to be: famous, be a global thought leader/authority on the subject – or you have to be good. Really good.
If you ask me c) is the easiest way to get those bookings. But it means you have to commit yourself 100% to developing yourself to becoming the very best speaker that you could possibly be.

Are you doing that?

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Here is another common question I get from people who want to become keynote speakers: “What is the formula for a great keynote?”

I understand the question, but I do not really like it.

It is the same as you CAN ask: “What is the formula for a pop-song?”

And there IS a “correct” answer to it:

“Pop music in the pre-rock era was mostly AABA (verse, verse, bridge, verse). This structure persisted into the rock era. Lots of Beatles songs are AABA. (In the UK, they call the bridge the “middle eight”).

Pop music in the rock era (including R&B but before the rise of funk and then later hip-hop) was mostly verse/chorus or verse/chorus/bridge. So sort of a hybrid between the folk and “classic pop” styles, with the addition of the all-important chorus. The ubiquity and force of a hook-laden, energetic chorus seems to me to be the defining factor of these genres.”

And it true that many pop-songs seems to follow the same “formula” (which this very funny video shows):

 

But the greatest musicians do not try to “follow a formula”, they might know of the formula, but they make the music their own.

And I think it is the same for speaking.

There are some basic rhetorical “rules” for how to give a speech, but the power of a great speech is not in the formula – it’s in the authenticity of the message.

I recently did a speech for speakers where I talked about how I look at it. There I said that:

The STRUCTURE of a speech is important just as the structure of a house is important. But no-one walks into someone else’s house and proclaims “Oh, I love the structure of your house!”

Build a house with a BAD structure and you are in trouble. But just because you have a good structure on your house it does’t mean you have an impressive home.

No, people will remember the way you decorated your home, the furniture, the art, and so on.

And it is the same with a speech.

People will seldom come up and say: “I love the structure of your speech!”

They will come up and say: “I loved your message”, “I loved your stories”, “I love your humour” and so on

So study rhetorical techniques (for example here) or formulas for keynotes (here) if you want.

But personally I would advice you to spend much more time on developing your message, your stories and your delivery.

Because as much as there might be a formula for success – the truly great break all the rules and create their own formula.

I think the song Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen is a great example of that. A song that doesn’t follow the formula of a pop song, but which despite that (or is it because of that) is one of the most powerful hit songs out there.

Do not miss to listen to this amazing performance by the AUDIENCE singing it here:

Craft a keynote the way you want your message communicated.

Even if you have to break all “rules” for speaking to get there.

A Bohemian Rhapsody speech. That is what I am dreaming if writing one day before I die.

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How to fly to the wrong country in order to make it to your speech…

Here is a tricky question for you:

What would you have done if you were me…?

I arrive at CDG airport at 10 AM for my flight to Toronto scheduled departure at 13:05 on July 11.

(Flight would arrive Toronto at 3 PM on July 11 and I was scheduled to speak to 5000 people at 10 AM the next day, July 12.)

When I try to check in I am asked: “Do you have an eTA?” (An eTA is a newly introduced new process for “electronic travel authorization”, similar to ESTA in the USA.)

The problem was that I was not aware of this new procedure, which was introduced in November 2016. (And neither were A LOT of other passengers on the same flight I was booked on who all had to rip out their mobile phone to go online and register.)

(Now, let’s pause for a second and acknowledge that the responsibility to find out that I needed an eTA was 100% mine (not the clients, not the travel agent who booked the ticket, not the airline and not the speaking agency who booked the speech for me. I had missed that the rules had changed. But you would think that Air Canada would inform their passengers at point of purchase…)

I went online to register (“It only takes a few minutes” the website said.) only to get a message “flagging me” and saying that I was not accepted but had to “submit some more documents”.

Now the hell begun.

The email did not state WHAT document needed to be submitted and to be able to submit the document I had to register on a separate web service and “link” my eTA application to this other account – the problem was that that did not work.

And after trying for 5 times I get THROWN OUT of the service with a message that says: “you have tried to log in 5 times and are now blocked from logging in again for 24 hours…”

Ops.

No eTA (meaning the airline could not let me on the plane.)
No way to submit it until at least 24 hours has past (which is past my speaking slot already…)
No one to talk to (“this is a computer, you can not talk to anyone”, said the poor Air Canada women who with sadness in her voice communicated “there is nothing we can do, expect book you on a flight 24 hours from now” …

It was now past check-in time for my flight to Toronto and that was the last flight to Canada to arrive in time for my speech on the morning of the 12th.

What would you have done?

I called my agency and said: “I think we might have a bit of a problem…”

And then I added: “I just want you do be in the loop, now let’s see if I can fix this…”

I went to another Air Canada employee (Lesson: Never trust the information of just one airline employee in a crisis.)

He confirmed that there was no way to get to Canada BUT he then added: “It is only people who FLY into Canada who need eTA, if you drive in to Canada you do not need it…”

He then recommended I fly to Rochester in the north of New York, USA and then DRIVE into Toronto (!)

A glimmer of hope opened up.

Went online and googled “Flights from CDG to Rochester”.

Good News: Turns out there was a flight leaving with Air France at 4.40 PM arriving at 22.22 PM in Rochester.
It would then be a 3.30 hours drive from there to Toronto…

I would arrive at around 2.30 AM in Toronto.

(Luckily I have a ESTA for the USA already.)

Bad News: There were only tickets left in Premium Economy – and First Class (no business class seats left)

Premium Economy = 3300 Euro.

First Class = 8200 Euro (!) One way…

The client had already agreed on a budget for Business Class, the fault of not getting the eTA in time is mine, not theirs. What would you do?

Fly Premium Economy and give the savings back to the client – but risk not sleeping so well on the plane?

Bite the bullet and pay for the extra cost of the first class ticket out of your own money?

I bought the first class ticket…
The result being that my fee for speaking at this event went down considerably …

I have to take it on the “Leaning and development account”…

When I am in the First class lounge (eating lobster as it were) I decide to google a bit.

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Find out that there is also a flight from New York to Buffalo (which is more than one hour CLOSER to Toronto by car, and the flight arrives around the same time as the Rochester flight. That would save me more than one hour of driving = one more hour of sleep…

I rebook my flight.

(Lesson: Never trust airline personel to have your best option in mind, not because they are nasty, but because they might not be seeing your whole problem.)

Call client to tell them I have found a solution – and ask them to book me a car + driver to pick me up in Buffalo at 22.30 PM. (Looks like I will arrive in Toronto at around 1.30 AM. Which will give me 5,30 hours of sleep (+ all the sleep I will get on the flight.)

Fly first class on Air France to New York (nice, but not as nice as I had hoped, coolest part: getting a driver to drive me in a Jaguar to the plane.)

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Arrive in New York only to find out that the plane to Buffalo is delayed by 3+ hours…

(Good thing (!) I had decided to go for First Class ticket so that I could sleep well for the long Atlantic flight in a flat-bed.)

Arrive in Buffalo at around 2 AM and is met by my driver.

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Driver makes a few wrong turns but we finally drive in to Canada – without needing to show any eTA…

Arrive in Toronto at 3.30 AM.

Go to sleep at 4 AM.

Sleep 3 hours.

Wake up at 7 AM. Go down and meet the client – who is ecstatic that I have been able to solve the situation and arrive in time for my speech.

Do sound check, have breakfast, listen to the other internal speakers.

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And at 10.15 AM walk up infront of 5000 people and deliver my keynote speech. As promised.

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Final Lesson: Always, always, always make every effort that you can to make it to your speaking destination in time. Even if that means paying for a fist class ticket with your own money, flying in to the wrong country, or driving through the night to get to your destination. (or in the case of my little speaker war story as of yesterday: all of the above…

Bonus Lesson: Always google visa rules to make sure visa rules have not changed since you were in the county last…

Now at Toronto airport getting ready to fly back to Europe again.