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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.