Today I meet with Bob Mittelsdorf, an experienced trainer on Project Management for 20+ years who was interested to learn from me how he could transition to a keynote speaker. (I more or less only do keynote speeches, and mostly at global or international conferences for global audiences.)

Now let’s start by making one thing clear: Being a trainer is not, in any way, easier, simpler or less “professional” than being a keynote speaker.
If anything it is harder to be a great trainer than a great keynote speaker.

But for some reason “keynote speaking” as a nicer ring than “trainer” for many and many trainers want to transition to becoming keynote speakers.

In these times of Summer Olympics let me make a comparison.

Being a keynote speaker is like being a “100 meter runner”: It is a “main event”, full of energy and focus . It’s over in a flash – and the performers (let’s call them that) are some of the biggest stars of the event.

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Being a trainer is like being a “3000 metres steeplechase runner”: It’s hard, tedious work, it drains you of energy and goes on for a long time – and the practitioners are usually not stars at all, even though their achievement in many ways is bigger than their more famous colleagues who run for 100 meters.

I totally get why trainers want to become keynote speakers, and many trainers are very well suited to become keynote speakers (since they tend to have a very deep understanding of their subject) but at the same time we have to remember that being a trainer is not the same as being a keynote speaker. (Just like a 3000 meter runner can not just suddenly decide to compete in 100 meter sprints.)

Keynoting and training are different, which means that selling yourself as a Keynote speaking is different from selling yourself as a training.
But how?

That is the purpose of this post, and I will illustrate it with what I said to Bob.

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As an expert trainer on Project Management Bob knows exactly how to talk to Project Managers about Project Management.
The problem is that there is a very, very slim change that the organisers of a keynote speech at a big annual conference for a big company decides that “Project Management” should be the theme for their external keynote speaker.

Not because Project Management is not important – hell, if you ask me project management is what gets things done in a company, so of course it is a very important message.
But my point is that that is not the kind of theme that people who organises annual conferences think that the conference should focus its keynote speech on.

I said to Bob: “People outside project management do not care about project management, so you need to redefine what you talk on to make it a more universal subject.”

Bob said: “So I should call it “Project management for managers?” or “The business of project management?”

And I replied: “No. You are not allowed to use the words “project management”. Not in your title – not even in your speech.”

The reason is that a keynote speech (most of the time) benefits from leaving the “practical” and instead speaks to the audience from a more general and higher level.

If you are a trainer who train on “Presentation skills” then your keynote should be on “Making an impact” or “The Power of being Understood.”

If your theme as a trainer is “team building” then your keynote should be on “The Power of Together.”

If your theme as a trainer is “Diversity” – then your theme as a keynote should be “From Man to Human”.

And so on.

I challenged Bob to write a full 45 minute keynote speech on project management that did not mention the words “project” nor the word “management” a single time.

I suggested the title “How Business Gets Done” for his speech and that he then would use all the knowledge he has about project management to build a speech around examples of how successful things get done (from the chaos of creating 7-course dinners at 3-star kitchens to buildings of airports and the Great Wall of China (which all are examples of different types of project management, of course.)

I asked him how he would describe what project management is for someone who has never heard the phrase and Bob smiled and mentioned a quote he has in his office from Eeyore (from Winnie the Pooh). It says: “Brains first then hard work.”

That’s what project management is. (Eeyore says it during a story where Winnie and friends need to build something in one of the Winnie the Pooh stories.

I encouraged Bob to go out and find inspiring stories of successful companies, managers or other people who had succeeded by planning and then executing something and to then talk about these examples with his project management knowledge as support but in a style that inspires people to create great things, not to feel that they just listened to a training on project management.

In a simplified way you can say that “Trainers train” and “speakers inspire”. So in a way you could say that trainers get people to learn and speakers get people to want to learn.

And that’s why selling a keynote is different from selling a training course. You are not selling the training. You are selling inspiration.


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