My main focus on the blog is to share my own insights and knowledge about how to become a global speaker, but this week I will share not one, but two, posts about what I learned about global keynote speaking from another speaker: Brenda Bence. Brenda is a good friend of mine and perhaps the most professional professional speaker I know.

This last Saturday I was part of the team that organised the CSP Academy where Brenda Bence and Tom Abbott spoke. Both Brenda and Tom (and I) are CSP’s (Certified Speaking Professionals) at we had a full day of great learnings. In this post I will focus on Brenda’s session because she did something I really love: she dissected a keynote in detail, and I think that is one of the best ways to really learn about the magic skill of creating a great keynote.

Here is some of the things I learnt from that dissection:

In the intro: Make a promise.

The beginning of a speech is not about creating rapport with the audience, building credibility of yourself as a speaker, or explaining what your speech will be about. All of that can be in an intro too, but Brenda made the point that the MAIN purpose of the opening of a speech is to Make a Promise, a promise to the audience of what they will get out of this speech if they decide to pay attention. The speech should then deliver on that promise.

When asking a question.

a) Avoid questions that start with “Why…”

The word “Why?” is a more negative word than “who, where, when, what” etc.

b) Turn “yes/no” questions into open questions.

Instead of asking: “Have you ever spoken to a weird group as a speaker?” Brenda asked: “What is the most strange audience you have ever spoken to?” (For the first question the people who answer “no” are lost after they say “no” since they feel the speech is not relevant to them.)


When telling a story about what happened to you, let the audience into your head when you tell the story (in other words play out the inner voice in your head that you heard when it happened. That helps the audience feel like they are there in the story with you).

When telling a story consider NOT having a picture to illustrate your story as having a picture guides the audience mental picture. Without an picture they have to imagine what it looked like, and as Brenda said: “Our imagination is much more fun than any picture.”

Build your speech around a few pillars and build each pillar with a Core Question. End each pillar with a Foundational Phrase: a phrase that summarises your point in a way that is easy to remember, has a good rhyme and rhythm to it. (Like “If you don’t stack up… It all falls down” or “Show up best for your Guests” or “If you doubt… they will leave you out.”

As Brenda put it: “If there is nothing to easily remember you will not be a memorable speaker.”

About presenting.

If you start to doubt on stage Brendas advise was: “Get out of your head and into your heart.” and that is just so true.

About how you talk to the audience.

Build your speech so that the speech is about the message to the audience, not about you.

(She gave the example of, if for example you need to speed up your delivery due to time constraints, you should say: “Buckle your seat belts because the messages will be coming at you quickly…” instead of saying: “Buckle up, I am going to talk fast.”

Same with your intro: Do not write a speaker intro that is about you and your bio, instead write an intro that is about how what you have done will help the audience. As Brenda put it (in one of her “Foundational Phrases”: “Put the process on the pedestal – not the person.”)

About collecting stories.

Here I will just quote Brenda: “You have to have Objective Curiosity. Life is just one big story so always keep a notebook or some post-it notes near by and write down every story that lives throws at you that you might be able to use. It’s a privilege to collect stories.”

I agree with every word she said.

About what to do when your time is cut short just before you go on stage.

If you are suddenly given a shorter time than was originally agreed then do not rush your speech, instead re-write it in your head and make it a new, shorter speech. Rushing a speech, or skipping over parts to make it to the end is cheating the audience, and to quote Brenda again: “”Do not cheat the audience. They can feel it and they do not deserve it.”


In part two (published later this week) I will share what I learnt from Brenda by having a one-hour one-on-one interview with her in Hong Kong a while back where she talked about the business side of her speaking business. Do not miss that post.


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