September 04, 2014
Over the last decade, I've had the opportunity to be the opening keynote speaker at over 300 conferences, meetings and conventions around the world. Agents at speaker bureaus instinctively knew to recommend me when a meeting planner was "looking for someone to set the tone for our event." Instead of defining my current vocation as professional speaker, I think of myself as a Conference Kickoff Specialist.
Why me? I have enthusiasm, offer business-action content and have the right message (from Love Is the Killer App). I find a way to validate the theme of the event and highly customize my keynote address to connect with speakers or sessions to follow over the course of the event. Besides, I'm not afraid to speak at 8am, even to non-morning people.
I've been studying the art of the Opening General Session for several years now, and have a perspective about them. First, it's important to understand the purpose of conferences and conventions: They are the engine of innovation and human connections for an organization or industry. In just a few days, you can create hundreds of friendly collisions, which lead to new ideas and robust relationships. This is why they exist, even when times are tough.
If that's the charter, then what is the role of the Opening General Session? It encourages attendees to share knowledge with each other. It sets the stage with a theme, objectives for the event (often learning oriented) and if successful, generates a thirst to learn and teach. The session should also encourage networking and if possible, give insights on how to make meaningful connections. If the session drives these two activities (Knowledge sharing and Networking), then the event will drive real value that lasts long after the buffet food is digested and surveys are completed.
If you look up the definition of keynote, you'll find my role in that session: A prevailing tone or central theme, typically one set or introduced at the beginning of a conference.
What would I likely talk about if I was the keynote speaker at your Opening General Session?
Example: Here's a clip from my keynote address at the opening general session for the Association of College and Technical Educators. My goal was to get them hungry for the rest of the program content and eager to connect with each other.
I'd love to open your next conference or convention. Please suggest me to your meeting planner or speaker bureau agent. For more information, contact me.Tweet
November 12, 2010
This is the central message of my keynote speech for a corporate event next week. The company has a lot of bright people, from HQ out to the edges, and it's more important than ever for everyone to feel empowered. They need to believe they can make a difference via individual contribution and especially, innovation.
During my keynote, I'll explain that one person (or a small group) can move the company forward either by process innovation (save money, increase quality) or value creation (find new ways to make the customer happy, beyond price cutting). In other words, come up with new ways to increase the health of the business.
I think the leaders are smart to bring me to in talk about this because it's a very important topic these days. The economic environment has beaten us down, putting us in survival mode and leading us to believe that we are only a small part of the puzzle. It's very natural to feel that way, especially if you work at a mid-large company in the field or a far flung office.
But if you look at the history books of companies that were turned around or propelled forward, they are filled with stories of non-executives that led an innovative revolution at work. One engineer suggested that Google's mission statement be "Don't Be Evil." One store manager in Mississippi inspired a CEO to push-the-button on the largest corporate sustainability program in history. The power of one is irrefutable. The problem remains, though: "How does one person change the world at work?"
This is something I've been researching, giving keynote speeches on and consulting with companies about. It's really a matter of personality, passion and process. During my talk for this company, I will focus on the process side of it -- How do we innovate the business?
1 - Keep your eyes open for solutions. Your ears (and your inbox) will be full of details RE the problem. Everyone likes to talk about that. If you dig hard enough into the details, like Don Ostler did at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, an obvious solution will jump out of the pile.
2 - Tie it to the business, and keep-it-short. Solutions should either save money or increase revenue. If you aren't doing one or the other, you aren't going to be strategic to the Finance function of your company. And believe me, you need a friend at the bank. In the case of Diane Ball at Delnore Community Hospital, she sold the leadership stress management for nurses with a case built on retention (there was 30% turnover in nursing) and how it saves money on recruiting and onboarding. The COO jumped on a plane, attended a Heartmath training session, and implemented it immediately.
3 - Build a team and spread out. This is how Joan Krujewski did it at Microsoft: She had an agenda to make the company the greenest one in the world. She started in the hardware B.U., using a power point presentation to get green-minded softies to identify themselves. She corralled them into a network that represented key functions of the unit: Sales, engineering, packaging, etc. Then they spread out to other BUs (operating system, software group) and in the end, several hundred people innovated product packaging and environmental management.
4 - Go Martin Luther on the brass. This is a last resort measure, but works in a pinch. At Motorola, sales director Art Sundry got fed up that the Japanese were killing his business due to quality and price (which was virtuously dropping due to good quality and low rework). At a national leaders summit, he raised his hand and asked Paul Galvin Jr. (son of founder) why the meeting was spending more time on quality. When asked why, Sundry shouted, "Because we make junk!" The rest of the meeting centered on quality and within a year, Six Sigma was born.
I can't wait to give this talk, as The Power Of One is one of my favorite subjects to evangelize. If you'd like to spark this thinking inside your company, please contact me with suggestions of meetings you are having where I'd be a fitting keynote speaker.