Speaking Like You Love The Audience

Talent without Truth: Why less talented keynote speakers keep crushing you!

The Greatest Message Still Requires an Engaged Audience


Keynote speakers can only be great if they see the truth from the seats, not the stage or podium.

Often, and, specifically in this article, I value, your humility. You are learning what separates the greatest keynote speakers from everyone else; precisely concerning a keynote opening a day-long event. The event I have in mind is a conference on the importance of leadership and safety. The audience has the full-day schedule and in no way views the keynote, no matter your keynote skills, as a separate event, just the beginning of a long day of catered food and role-playing about safety and leadership. Honestly, the mindset of a mediocre keynote speaker with great platform skills, and the audience, he/she must win over, could not be more divorced. The audience is preparing for an entire day of events, not brand-name shoppers, generic only, the most cynical bottom 25% of the audience is simply going to do a mental pain scale; the longest activity is the worst. Meanwhile, top motivational speakers, among their colleagues, and speaker bureaus, are trying to balance a 45-minute masterpiece of engagement, humor, authority, and impact. It does not take a genius to figure out the problem.  Safety is extremely important, so is leadership, but spending an entire day learning about how leadership and safety affect anything without a crusher keynote removes the whole day of training and events and probably puts reading O.S.H.A. binders, a nose ahead for the audience.  I am giving you the challenge you face and the responsibility you must accept to become a dynamic and successful keynote speaker. I am assuming you have a keynote booked but either way you are not currently speaking; I hate to assume, but if you are speaking, you might be at the local bridge club, on a four-hour pass from Trembling Hills.  Fear not, you have the only, sin qua non, quality that is common to the very best keynote speakers; I have proof and as you read this it reads you. How could I have proof, please hazard a guess?  This is an unconventional article and it is my duty to engage you in a way, that, unfortunately precludes any personal relationship. Unlike my goal for you, my own desire, other than to guarantee that your dislike for me will reach taboo levels, around the time, you stop being best liked for the brevity of your banality. The insight is that right now there is no irony, we are both separated only by what matters, the fact that there is an apparent direct relationship between me becoming disliked proportional to your new marching orders, that you will take because, at this point, your ego’s defenses have created many lies, distortions, and other obfuscation pale in comparison to the infinite presence that humility keeps making us fight, and every fight ends with surrender. Great keynote speakers have a love of windows, while you have, perhaps in every room of your apartment, a full-length mirror.

I need you to go online and get yourself to the worst kind of success academy; where after a brief speech, you receive four pamphlets that will ensure you will be empowered with the ease and charisma of Urkle, and the name brand recognition of the a community bulletin board, if you send your 99.00 for the Golden winner’s club. I am trying to be funny but seriously, I need you to go see someone who is talking about something you despise by someone whose speaking skills could not get buy-in with their mother. If you can most quickly find a motivational speaker; that will also work. Now, open the door and sit in the far back. I know you have what it takes to follow direction, so drop my article and go see someone who is a caricature of getting a D+, the F seen as potentially increasing the chance that this duffer might transfer his soporific, lead touch in another occupation. You should start at the back of the room and slowly walk around; be a mild distraction. Only an immersive audience perspective, factoring every imaginable, distraction, and hopeless boredom stretching well beyond your own sense of mediocrity will do. You need to see the whole day like a seat polisher. If you have not found the hyperbole of bad, mundane will do. We cannot progress in our mission to be a top keynote speaker, and I would suggest you not finish this article until, your dream of scintillating your Safety and leadership event, with a keynote that makes your audience believe in engagement viscerally, is worth testing me out; oops I meant the audience. Did you catch that? What did you miss?  Do you let anyone communicate with you with such arrogance, almost taunting you to…? Look, if you do not, what comes after the dots, you still are on a proven road to becoming an elite keynote crusher. I would promise, but if you are still following direction; I do not have to. You know something is different but not how to turn it into a speaking skill or platform skill to match your talent, yes? If this sounds close, come a little further, because you are dead wrong. Something is different for certain, but you, well let’s be honest, I have you at a huge disadvantage, which, if you can benefit from what others taught me, you are still reading. What do you think it is? Why do less talented keynote speakers keep leaving you in the dust?

I am leaving clues everywhere but still you are reading which means you really want to get better. You are willing to be played with because you might be scraping by, you’re not losing because of your willingness, you might even have good speaking skills and platform skills.   The reason you are not satisfied; you have read books by other top motivational speakers and keynote speakers that do not know any skills you do not. What would you say if I told you that wherever you look, you change what you see; Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, quantum mechanics 101. Buddhists were saying something just as true, but valid to such more; and Heisenberg was a little late, the Buddhist monks had this 4,000 years ago. You and Heisenberg have something in common. I am with the dead Buddhists; well their writings anyway. They both are noticing something that cannot age, never changes, is free. and cares not if you benefit or fail. What is it?

It is the truth. Not “your truth” or anything to do with you, me, or Urkle. We can only align our imperfect, speaking skills, logistical support, and talent with the truth revealed if we live in humility. The revealed truth is that your focus has been on you, not the audience. Speaking, now, like you love the seats and respect engaging the people in them is all that your missing. We all know that if our audience is for any reason not energized, interested, or any lack of connection, your message is lost. The problem to the Buddhists, because their revelation easily covered Heisenberg’s scientific restricted interpretation with something that will not end your suffering, but it will give you the answer to all those rhetorical or not…?’s They said that once you are certain of something it escapes you, so live in the question. You are so focused on impressing speaker’s bureaus, other top keynote speakers that you have forgotten that talent is great; it is just not all it takes to become the best you can be.

What speaking skills or platform skills constantly your focus that the harder you try? Why are you not getting better when you are trying and practicing all the time? Do you want me to reveal what belief you have that is covering the truth you seek? I am annoying, myself, but, and this goes for any keynote speaker who worries about boring topics or personal improvement, the lie you need to shed is that you are your problem! No matter how great you look, how great your message, if you do not engage your audience, who cares if almost everyone is not listening. I hate when someone says I know how you feel, but I know how you feel.

The first time someone told me that the reason I had achieved academic accolades and was strangely and consistently still missing something, was because I did not really care about my students. This huge mentor almost got a developmental psychology can of whup-ass. I finally dropped my carefully affected, measured posture and admitted that I was missing something, but it did not logically follow that I used students as props in my own play. He said the most irritating incisive reply. He looked at me and sighed, saying “You would think, after 18 years in school, I would hope, you at least, could catch a mistake that obvious.” The brilliance, in two minutes, is, he had robbed my vanity of its public service veneer, I stood naked exposed as posing like I had sacrificed genius to educate even that one student. If I can reach just one, I am a success. I even had a quote, from a Jewish Rabbi concerning the Holocaust, “to save one life is to save the world entire.” My ego was bigger than my cool, graduate assistant affectation tool kit. Imagine comparing my flowery paraphrasing of Freud’s phallic stage; tired jokes about cigars, to a far more learned man discussing life and death in the face of unimaginable evil. I narcissistically kept guarding my ego thinking it was penance or perspective. I finally surrendered, I liked class, but down deep, I was lost. Now, I had outed my ego and all my sacrifices were really defenses. I never published, and you and I are meeting in the middle. Naked, stripped of our carefully orchestrated defense kit that unknown to us worked great. We were 100% shielded from success, fulfillment and we still wanted a mirror; windows could reveal truth. and he stripped my quietly prideful reason for such low pay, my student’s welfare, buck naked. I did not care about them. They were totally checked out, and all I wanted was some interest. I was a phony and my supposed friend left me to twist.

My fellow traveler, what happens when the windmills we tilt to see, disappear? We both caged our fear of success by “self-improvement”; a masquerade covering our ego until we finally forgot the fear, the decision, the dissatisfaction covering that was the eternal, unchanging truth, we can never forget, we just get better at lying, inventing, affecting; never mining the humility. The painful insight is all for not unless….. it went to what I thought was my best friend, my knowledge, my ability to use; I did not know. Remember, think like an audience member all day, not 45-minutes, schedules revealing that a two-hour training session after the buffet lunch. If you are honest, even giving you recognize the appropriate gravitas regarding safety and leadership, you would rather have a barium enema than choose which animal you are; and having to stand on a chair all afternoon while some piker is asking you to role-play.  This is what you are up against if you do not change your perspective. How are you going to not only “break the ice”, but light a fire under the audience in the first ten minutes, that can burn all day?  Speaking of breaking ice, you now, hopefully, glimpse how you will need to be on the boat to save the metaphorical Titanic. Before you get an attitude about my maritime comparison, remember, the world’s most famous example of misguided hubris is forgetting life boats for half the passengers after lying that the ship was unsinkable.

If your focus is on how great you are, and are introduced by some, if you are lucky client representative, but for my purpose, you get an audience member who drew the short straw. Guess what, he/she has a joke, and you are the encore everyone expects to, overcome an all-day safety and leadership event audience that were just asked “Why does the spider cross the road? To find its website.” Really? Who believes they are so fabulous that they can overcome the resulting sea of slack-jawed, hopeless faces worthy of a Russian documentary? The speaker-centric game plan begins by hoping to sustain the delusion by sheer talent. If you are not, at least (hear comes my educational affectation) a tip-of-the-tongue awareness of what truth you are missing, then, I am getting frustrated. Keep that mirror clean, Fabio. Keep brushing your hair while the audience is finding that you are unbelievably uncaring and could not care if they fell off a building; if your hair was right.

There are a few folks that can do this, but they are not reading this article; they built the website. The keynote better be a flame thrower, because the audience is learned helpless and it is only 30 minutes into the day; oops, I meant your part.  If you flowed right into, ‘oops, I meant your…” you can benefit from this because the great news is once you change your mindset, the audience will open theirs. Your talent opens a few eyes and then you try to open minds, that, you have not even considered, about how important safety is and how a great leader can make the whole company safer. Unless, you are so gifted, once again, you would not be reading this, so chin-up, by following simple and very difficult steps you will be able to see the benefit of an idea we will get to next week that I call “meme friction.” It is you evolving as keynote speaker, the artifice gone and raw ideas sparking as they shove false belief system out and the audience will be riveted. Not by you, but by your willingness to literally demonstrate that being wrong is the real progress. I guarantee you, this is what changes minds, clients will be climbing over each other to get to an authentic, humble tornado of audience engagement; you can beat the uber-talent. That is then, this is now, and you have blown the entire event.

I am not kidding. If your focus looks down on the audience, still, and you only worry about your part, you will continue calcifying in hermetically sealed jars, that an event, that was entertainment-deficient and on life support to start, really is of no account.  Even the most hopeful, obsequious starved to motivate middle-managers will barely nod with little enthusiasm. This will never due for you professionally or ethically. Surrender, now.

The only way your losing campaign to be a dynamite keynote speaker will end is to end your war with ego. I want you to know that no war ever ends until surrender comes and growth is possible. You might be thinking, ok, but why should I listen to an academic like me.  Because, I, like you realized that conventional rules of the game in academia were wanting. I went and helped at a few events with Jane “ice-breaker”, and I found what I was seeking and never found with a dual Masters in I/O and Developmental Psychology-the complete lack of friction in University. My audience existed only to prove I mattered. How can you approach real “buy-in” and be honest about the fact that everyone listening is believing the same lie I survived by; that they wanted me to teach and I had value because they were there. People, CEO’s and CFO’s of Fortune 500 companies were lit-up, when I watched my first, Jane “ice-breaker”, deliver an opening keynote, she modeled “meme friction”, she showed people who needed nothing that they could still evolve. Academia, worse, but like corporate culture in its inclination to trap talent. Years of tenure, corner offices, reserved parking spaces, box seats, office hours, and, of course, the edifice that housed me and that CEO. What I once saw as a mark of distinction, I now knew the truth. The bricks were pretense and the mortar artifice.  Myself, tired of the affectations, watched a wealthy CEO, realizing that with all his assigned validation, there was no fire; that is the problem; what you and I share. I wanted to be party to wrecking the persona I was grooming to my ego. I know you do too.

I know that is extreme, but I work with John “Crusher”, and no matter how much success he has, he always will jump on the best idea; “meme friction”, realized through humility, is why audiences listen to him with rapt attention.  You are reading this and now, I am sure you know that there is something which is helpful and always needed by many trusted, gifted, and proven crusher keynote speakers. Instead of turning into a “Bonfire of the vanities”, the friction of memes grinding against each other for the audience’s is what I consider any keynote speakers’ greatest strength; the humility to remember his client and his audience cannot benefit from the greatest idea in the world, if they are not kinetically connected with the messenger. If you asked Jane “ice-breaker” what her greatest strength is she would say “the value I see in you.”

So, I said this is simple but very difficult and I believe that you can become a snapping, sparking live wire of engagement, evolving with your audience to the moment, when one day,  your need to be right will appear as it really is “a mundane lie” that you eagerly shed to illuminate the truth in front of an audience that will share with you true synergy-measurable added value more than the sum of its parts. The difficulty is unlearning, pealing away the lessons that only leave you a clearer view of the truth. If you are a keynote speaker, I feel safe in assuming that you are driven by validation; to a certain extent. When you are used to a mirror, a window can reveal some painful realities. Do not spend one second fretting about wasted time. Dedicate however much time you need to become tolerably comfortable, even eager, to embrace all that covers the fire, the light, the truth that will literally reverse your job description. Crusher keynote speaker-note to self, your mission needs to be audience directed. Your new alliance. Excuse your tenacious willingness, to practice maintaining alignment with the furnace where egos go to die, and new stars are born. Now, we must start a revolution. Anything less than what I learned watching Jane “ice-breaker”, peal corporate prestige back only to reveal, a young man who had lost his spark. If an arrogant academic and a wealthy CEO, can scream like a teenager for Elvis it is time for Stella to get her groove back! You are Stella. I am not Taye Diggs.

You must have three qualities to turn your event into an experience that will change minds and rouse passion: Humility, Insight, and Courage.

You must continue your beginning by some more empathy strengthening. After blowing this event nary an ice cube was dropped. You put this in the past. You pick the least interesting but vital to business topic and then wear a suit, slap on a nametag, grab a bear claw, and welcome to audience-focused keynote speaking. You must go see other speakers and sit in the back and then attend whatever follows. Do this until you realize the fascist, horror of a bad keynote speaker. One that does not get that your experience auditing as an audience member is interdependent not less important than their performance. After four or five events, you should be ready to become a “back of the room” speaker. However, another lesson Jane “ice-breaker” has taught me is the belief that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. Jane “ice-breaker’s keynote on being on change epitomizes that although inertia is real, experience is like any other series of understandings, partly useful and just because you are older a little friction will work, you will evolve. My addition is just looking at the expression and wondering who has tried and failed repeatedly to teach older dogs, new tricks? I digress, that is more of that academic nonsense, I am still grieving.  Sharply, back to you, and depending on how long you languished, after each keynote, avoiding the audience and rushing to the nearest full-length mirror to swim in sartorial splendor, you are not going to be banished with the old dogs. Unfortunately, it is time to forget old goals, false priorities, and learn that there are three essential ingredients that are ordinal in practice and significance.  Before we begin, there is some fun to be had wrecking the edifices of our failure: some beliefs are simply wrong. We all hold them and the lighter we get, the more light we emit.

Humility is not weakness. It is the ability to get out of your own way and see things from every perspective. The typical industry expert thinks humility is being a wimp and thus another hypothetical speaker-centric keynote removed all hope for the burgeoning expectations of his audience by the tone, the pedantic style, and God help the training exercises later in the day, any real engagement will only be happening at a local bar. You never have to make the same mistake. You have heard that sanity is the belief that one can repeat the same action and get different results. Once, I realized that a window to my audience beats my beloved mirror, all day long, I knew that humility and sanity were almost synonyms; they both keep your perspective “right-sized.” You no longer have to fail because your expertise is its own gift. (see academia). Grab your audience by surprising them, use your talent and engage everyone with your passion for them. Every keynote speaker must know what their talent is and how to fully mine the potential.

Not everyone is funny. Not everyone is a great story-teller. The most important gift humility has given you is insight. How to use your talent and your best material remembering that your audience “buy-in” window is measured most accurately using humility to gauge the room, the length of events, and how the room feels from the seats; not the podium. The truth is that any topic, in the hands of the right keynote opener, can energize, engage, and open minds. You should be ready to demonstrate the courage appropriate to this challenge. Surveys show that safety is most entertaining when it fails; see Nascar or the old SNL skit Mr. Bill. If you have forgotten Mr. Bill, he was a Claymation character that inexorably fell victim to horrific safety tragedies that were hilarious and disturbing. If you are not funny, and cannot tell a story, you are in luck. The tipping point rests on how you can pull the false beliefs and really crack open an opportunity, a messy space for a mind to change in…

Let us take the worst-case scenario, you are not funny, your jokes make people laugh and say, “you are so funny”, universal for please stop, you suck. We will also assume you cannot tell a story that explains a simple idea; see several past Presidents. I do not want you to despair because these are both great engagement tools, but they cannot as one crooner sings “start a fire without a spark” because the fulcrum for greatness is to challenge, open, and help one, two, or all audience members not just change their mind but also re-purpose their approach to thinking. You have one chance but, oops its…fill in the rest. If you cannot at this point it is back to the Piker success committee’s annual campout; featuring Urkle “reloaded.” The truth is available all the time, forever, the only cost is a truck load of bad ideas and a gut shot to your real goal: removal of any part of your ego that blocks communion with the audience.

Perhaps the best approach is to challenge your audience. Safety systems and education are ignorantly looked at as a needless expense. The wooden concern box with the dangling pencil worked until someone ran into it and, well…For example, the truth is companies who lead with safety as a priority find that, far from red-tape and excessive over-head, great leadership and safety becomes their biggest profit engine!  If you are funny, and you can tell a great story, then you still should turn your audience’s false beliefs on their heads. If they still seem to be playing it safe, exaggerate, and by means of hyperbole use satire to clarify the fog between keeping everyone’s ego in place. Pause, sometimes this will, in an absence of anything, cause a vacuum where due to the French (who have mastered the art of exploiting people, getting their ass-kissed inevitably, and the people still want to become French citizens!) you might receive in a  je ne sai qua manner hold the attention of some, and then go nuts. Raise your voice and say, “Why waste money on marketing, safety is the answer to everything?” At this point, you will have engagement. Ironically, the egos in the audience will be bursting at the seams. If you were in the audience, what would you least like to hear next? I know you learned this…I am not sure I have.

Insecure academic social-science speak (I can say this because having two masters in a science that is more of an art has its rewards?) will lose everyone. You are new at this and your speaker-ego simply could not take zero engagement, no friction, nothing. Not being funny, no oral tradition, and zero buy-in and you could not and would not hold out for humility. You punished your boss for not criticizing your direct disobedience by going on a five-minute sociological “refreshing restatement of the obvious.” Calling unsafe environments, an opportunity to avoid hazards for people with diverse needs. From there, it got worse, you pressed on about systemic procedural dysfunction and how leadership prominently interacts symbiotically when they blame an incorrect modality for a shifting demographic labor pool. The only friction now is the audience gritting their teeth; you can and could have pulled this off but, and I am repeating it, the truth never changes, never ages, and does not care if we use its power. We, you and I, sometimes still need to be told that once revealed, we never forget the truth. When we cave to fear and do not summon the courage, we get better at lying running now from our ego and our conscience. Its harsh, but your first run was not only a complete failure by your old erroneous belief about a good keynote, it was also a lie, based on your frivolous discarding of revelation based on entitlement and ego. The great news is you cannot do worse than fail at your truth by abandoning the truth. Literally, you could sell T-shirts that said “Cuidado-Piso Mojado” but do to your backslide into the diametrical opposite of even having an opportunity to stink, with the proper audience first perspective, you are asking the audience to walk around and stand in the same spilled liquids you have to be in and have people slide and fall anyway because the speaker-centric designed product has the flaw of looking at a shirt instead of a big yellow sign covering the hazard. Right now, instead of “meme friction” you have unleashed an ego-constructed thought virus that has people at risk; unless they speak Spanish and hydro-plane well.

I told you and Jane “ice-breaker” would tell me and you that this is very difficult but always simple and available to…hold on…well you have made every possible mistake and combination of being wrong and invalid rendering your first effort unsound. I know I am playing now but it is perfectly, artistically wrong, has a Cartesian level of incompetence that your statistically implausible first try at becoming a great keynote speaker is un-sound. We will leave the no sound part. I feel badly because I have always worked as a consultant for Elite keynote speakers, never a keynote-speaker, so I have never had a re-formed academic kick my ass all over and then out of my “windy” arguments and I am having fun describing your humility, your insight, the 180 degree revolution in how you define your dream, and the courage to do everything, I have passed along as a disaster only an academic with a protractor could precisely render. I am a jerk. I also am slipping as I advise you, so I am going to borrow from John “Crusher”, that if we focus on our weakness, our failure, we will only feel weak. However, if we use one of our strengths as a platform to improve our weakness, we have a stronger opportunity to improve.

One of my strengths is enjoying other people succeed. Obviously, a weakness is emerging that I seem to also enjoy appearing witty at the expense of lampooning how artistically and precisely the nascence of an earnest, courageous, and humble persons metanoia in a vulnerable naked grasp at a life long dream has fallen flat on its ass. Use a strength, I like watching people succeed. So, should I go see John “Crusher” speak and then somehow empower the insidiously nasty weakness will disappear. I am sure this will work. I want you to succeed and would enjoy it if you did. So, the only way for us both to keep aligning with the truth is for me to go with you and sit in the audience in a University class; something hideously impractical and which could not squeeze a meme out of the late Francis Bacon. I got it, Cultural Psychology.  I want you to succeed in sitting through a two-hour exercise in creating a lexicon, a platform, and even some intentionally made-up nonsense that is ok because it might help under-represent how many dumb white men make much more money due to their majority privilege. If I can do this and you can do this maybe my weakness can get a little nudge from a strength of yours, I have noticed. You either want be the best keynote speaker you can, or you must hate my guts but either way even both; you seem grateful and have shown great humility and restraint withering in the continuous rhetorical firestorm to the point I wonder if you might be deaf.

Nothing beats opening a closed mind and it is doing it without “educating” the audience. Speakers who educate are great at one thing-failing and then teaching public speaking at the community rec center.  Before, I wrote this, I remembered the worst speaker I can recall. He said no speaker can save boring material. He had it backwards: No matter how great the material it could not survive his total lack of engagement with his audience! He would insult audience members as if the information he had, self-evidently allowed him to insult the chosen few. He is memorable, it is difficult to be diametrically opposed to the revealed truth about truth through humility; but he did it with gusto.

The idea that great leadership and safety cannot be a worthwhile expense but a dynamic source of profit, will guarantee you that a clear majority of your audience will awaken, because you have challenged and thus fully engaged them. They were prepared to be bored, depressed, uncomfortable, but challenged, no way. So, you have “buy-in” but it is not ideal. Follow that with the iron-clad statistical connection showing safer employees are 43% more productive and great leaders know that if you combine engagement and safety you increase not only productivity, you make more money, and save overhead in needless training costs because engaged, productive, valued, and safe employees are much easier to retain.

Now, most of what made you great was not your topic, it was your approach. You did not take your audience for granted, you had the humility to accurately set the bar based on your audience, not your ego. The greatest impact was realized by your courage. It takes courage to have a standard based on humility, gauged with insight, and meant to prepare everyone for the entire day. If you can accept the truth, align your talent and skill, and accept responsibility not just to break the ice, No. The topic is important to your client and you will not be satisfied with anything other than checking-in everyone and opening minds that used to be closed.

I know this might seem unrealistic. If it does you probably have trouble lowering your standards fast enough to match your dive into obscurity. If you want to be great you must make your audience feel great. If you want to not just achieve success but become successful, your ego is your enemy. Use your talent but only as it aligns with the truth you will find about your audience with humility, insight, and courage. If Richard Simmons could become the number one exercise guru in the United States, you should realize that the power and key to success as a keynote speaker or fitness guru is not on the surface; it is not how flashy your topic is, nor what you look like. The key to hitting the right note every time is humility, the truth is never invented it is revealed. It takes humility to search for what matters to your audience, forgetting yourself, and following what is revealed.

You are no longer burdened with the ego’s most insidious lie:
“Being the best me I can be makes me the best for others, too.” If you have a more community before individual failure. The audience the people the group you are trying to reach is now your purpose. The message I will leave you with is that your talent can achieve success but why limit yourself? Align your talent with whatever humility reveals about your topic and audience. You will surprise yourself with the timeless, fixed, and immutable power of the truth. If you remember your audience determines your truth, your success will have no limits.

Benjamin Atkinson, Consultant and Business Developer

Wynn Solutions










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