How a Keynote Speaker Prepares for an Event

Are you interested in keynote speaking, growing your business or learning methods to getting hired for large scale events and conferences?

Maybe you’re a conference planner and you want to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into how keynote speakers prepare for such events?

If you answered yes to one of these scenarios – then this post is for you.

Alongside strategic advisory and consulting, I am a customer experience and employee engagement keynote speaker. In just a short period of time, I’ve gone from giving speeches as a hobby to being compensated for my skill set. I started keynote speaking about four years ago – and during that time, I learned what works for me and what doesn’t. Everyone has their own way of doing things – but these are some of the tactics that never let me down. You can use some of these right away – and apply them to your own style and process.

When I first started, the only real advantage I had was I knew my topic inside out. I didn’t have a background in communications and never attended a Toastmasters course. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t have any background in public speaking. To pick up this new skill, I watched videos of comedians (they’re pro presenters) and closely studied YouTube clips of renowned speakers such as, Gary Vaynerchuk, Scott Mckain, Seth Godin and others. I took notes and analyzed their styles and methods of delivery. I put in hundreds of hours into this craft – I wanted nothing more than to polish my public speaking.

Today, I’m represented by the National Speakers Bureau. I speak in front of hundreds of audiences and I travel the world speaking to companies at annual business conferences.

When it comes to keynote speaking, I have three key focuses:

  • An audience-first mentality
  • An easy-to-work-with personality
  • A direction set on growing organically  

Audience-first mentality: As a keynote speaker, you have to be selfless. It’s never about you – it’s always about the audience. Are you able to deliver value, inspire and educate? After all, the people facing you have set aside 60 minutes (more or less) to hear you speak. You must come in and make it worth their while. You must come in with value. Always have an “audience-first” mentality when prepping for your keynote or presentation.

Easy-to-work-with personality: As a keynote speaker, you work closely with a conference committee and conference planners. Remember, they have a ton of other options and are busy with other responsibilities pertaining to the event. Be pleasant, likeable and easy to get along with. Don’t become their headache. Always show gratitude and humility – even once your speaker fee has reached a price tag of $100,000 per speech.

A direction set on growing organically: I never make cold calls to promote my keynote speaking services. I simply deliver on my promises, exceed expectations and gain referrals. As a speaker, this has to be your primary motivation – organic growth is highly profitable. The only way to do so is to continuously deliver value, earn referrals, secure repeat business and collect positive testimonials.

Michel was a consummate professional at all times while his presentation displayed his deep knowledge on the subject matter. He was very engaging and he was terrific at integrating humour and anecdotes at the appropriate moments to further draw the audience into the message.

– Confirmit


For the past four years, I’ve been refining my approach – ensuring that my process is sharp. I’ve now solidified a 6-step approach to keynote speaking.

  1. Discovery Call

My speaker requests usually come from my website contact form. Once the request is received, my SLA is to respond the same day and book a discovery call. A while ago, I received bad advice suggesting that I should wait to respond in order to avoid appearing “overly available.” But hey, I’m not trying to romance the customer – there’s no reason to play “hard-to-get”. As I grow my business, a quick response time is not just smart – it also has a positive influence on the prospective customer. The competition out there is fierce. If they don’t hear from you, they may move on to the next best thing.

During the discovery call, I ask a series of questions to better understand the audience, motivations, challenges and expectations. The best question you can ask a conference planner is:

“By hiring me, how will success be defined?”

Understand what you must aim for and work backwards from that. Conference committees and planners absolutely love this because it shows that you are thinking ahead. You’re thinking about them as opposed to yourself. This aligns with the “audience-first” approach.

  1. Mapping

Once I fully understand the scope of the engagement, I sit in front of a whiteboard and map out my speech. I win engagements over other people, because none of my speeches are “out of the box.” They are all customized. Always.

Speakers do not provide enough value to just have one speech prepared and delivered on repeat. Often, the speech is recorded and shared on YouTube. Audiences can be exposed to your messages before the event. If they are able to recite your speech, know your key talking points and jokes. I don’t think I need to emphasize this, but this form of delivery is not very effective. Personally, as a speaker, I would be bored to death doing the same speech dozens of times each year. This would prevent me from exceeding expectations.



When I map out the engagement, I break up the presentation into three parts: opening, core and closing. After the discovery call, I always have a sense of the direction I want to go in. Once the mapping session is fleshed out, I’m able to visualize the speech from beginning to end.

  1. Dry Runs

I practice my speeches and do dry runs. I don’t like slide decks because it prevents pivoting when I need to. I also find myself obsessing over the flow of the slide deck, coming across as too rehearsed. However, if a conference committee mandates a slide deck than I oblige. If I’m using a slide deck then I do dry runs with it and flip through as I’m rehearsing.

image2 (8)
March 2016 : running through trails in Vancouver.

If I’m not using a slide deck, I go for runs and rehearse. This is something that’s still very new to me. I thought it would be a good way to change things up – and so far, it hasn’t failed me. Mapping my engagement quickly gets me to a place where I know what I want to say. Then, I put my headphones in, listen to music, run – and find that same stride in my speech.

Running and rehearsing allows me to mentally walk through my speech, practice the flow and visualize my success. It prepares me to think quickly and pivot – all while releasing endorphins. When it’s time to deliver my speech, my mind goes back to that time when I was running, practicing and feeling really good. This positive feeling transfers to when I’m on stage – it puts me in the right mindset. I’m not sure if there’s a science behind this, or a direct correlation – but, it works for me.

When it’s time to hit the stage, all I need to do is talk – which is far less complicated than doing that and running. It’s like when baseball players use a weighted bat as they stand on-deck waiting their turn to step up to the plate. I do the same. I purposely challenge myself when I practice. Once it’s go time – I hit a homerun.

Disclaimer: It never occurred to me that I’m a natural multi-tasker. Now, as I rehearse – I run (rain or shine), listen to my favourite beats and practice an hour long presentation in my head (dodging both cars and people as I do this). Please don’t try this unless you’re also comfortable juggling multiple things at once.


  1. The Day of the Keynote



There are several things to unpack here. I’ll explain step-by-step:

  • I don’t practice the day of the keynote. I never want to second guess myself or change my speech – it’s much too late for that.
  • I exercise at the hotel gym or go for a run to release endorphins – it keeps me feeling confident.
  • I eat light. As much as I love eggs, bacon and hash browns for breakfast, I also don’t like feeling bloated when I’m presenting.
  • Just before heading to the venue, I search the conference hashtag. If one comes up, I like to film a short video with my iPhone saying hello or tweeting at people who are on there engaging with others.
  • I arrive at least an hour before my engagement. Conference committees pay you very good money to speak and you should acknowledge that by providing them tremendous value. Arrive early to greet the conference planners and introduce yourself to the audience. Sometimes I don’t even tell audience members who I am and ask them questions like, “What are you looking forward to the most in the keynote?” This doesn’t always work because conferences market you to their audience ahead of time. You’re easily recognizable.
  • 10 minutes before I hit the stage I isolate myself from everyone. I don’t talk to anyone and I listen to music that gets my heart rate going and my adrenaline pumping.
  • The first two minutes of any speech are vital. I’m often asked for advice when it comes to keynote speaking. My recommendation is that you focus on those first two minutes. If you can’t hook your audience immediately then it’s increasingly difficult to win them back later.
  • At first, I speak slower than usual so that I can read the room and find my footing – then, I pick up the pace.

I take pride in everything that I do and I want to be the best. I think part of the reason that I’m good at speaking is because I also followed a process when I played sports. There are a lot of parallels between getting ready for a big game and preparing for a keynote presentation.

  1. After the Event


Speakers shouldn’t bolt for the exit immediately after their keynote. I think it’s disrespectful to the audience and doesn’t provide enough value to the people who hired you on.

After a keynote, I stay for an additional hour (sometimes longer), shake hands with the audience and continue to answer questions. All questions can’t be answered during the allotted 15 minute Q&A portion of the engagement. Also, some audience members don’t feel comfortable asking questions in front of their peers or large audiences – stick around for some one-on-one time.

I do my best to stay and listen to other speakers at the conference because I know I can also learn a lot from them. Last year, I spoke for Vistage in Cincinnati and I scheduled my itinerary to watch Cameron Herold and Mike Maddock speak. They are both great and I learned a ton. It’s free education – why not do this?

  1. The Debrief Call

After the engagement, I host a debrief call to facilitate a feedback session with the company or organization that hired me (sometimes this happens immediately after the talk while I’m still onsite).

This may sound strange, but I don’t think I hit it out of the park with anything. Let me explain. When I dedicate myself to something, my ultimate goal is to be a top performer. This dates back to when I was a call center agent – I wanted to be the best. In order to achieve greatness (side note: consider reading Lewis Howes’ book), I don’t ask about what I did well until after discovering where I could improve. The three questions I ask are:

  • What was the audience feedback like?
  • Was I easy to work with?
  • How do you think I can improve?

I used this same approach when I played hockey. If I scored three goals in a game, I would first ask my coach how I could get better instead of relishing in my success. Don’t get me wrong, when I achieve epic milestones, I’m the first to pop open a bottle of champagne to celebrate.

Once I’ve learned where I can improve, I transition into focusing on my strengths. It’s very important to understand your strengths so that you can continue to deliver that value and build upon what you already do so well. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

Final thoughts

I’m grateful to be a keynote speaker. I’m thankful when someone wants to work with me – it’s flattering that people care about what I have to say about customer experience and employee engagement.  

I’m in a particularly unique situation. As a customer experience consultant, I’m entrusted to teach companies how to improve their customer experience. The service I provide my clients with must be legendary – but I know that it is also heavily scrutinized. I welcome that scrutiny. I believe that all keynote speakers need to offer a Ritz Carlton-like experience to conference committees and planners. Having this 6-step process helps – it provides a method and a structure that can be followed time and time again.

Do you have any questions on how to keynote speak or how to prepare for an event? If so, contact me directy, leave a comment below or tweet at me.

Keynote Speaking