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Opening Keynote

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Warm up Your Listeners - Opening Keynote

Some of the best speakers I know employ a tried-and-true technique for warming up an audience: getting them to offer applause, three times, early in the session. For example, I recall someone effectively using this approach: "Let's give a hand for the food service people who prepared and delivered our breakfast this morning. Also let’s recognize the people at (organization) who flew me in to be here with you. How about a round of applause for them? Last, and certainly not least, how about yourselves? You took time out of your busy schedules to be here. Let’s have a round of applause for everyone here."
At this point, what audience wouldn’t be focused, ready to listen, applaud, and have a good time?

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Lesson Learned Watching Taylor Swift - Opening Keynote

I almost titled this article, “Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Performance I Learned by Watching Taylor Swift,” except that I had learned most of what I needed to know long before she came along. Still, you can’t help but marvel at the young lady’s ascension.

She is one of the biggest pop stars in the world, heading toward a level of super-stardom that is almost incalculable. Her tours sell out the largest concert venues around the world and, in some cases, soccer and football stadiums.

I am not a fan in particular, although I do admire several of her songs, including “Forever and Always,” “Sweeter Than Fiction,” “Safe and Sound,” “Style,” “Blank Space,” and “Welcome to New York.” What captures my interest is her unflagging determination to offer a superior performance every time.

When Taylor Swift was 14 and 15, apparently she and her parents made the rounds to many TV and recording studios in Hollywood and Nashville asking if she could offer a live demo. Most producers said no and summarily dismissed her. The takeaway is that at an early age she had already intended to be a star performer. Today, she’s simply living out her dream.

Forever and Always
I saw her for the first time on “Saturday Night Live,” about six years ago. I only caught her performance midway but was mesmerized. Here was a tall, slender, teenage girl, not with the world’s greatest vocals, wailing away on a song called “Forever and Always.” She had such conviction in her singing that I, and apparently millions of others, was captivated. Who was this young lady? How did “SNL” find about her so early?

In observing her professionalism, one can’t help but marvel that she has mastered virtually all the techniques of effective performance. Among dozens of things she does exceedingly well, here are some worth contemplating for speakers:

Ten Tips
1. Taylor Swift’s stage presence is extraordinary. She most definitely owns the stage. Wherever she is appearing, for whatever size audience, under whatever conditions, you feel as if she is totally comfortable.

2. Her energy level is extraordinarily high and focused. You could say this about many singers, but if you watch any Taylor Swift performance you’ll quickly notice that she uses all 5’10″ of her height and all 122 pounds of her weight in her performance.

3. Her movements are coordinated and appropriate to the song, the audience and the venue. Objectively, she does nothing out of the ordinary, but she prances and moves about on stage in a way that keeps the audience riveted. Obviously, she has worked out all of this well in advance, and the preparation pays off.

4. Her connection to the audience is amazing. Through gestures, eye contact and a variety of other stagecraft techniques, you get the sense that she is totally there, in every performance. Some singers and performers allow you to watch. Some induce you to watch. Taylor Swift performs in way that all you want to do is watch.

5. Unbeknownst to many, she is a virtuoso pianist and plays other instruments as well. This capability helps, even during songs when she is not playing any instrument. When she does employ her guitar she is totally comfortable with it.

6. She is a student of performance. Recently asked to be a coach on the hit television show “The Voice,” she astounded the four regulars coaches -- Adam Levine, Gwen Stefani, Pharrell Williams and Blake Shelton -- by instantly assessing their team members’ practice sessions and, in a matter of seconds, offering insightful suggestions that immediately improved their performances.

Note: If you haven’t seen “The Voice” episodes when Taylor Swift was coaching, go online to the many segments available on YouTube. Although she’s only 25 years old (born in December, 1989), she has stated that she makes mental notes of every performance she’s seen, whether at the American Music Awards, the Country Music Awards or the Grammys. She didn’t go to college, but she certainly is an excellent student and her unparalleled performance wisdom belies her tender age.

7. She is constantly evolving. Whether or not you like her music, if you take the word of top critics and music aficionados, it’s undeniable that each album has gotten better. She recently made the choice to forsake country music and focus on pop music, whereas she had been straddling the line for years. Her latest album, “1989,” the year of her birth, has won critical acclaim from the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Time magazine, among legions of other publications.

8. As far as one can tell, she is down-to-earth. During an interview on the “Jimmy Kimmel Show,” she stated that album reviews do matter and any artist who says they don’t is not being honest. How she maintains an air of humility and that common-person touch probably can be attributed to her parents. At some point, however, you have to concede that the young lady has what it takes in terms of looks, personality and sufficient talent to make herself a star.

9. As her fans -- Swifties -- know, and many critics have lamented, her songs are highly personal, representing her relations with men, with friends and her life’s events. Because she is self-disclosing, many fans gave her an immediate pass. Today, it is understood that Taylor Swift writes songs from her personal experiences that have meaning for her and, happily, also have meaning for her listeners.

10. Taylor Swift lives in the now and has a focus on the future. Her decision to abandon country for pop was done with the realization that she’ll be in the business for the long haul and that the popular music route will enable her to grow and expand in novel ways. In past decades, many performers who have attempted to leave one music genre for another have not always fared so well. Taylor Swift made the switch young enough to recover from any potential setback but with the success of “1989,” apparently has already leapfrogged over that hurdle.

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Monday, December 08, 2014

Stick to Schedule - Opening Keynote

Strive to be the one speaker at their meeting or convention who gets the meeting back on schedule. If you were scheduled for 60 minutes and you're given 42, still end at the original time, on the button.

It's an old saw that few speakers are ever penalized for speaking too little. Many are penalized in the minds of their listeners for speaking too long. You can become a hero to the host or meeting planner and possibly the larger group, by getting them back on track.

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Monday, December 01, 2014

Speakers Who Eliminate Risk - Opening Keynote

“Consider the risks a buyer faces if the speaker he or she hires doesn’t fulfill the desired outcome,” says sales trainer Ron Karr. “I once received a call from a client looking to hire me. He talked about how he always holds his breath when the speaker takes the stage, because his neck is on the line. Now that is a risk.”

If a meeting costs a company $500,000 to produce, Karr notes, including travel, meeting location, food service, and so on, the meeting planner is under intense pressure to ensure the group has the best speaker(s) available to generate a proper return on investment.

The risks of the organization not achieving its overall objectives, such as a 10% increase in sales, or the attendees learning a set of skills or leaving with a renewed attitude, is considerable. So, what does a good speaker have to offer? A desirable outcome and return on investment.

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Work With a Speakers Bureau - Opening Keynote

Key advantages of working with a speakers bureau include the following:

Should the situation arise in which you are not happy with the speaker's performance or any other aspect of your interaction with the speaker, you have a legitimate third party, the bureau, to handle your concerns. You are in a position of even greater leverage because it is in the bureau's best and long-term interest to ensure that you are happy. The bureau's loyalty is to you – you are the customer – not the speaker they assign to meet your needs. Some speakers never quite understand that, but the bureaus have a very clear understanding of who signs the checks.

In the rare event that the original speaker cannot make the appointed date, the bureau can more easily get you the right back-up speaker than if you face this task by yourself, especially at the last minute. Many bureaus require speakers to sign various pledges indicating, for example, that they will abide by certain travel expense limitations, not use offensive or off-color language, and so on. In this manner, working with the bureau affords many more protections than you might otherwise have when working with a speaker directly.

The bureau can also help enforce your policies regarding selling from the platform and engaging in other types of promotional behavior. A small percentage of speakers will flat out upset the tone of your meeting by using a portion of their time in front of your group to engage in aggressive marketing. The incidence of this happening when retaining speakers through a bureau is far less, and for the most part can be eliminated all together.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Conference Calls - Opening Keynote

Is anyone paying attention to your conference call? Probably not: An illuminating article in the Atlantic offers startling news about what occurs on the other end of your conference calls. "More than 60 percent of respondents in survey admitted to doing other work or sending an email while on a conference call." So, each of us needs to be highly compelling to capture and hold the attention of the people on the other end of the line.

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Monday, November 03, 2014

Creativity Counts - Opening Keynote

I know people who will take courses on topics completely out of their field, who try new dishes at restaurants, and who strive to keep themselves open to new ideas. The odd and wonderful thing is you can do all kinds of new and different activities in your personal life that will serve to stimulate your creativity at work, break free of attachment, and overcome the inertia of immobility when you want to get things done. Here are a few ideas:

At work:
* Take a planned 15-minute break twice daily
* Eat away from your desk
* Brainstorm with people not in your department
* Furnish your workspace with plants, pictures, or art that inspires you
* Learn some aspect of the organization that is completely foreign to you

Away from work:
* Change your magazine subscriptions
* Read a literary novel or epic
* Dress differently for different occasions
* Relax on your porch
* Install a hammock in your backyard

In general, to develop your awareness:
* Take an impromptu weekend trip to someplace you haven't visited
* Enroll in a course
* Join a book discussion group
* Volunteer at a charity
* Take up a new sport

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