By Laura Stack, MBA, CSP
While we all specialize somewhat, I believe a good, experienced speaker should be able handle the full gamut of the profession. At one end of the spectrum, we have the kind of grand, inspirational speeches that motivate a large audience to go out and make a difference or change a behavior. At the other end, we have one-on-one personal coaching that uses questioning to help the learner discover the answers. In between, we have things such as workshops that teach a particular skill, informational presentations, panels, and roundtables.
I think it’s instructive to step back occasionally and take a look at the two extremes of the scale...though really, all forms of professional talks and speeches proceed from the same basic set of assumptions. We’re all trying to sell something to the audience, whether it’s a renewed sense of optimism and purpose, a change in behavior, a new type of business machine, or professional development skills. By and large, then, the differences are those of degree rather than of kind. Keeping this in mind, let’s consider the differences in two popular types of presentations that interact differently with the audience: keynote speeches and workshops.
The term, “keynote,” derives from harmony singing—specifically from the classic barbershop quartet. One of the singers sings a note and the others then join in, building a harmony around it. That certainly describes how a keynote speech can and should work. Typically, a keynote presentation sets the tone for a large event, such as a conference or company-wide meeting. It is usually the opening speech of a convention, though some still use the term to describe a general session presentation anywhere in the meeting. It also may shore up flagging interest somewhere around the middle or tie everything together at the end (sometimes called an “endnote”). The speaker addresses the entire group of meeting attendees in a large venue, sometimes right after a meal.
A good keynote speech:
A workshop focuses on teaching a relatively small group of people a particular skill or facet of knowledge. The audience is usually around 20 to 40 individuals—far smaller than the typical audience for a keynote speech. The term, “workshop,” is often interchangeable with “seminar,” but workshops typically involve less pure lecturing and more discussion, audience participation, and hands-on exercises. Professional polish remains important, but results matter far more than an entertaining or motivating performance.
A good workshop:
The Bottom Line
When an organization looks for a speaker, it generally has a specific type of event in mind. You may prefer to specialize in one category and topic, so that when an organization thinks of a keynote speaker on performance and execution, your name comes up first (hint, hint). You may love the huge crowds and performance aspects of a keynote. Or perhaps you like the teacher’s role of the workshop leader better, with a more intimate setting and affecting behavior change in people’s lives.
Specialization may get you all the work you need. As the saying goes, a specialist tends to learn more and more about less and less. You may benefit more from generalizing, so you can capably handle the entire speaking continuum from keynote to workshop. Both extremes offer their own challenges—and if you mix it all into your career, it will keep you on your toes. Besides, if you can do it all, your clients won’t have to look for anyone else for their presentations, no matter what they need. They can stay with you exclusively, strengthening that critical relationship that benefits you both in the long run.
Laura Stack has consulted with Fortune 500 corporations for nearly 20 years in the field of personal productivity and is the best-selling author of several books, including “What to Do When There’s Too Much to Do”(Berrett-Koehler, July 2012). She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., and served as the 2011-2012 president of the National Speakers Association (NSA). Stack’s productivity-improvement programs have been used worldwide at companies such as Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Cisco Systems, and Bank of America. She is the creator of The Productivity Pro planner by Day-Timer.For more information, visit www.TheProductivityPro.comor www.NSAspeaker.org.