What I Learned From My First Keynote Speech

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I gave my first keynote speech last week at the Siouxland Lean Consortium conference, and honestly it was much more challenging than I thought it would be. The audience did not seem to be as engaged as I had hoped, and I was surprised and perplexed that tmy actual delivery was different than it was during my practice runs prior to the event. Although I am typically hard on myself, I believe that my assessment of the gaps is relatively accurate. I will find out more when I receive official feedback from the participant survey.

In the spirit of humility and continuous improvement, I have reflected on the experience as well as some initial feedback I received. My conclusions are summarized below. I welcome any comments offering additional insight or advice!

High-level takeaways:

  1. Keep the topic simple. The main premise of the talk was that continuous improvement is not only most effective when we do it with people, but also when we realize and apply the knowledge that it is something we do for our people – it helps to make not just our work better but also our selves. I believe I over-complicated this main message by tying it to some more theoretical aspects of behavioral psychology, which drowned out the main takeaway. There is only so much people can absorb during a one-hour talk, and I did not consider this as carefully as I should have.
  2. Focus on the audience’s interests. I downplayed my unique experience of working directly for Toyota, because I did not want to come across as ‘superior’ or an ‘expert.’ However, during the Q&A portion of the event, all of the questions indicated the audience was curious to learn more about what Toyota was like. While I had good intentions in not wanting to appear as a self-proclaimed expert, this motivation was not driven by what participants wanted but rather my own need. It seems that people generally are quite interested in learning what it was like working at Toyota.
  3. Don’t create content in a vacuum. I knew better, but nonetheless I did not review the specific content of my talk with anyone else to obtain feedback. Instead, I created and practiced the speech on my own. My past experience has repeatedly shown me that soliciting and incorporating the input of others has always resulted in a better outcome.

More tactical takeaways:

  1. Provide an outline document for the audience. Although I provided a worksheet with some key takeaways and questions for participants, I received feedback that an outline would have better helped the audience follow along and provide a future reference of the key concepts.
  2. Refer to notes as needed. To learn how to give a speech, I mainly referenced TED talks. I noticed that the speakers did not refer to notes during these talks and so I thought that I should not either. However, I failed to take into account that TED talks are generally only about 20 minutes long – my talk was 45 minutes and it was very difficult to remember the key points and stories I wanted to tell. Referencing notes when needed would have helped trigger my memory of what came next.
  3. Get a good night’s sleep! This is a difficult one to know how to countermeasure. I struggled to fall asleep the night before as my mind kept looping through the talk. Any advice on this is particularly welcome.

Overall, even though it was difficult, I am glad that I had this experience. I will take the lessons learned and apply them in the future. I am sure my next talk won’t be perfect either, but I know that it will be better.

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2 Comments

  1. I have no advice to offer on public speaking, but I’d like to express my amazement for your nonchalant comment on how a group of lean practitioners “were quite interested in learning what it was like working at Toyota”. To me it feels like saying “I tried not to make a big deal of my time in the NBA, but for some reason those basketball aficionados kept bringing it up…” 🙂

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