Let's talk frankly about cost. In particular, the cost of hiring professional speakers. How on earth is it that one such creature asks R10 000 for a keynote, while another cheerfully sends through an invoice for R30 000? Is there really that much of a difference? Should you choose based on price? If not, then what? And if you find yourself on the other end of the equation, being asked to voice your expertise at a conference, how would you know what to charge? One grandiose thumb-suck?
The reality is this: You can't sell sixty minutes worth of speaking for R20 000. But you can sell R20 000 worth of solutions to pain, delivered in 60 minutes.
There is no industry in our post-recession world that is not psychotically hung up on the word value. We spin around it like planets in orbit and it guides our decision-making processes. Everything, especially intangibles like speeches, has to clearly demonstrate value.
So what makes a speech valuable? A great smile? A nice voice?
A valuable keynote presentation, of the kind that earns its additional zeroes honestly, has a number of informing factors. So whether you're choosing a keynote speaker, or building your own speech, here are the inputs that create genuine value. Put some or all of them together, and you are probably looking at a top-level speech.
A speech on the joys of tinkering in a garden, delivered well, may be riveting, but it doesn't solve an expensive problem. However, a speech on how to ensure that a sales team keeps selling effectively during tough times could mean life or death to an organisation. For that reason, the problem that a keynote solves is arguably the greatest part of its total value.
Teaching someone to sell is worth x. But teaching someone how to land a million dollar deal is worth x and a few more zeroes. And so the intrinsic value of the topic matter is our starting point for determining value.
Depth of knowledge
International speaker, Dr Graeme Codrington, often asserts that for every hour a speaker delivers live, he or she should be able to go another three hours deeper on the topic if necessary. That kind of depth of knowledge is worth money. Proven expertise raises the value of a keynote.
The capacity to make it come alive
Knowledge alone doth not a speaker make. All the expertise in the world might add up to a really clever guy, but a lousy speaker, because a valuable keynote is not an information dump. Nor is it about showcasing the speaker's knowledge for the sake of an ego-stroke.
Instead, it is a discerning selection of the most valuable, applicable elements from a total body of knowledge, chosen for their benefit to the delegates. And the task of the speaker, in creating value, by no means ends at sifting and selecting. Once a speaker has chosen the most poignant ideas and content, he or she then has to find ways to make it all come alive, by expressing it through stories, humour, drama, audience interaction, memorable thematic phrases, visuals and metaphors, and very clear take-home instructions.
When it comes to content, a perfectly designed keynote (if such a thing exists) is a good foundation, but it is not the whole package yet. This is performance art. And every audience is different.
A presentation should generally comprise around 80% standardized content, and then about 20% customisation. A speaker creates additional value by slanting a topic toward the specific audience that will be present on the day. Making it relevant is worth money, and the skill and effort necessary to do that adds to the total value of the presentation.
Oddly, and often to the great irritation of highly trained and developed professional speakers, celebrity is worth money too.
Kim Kardashian may not be an award-winning orator. Nor does Tiger's backswing necessarily qualify him as an insightful business strategist. But the sheer weight of their names can often add considerable value to an event.
Of course, there are also people like Bill Clinton, who speak on leadership and are eminently qualified to do so. In such cases, keynote fees may go into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Combining celebrity and substantial depth of knowledge is like unleashing a value juggernaut. Wise is the speaker who works to accumulate both forces.
Credentials are different to celebrity. Credentials answer the question: Does this person know what he or she is doing? Credentials can take the form of experience - he's been a professional speaker for over ten years - or they might be more formal; she's a member of the Professional Speakers Association.
These badges of experience and learning go some distance to show that a speaker has sought knowledge and education on their craft and has had enough experience to have made mistakes, learnt from them and grown in their mastery. Credentials, thus, are worth money. They add value to that hour on stage, when it finally rolls around.
Ever heard of the speaker who is all flash and no substance? They're not generally spoken of in glowing terms, but there is value in flash. Entertainment is worth money. Vibe certainly does add something to a conference.
International speaker Randy Gage once said, "Make no mistake. Keynoting is show business!" There must be something just a little spectacular about a good speech. It should tug on heart-strings, widen pupils, set pulses racing and send goose-bumps down the spine. It should breathe a shiver-inducing breath over the imagination and leave an audience with a sense of wonder.
A keynote is not an hour lecture. It is a notch up from that in terms of showmanship and energy, and it must have greater evocative value than an hour in a varsity hall.
Naturally, the trick is to balance flash with substance, showmanship with content, entertainment value with a solid body of useful knowledge. It's difficult to do and it's rare to behold, which, of course, is why it's well remunerated.
The total experience
People often fail to consider the periphery of public speaking; what it's like to deal with the speaker; the look and tone that they bring to a conference; small touches like humour in their introduction and the availability of books and CD's, and their time interacting with the audience afterwards.
There is much that a speaker can do to add to the total experience of their presentation and maximise their value. Initially, it's the professionalism they display in preparation for the event. On the day, it's the magic and rapport-generating value of their presence. Afterwards, it's the lasting impact of their ideas and the buzz created by their presence. It can even be the quality of their handouts, or the quality of the substance on their handouts.
All these subtle intangibles have currency. I recall the case of one professional speaker who, despite being an excellent live presenter, was so awful to work with that one conference convenor confided in me that they would never use him again.
"It's all the stuff around the edges," she said. "Not his talk; his talk is excellent."
Humour. Yes, it counts, and for a good deal actually. There is an adage among members of the Professional Speakers Association that goes:
Question: Should I use humour in my presentations? Answer: Only if you want to get paid!
A symphony in sixty minutes
It is the total effect of all, or a good selection of these qualities that makes a keynote valuable. No, it's not just an hour's work for an absurd fee. It's years of practice, months of preparation, hours of rehearsal and one hour of sheer, theatrical brilliance. It's depth of knowledge, credential and celebrity. It's the total experience of the speaker. And above all, it's the capacity to solve an expensive problem. And leave them wanting more.
Douglas Kruger has won the SA Championships in both a sporting pursuit and an intellectual one. He is a three-time winner of the SA National Skateboarding Championships, and a five-time winner of the Southern African Championships for Public Speaking. He is also the author of three books. See him in action, or review his books and articles, at www.douglaskruger.co.za. Follow @DouglasKruger; email .
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