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What’s the Difference Between Keynotes and Training?

Nick Morgan is one of North America’s top communication coaches. Regularly commissioned by leaders at the top of their fields―from political giants to CEO’s of Fortune 50 companies―to help them deliver their messages in the most compelling manner possible, Nick helps audiences understand the impact their words, delivery, and body language can have when presenting to an audience, whether in a boardroom capacity or in front of a crowd. Here, Nick takes a look at the difference between a keynote speech and a training session, and offers tips for speakers on how to prepare for both:

What’s the difference between a keynote (or breakout) speech and a training session?  I get asked that question by speakers looking to add an additional product to their speaking mix, and by trainers wondering if the ideas I put forward on this blog and in my books apply to the magic they do.

So here goes.  The quick answer is that the basic principles of communication are exactly same whether you believe you are speaking or training.  But that said, if you are used to giving a speech and want to take up the training game – or vice-versa – there are some important differences dictated by the two formats that you must keep in mind.

1.  Keynotes can be interactive; training must be.  

Partly, it’s about length, and partly about expectations.  We expect a show from a keynoter.  If you’re headlining and making the big bucks, let’s face it: you’d better deliver a good show.  In a sense, you’re competing with television, the movies, and the Rolling Stones:  you’re one of a thousand entertainment choices for those folks in front of you, and you’d better entertain.  And you’d also better deliver some practical takeaways to keep the folks who hired you happy.

Keynote speaking has become a very demanding, high-pressure, highly competitive world, and the expectations are formidable.

Training, on the other hand, is typically a longer, more intimate relationship with slightly different expectations.  The audience expects to learn something – a skill, certification, a new way to look at the world that will help them earn big bucks, a new language or culture – you name it.

So you’ve got to be entertaining, sure, but you also must get that audience doing something – the skill or thing that you were hired to train them on.

Moreover, you’ve got that audience for at least several hours.  It’s agony for a group of active adults to sit passively for hour after hour without doing anything.  And it’s much harder to retain information we haven’t tried out in some way ourselves.  So get the audience doing.  Training must be interactive.

2.  Keynotes can be multi-media extravaganzas; training must be. 

If you as a keynoter are a wonderful storyteller, or if you’re sufficiently famous, it will be enough for you to show up on stage.  You won’t even need slides.  Does anyone ask President Clinton for slides?  Or the Dalai Lama?

Of course, keynoters can use media of all kinds to make a point or enhance what they’re delivering, and most of us probably should, but it’s not strictly speaking essential.

With training, it would be odd to show up in front of your trainees with nothing but your suit and your voice.  You need software, slides, takeaways, videos, printouts, books, three-ring binders, games, giveaways, prizes – good trainers are only limited by imagination and budget.

So if you’re getting ready to think about a keynote speech, begin with the story.  Then think about what you want the audience to take away.  If you’re getting ready to deliver some training, begin with what you want the audience to take away.  Then think about the story you’re telling.

3.  Keynotes should be agenda-less; training shouldn’t. 

This point will perhaps be my most controversial one.  I strongly dislike it when keynoters announce what they’re going to say, then say it, and then tell me what they said.  I believe that a keynote should be immersive, taking me into the story and point of view without commenting on it – like a movie.

Have you ever seen a movie begin with one of the actors appearing on the screen and telling you what you’re about to see?  What if every James Bond film began with (now) Daniel Craig showing up in a suit and announcing, “You’re about to see a few wonderful — and really expensive — vehicular chases, explosions, and death scenes.  Sit back, relax, and enjoy the trip.”

Exactly.  Keynoters shouldn’t either.

Training, on the other hand, especially if it’s going to last more than a couple of hours, should have an agenda, with the topics and subject areas clearly delineated in chunks, with regular breaks and opportunities for downtime to review what you’ve learned up until then.

It helps us retain big chunks of material we have to learn if we’re provided with a clear structure to slot the information in as we go.

I once worked with a duo of great speakers who developed a keynote with me, and delivered it around the world.  A few months in, they were asked to turn the keynote into a day-long seminar to be presented at an exotic locale they were keen to visit for a nice chunk of money.

They were excited by the prospect, but a bit intimidated about the idea of turning one hour into eight.

What we did was break the keynote down into eight ideas.  We made each idea the subject of a one-hour interactive session by asking, “What can we get the audience to do to better grasp this idea?”  We then developed the materials and supporting documents and so on to help with each activity.

The duo reported that the day passed quite quickly, the energy level was high, and the audience responded with enthusiasm.  They were doing things all day, not listening to a couple of people talk for eight hours.  That would have been hard work for everyone.

By Nick Morgan