Writing a keynote description.

I (and we) speak a lot.

Conferences, workshops, training sessions.

I say this not to impress, but rather to provide context. I have written — based on a best guess — no fewer than 200 keynote descriptions and session summaries.

And I never paid much attention to them.

Typically the planner would ask for a synopsis about 6 months prior to the speaking appearance, but I — typically — don’t finalize a presentation until 6 days before the event.

Sometimes same day.

Why? One, each session is different — I don’t have canned presentations. Two, I like to talk about the most relevant and timely topic possible. Three, I have found that observing preceding presenters and adjusting my remarks accordingly can create a powerful connection with the audience.

But the planner still wants a description.

6 months before my presentation.

That means I write a vague description, add in a few buzz words, and click submit.

Like this one:

Troy Thompson returns with a keynote focused on customers, service and how to create a competitive advantage by understanding both. As digital pushes organizations from an industrial economy to an information economy — from physical work to knowledge work — the impact is greatest within the customer experience. And perhaps no where is the customer experience more critical and more competitive than across digital touchpoints.

The first sentence gives a small glimpse into the presentation.

The second is just a general statement disguised as a session insight.

And the third is nearly indisputable in its ambiguity.

Not bad, but not really helpful either.

And that is the problem.

For the end user — the customer to my presentation — my description tells them relatively little about what will actually happen.

How do I know?

I asked them.

And here is what 189 past session attendees came up with. A list of 4 key needs — requirements to be met — before they committed their time to my session.

  1. Why should I attend this session?
  2. What is the format?
  3. What will I learn?
  4. What happens if I don’t attend?

Basic, right?

But look at my first session description — it barely addresses any of these customer needs.

Version 2.

Troy Thompson presents a compelling and thoughtful narrative on how understanding the overall customer experience — across multiple digital touchpoints — is critical to developing a competitive advantage. The session will cover empathy, research, client examples, successes to emulate and failures to avoid, through a lively speech and minimal slides. Attendees will leave the session with a deeper appreciation for their customer, a clear definition of disruption and several new ideas to pursue post-conference. If your business is service, your future success depends on developing strong customer empathy across the entire service experience.

Better, clear, convincing, but with room for modifications to the presentation content. Although the final question / answer could be a bit better.

These 4 key traits of a good session description should not be seen as restrictive, but rather connective.

The attendee is using the session description as a foreword, a primer, a promise from me to them for a specific service.

It is — likely — the first touchpoint in their experience with me as a speaker.

By writing a useful session description I can ensure that first touchpoint clearly describes the service they will receive.

Now I just need to finish the keynote.


6,000+ of your peers get articles like this every week with our newsletter -- Obvious Patterns. Sign up.