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'Lessons I Learned from Keith Harrell about Keynote Speaking' from Cie Murray: Got the Power?

Lessons I Learned from Keith Harrell about Keynote Speaking

Date: Nov 28, 2013
Category: Keynote Speaker 

by Cie Murray

Keith Harrell, Hall of Fame Keynote Speaker, "22 Guaranteed Standing Ovations" speaker, and a master of keynote speaking would have celebrated his 58th birthday on December 12, 2013.  He went to his heavenly home three years ago, but he didn't leave without making a tremendous impact on my life and thousands of others.  For more than a year, I had the privilege and honor to have been mentored by Keith.  AsKeith Harrell 2 busy as he was, every month we would have a conference call for a minimum of one hour.  Keith would answer my questions and share his wisdom on the business of keynote speaking.  I can never express enough gratitude to him for the great impact he has made on my life.  So I decided to share a portion of what I learned from him.  Here are three lessons I learned from Keith that can be of benefit to anyone, regardless of the type of presentations you may need to make.

Lesson # 1--Your Opener is Not About the Audience it's about YOU

Keith told me that one mistake presenters make is putting so much attention on getting the audience attention at the beginning of a speech.  He said, "your keynote opening is not about getting the audience to connect to you, it's about getting you to immediately get connected to your message".  I can't tell you how many times I have heard I must gain the audience's attention in the initial segment of a presentation.  Keith had one of the most unique openings I have ever seen.  True his opener got audiences engaged, on the edge of their seats, longing for more, however, his focus was on devising an opener that would ignite his energy level.   As a result, he was able to start at a higher performance level which enabled him to maintain that level of momentum throughout his presentation. 

In what way could you modify your opening to bring out your natural energy level?


Lesson # 2--Don't Leave Your Audience Disconnected

After I had received lesson #1 from Keith, I decided to apply it to a speech that I was making as the luncheon speaker for a Business Woman's Association.  One of my first points was on the benefits of laughter in the workplace.  To get me connected and energized to my message, I decided to begin with a few seconds of laughter for my opener.  I had a video done of this speech and sent it to Keith for his review.  Being the encourager he was, Keith was gentle with his remarks.  He asked me, "so why did you laugh like that?"  I reminded him of his instructions of getting connected to my message and that laughter always energizes me.  "True", he said, "get connected but don't leave your audience disconnected".  He didn't need to say more, I got it.  I understood I got to have balance.  Thanks Keith!


Lesson # 3--Be Willing to Be Vulnerable

Keith told me one of the major reasons he had done so well as a speaker was because he was willing to take risks in sharing about his "mess ups" in life.  His story about his first day in kindergarten as a 5 year old, who stuttered and was ridiculed by classmates was one of his top stories that was so loved by his corporate audiences.  There was also his story about him believing himself to be so good that he arrogantly boasted that he would not get laid off from his employer, IBM.  Yet later he confessed, he was one of the first workers to be laid off.  In my keynote speeches, I also share stories that reveal areas of vulnerability.  Sometimes while I'm out shopping or at the airport, audience members who saw me speak years earlier at a conference will approach me.  What's amazing is they are able to share exactly what I had said about the vulnerable parts of my keynote.  

Leaders the next time you need to make a presentation at a company function consider sharing a story or example that shows vulnerability.  I'm not saying don't exude being the strong, confident, and in control leader that you are.  But more importantly, you should share your vulnerabilities to allow employees to feel closer to you and to build a more lasting relationship with you.  It may even get them to more readily embrace your initiatives.  

What stories do you have that you are holding back on telling? 

Cie Murray is the Drives Sales Strategist Speaker in Atlanta, Georgia.  Visit her blog at  or follow her on Twitter @CieMurray


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