Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

How to Prepare a Keynote Address: 5 Tips

November 13, 2017

Michelle Ryan remarks 1000w

After Michelle Ryan (MA '15) joined the Milken Educator family in 2015, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education tapped her to present her first-ever keynote address at its annual conference (read it here). Michelle shares her tips on how to prepare for a big presentation.

There was something different about this particular invitation to be a keynote speaker.

Let's start with the fact that I had never been asked to speak anywhere under the title "keynote speaker." A keynote speaker is the highlight of the day, the person people come to hear, someone who has a message that is powerful, meaningful, unique, or proven, right? I was not really sure I was accomplished enough at the point of this invitation to occupy that position—keynote speaker at the Massachusetts Department of Education's annual conference.

Speaking in front of crowds was not new to me. I do it every day as a teacher. I'd spoken in front of our entire school in the past and delivered talks in front of hundreds at church. However, I was a new Milken Educator still trying to wrap my head around the surprise of a lifetime. The associate commissioner of education's staff was now asking me to speak in front of 350 educational leaders, including superintendents, principals, instructional and higher education leaders, and—most nerve-wracking—the commissioner of education himself!

My first response: "Let me think about it." But that night, as I tried to sleep, I knew I had to accept despite my secret fear.

As a fellow Milken Educator, I know you may find yourself in a similar position at some point in your career. Here are five tips I'd like to share with you as you prepare for your first state level presentation or keynote address.

  1. Feel the fear and do it anyway. This thought empowered me to accept the invitation. I've challenged my students to take risks in the classroom. This was my chance to model it. Think about it. What's more important: giving in to my fear or seizing a chance to convey a message that may positively impact, inspire, or challenge other educators toward improving our practice for the benefit of all children?
  2. Find and embrace your voice. The real work began after I accepted the invitation. What was I going to talk about? How should I communicate my message? Before I could figure out what I wanted to say, I had to take some time to embrace my voice. I repeatedly told myself, "You have a voice and it's unique to you. You have something to offer this field. You have a purpose." I put my trust in these facts and began writing some ideas down. I started with this question: If this were my one chance to say something that will positively impact/improve education for my students, what would I say? This gave me the confidence to speak passionately, honestly and with purpose—all while still terrified inside.
  3. Write it out. Take time to prepare. Even if you will not read it verbatim on the day, it helps to write it out completely to provide you with a strong basis to practice. Read it out loud while you edit your talking points and pay attention to how it sounds while spoken. This will help you edit for better flow, as well as knowing key points you want to ensure resonate with your audience.
  4. You don't have to say it all. I know I told you to imagine this might be your only time to convey a message that could positively impact education. However, even though you have many thoughts, you will not be able to convey them all in one speech. Which message is a priority for you? Which most aligns with the theme of the conference? Which can you speak about with strong conviction? Which will have the greatest impact on your audience? Which will be most useful to your listeners?
  5. Use your networks. If possible, practice your speech aloud with someone you trust to give you honest feedback. It might be more beneficial for that person to be familiar with education if that's possible. This person is not there to completely edit your message per se, but to tell you what resonated, confirm that your voice and message are coming through, and share overall feedback on your delivery. You can take any suggestions on content under advisement.

Finding your voice is a journey, but you don't have to wait until you have it all figured out to begin sharing it with the world. Embrace the journey. 


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  • Such good advice, Michelle! Thanks for succinctly helping us all to think carefully and constructively about how to have the most impact in verbal presentations. I especially like the part about finding and magnifying our own voices. You are especially good at this!

    Posted by Heather Peske, 24/11/2017 6:44am (5 years ago)

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