Keynotes: How To Prepare For Public Speaking?

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How can you prepare to speak confidently in front of other people?

For the last two years, I have spoken in front of 20,000 teachers face-to-face. Over the last 17 years, I have been speaking publicly in front of other teachers and during the last 25 years, in front of thousands of pupils. This blog post captures the methdology I use for preparing to speak effectively…

A thought process…

I guess I’ve been speaking ‘publicly’ for years, without really noticing it was part of my day job as an inexperienced teacher in 1993. I first spoke in front of other teachers, in a school hall (~2000), as a form tutor reading out announcements, then gradually in front of other teachers (~2003) sharing my ideas and thoughts. My goodness, that was nerve-wracking!

I first spoke publicly with strangers (teachers I didn’t know) in a school hall in 2011.

Public speaking isn’t for everyone, yet teachers do this week and to thousands of people, yet become very apprehensive when speaking in front of their peers. For at least a couple of years, I’ve been thinking about adding to the 35 template versions of the 5-Minute Lesson Plan – you can access the series here – and after protecting some time to put my thoughts on paper, I can now share with you the thought process I use for public speaking to hundreds of people.

The 5-Minute Keynote Plan

This is my 15-step process how you can plan a thinking process when speaking to a large audience, particularly in a situation where there will be little opportunity for feedback and at a venue where you may not know everyone.

Don’t set yourself up to fail…

During the initial phase between planning and agreeing to speak at an event, it is important to collect initial information to help a) assure you that you can meet the needs of those attending, as well as your own needs. I’ve lost count of the number of events I’ve said ‘no’ to, simply because the content was not matched to my expertise. For these types of events, thankfully I’ve kept these failed opportunities limited to one the number of fingers I have on one hand…

Preparation and Initial Details

The 5-Minute Keynote Plan


1. Find out what the event is for?

2. When?

2. When will the event take place? Also, find out and the initial timings for the day. Will you eat? If so, when?

3. Where?

3. Find out where the event is? Can you reach the venue on time? Do you need to stay over the night before because you are on stage at 9 AM? Perhaps you are speaking to others after a working day? Fine, but will you have time to ‘freshen up’, arrive on time, practice and gather your thoughts?

4. Who?

4. Who will be attending the event? Ask how the organisers will market the event and promote your services?

It’s one thing to be asked and another to be accepted, but do make sure you find out how you and your ideas will be communicated to people who will potential attend…

Timing and Logistics

The 5-Minute Keynote Plan

5. Timings

1. At what time of the day will you be presenting? And how long for? Is there a break or lunch planned before you work? If you are doing a series of workshops, is there time to move between various locations?

6. People

2. How many people are attending the event? How many are likely to be in front of you? If you don’t know that figure because the event works on the basis of a free-for-all workshop offering, do you best to gauge numbers with the organisers so that you can plan effectively… It’s only fair!

7. Content vs. Time

3. Once you know how long you will have, plan your content accordingly. You may choose to speak, lead a workshop or keynote with a set of slides or video materials. Whatever it is you do, think carefully about how much you can get through – and then cut at least one-third of it out!

8. Practical aspects

4. In terms of logistics, ask about everything and anything. Rather than leave this to a random scattering of questions, have some thought mapped out before you share them with the event organisers. For example, rooming location, table and chairs, ICT and sound facilities, air conditioning and lighting, the quality of the projection screen and its size. All these small details matter to the success of your delivery…

Memorable moments…

The 5-Minute Keynote Plan

9. Opening line

1. Your opening line needs to be engaging and something worthy. Don’t repeat something people already know, even your name. People are giving up their precious time to hear you speak, so make sure it’s worth their time. You may choose to ask a question or start with a provocative statement, but whatever you do, make sure it fits into your work and it is something you return to in your closing comments.

10. Memorable moment

2. With an increasing interest in memory within the teaching profession – quite rightly so – it is important for the person speaking to consider how best the information you are sharing, is well-received. I always take the approach of creating one memorable moment, often designed around ‘how you make people feel, rather than what you say.’

11. Tell a story…

3. There is a good reason why stories stand the test of time. They follow a particular hallmark – read, Storytelling: It’s Harder Than You Think. Telling effective stories to improve memory and experience for others, all starts with delivering effective communication, using humour, body language and a myriad of other things, so take time to practice behind the scenes, read up, research and whatever you do, make sure you project your voice.

What would you want?

The 5-Minute Keynote Plan


1. Underpinning much of your presentation is the work you do behind the scenes. People do not want to be bombarded with lots of paper, reading materials or more work to do, but they will thank you for key documents to make notes on and some follow-up, online links are also useful. I always share my landing page link at all events – bit.lyCPDpack

This ensures I get some follow-up connections with my audiences.

13. Audience needs

2. Consider your audience needs

Again, in most cases, people will have either chosen to listen to you, or have been ‘designed to attend’ (I didn’t want to use the word ‘forced’, but that is often the default modus operandi for many school’s professional development programmes) based upon a conference/school programme. Make it worth everyone’s time, whatever the reason for people being in the room. After all, you do want to do a good job, don’t know? And I suspect you also want to make a difference to some people’s lives?

14. Takeaway

If you had just one minute left in your presentation, what would you say? That’s my default, and yet, I still have to work hard to finish off what I’m saying, whether I have been leading a one-hour keynote or a 5-hour training day in a school. Speaking in front of others is a full-time occupation and something that always needs refinement…

15. Plan B

Always have one online and on paper. Be prepared to ‘just talk’ and consider changes to the programme. For example, what would you do if the person speaking before you ‘eats into your allotted time’? Always have a plan B…


Download the template

The 5-Minute Keynote PlanTo download the file, visit the resources page. Don’t forget, all newsletter subscribers see these ideas first, and also access all materials for free.

These are what I consider to be the most important factors that make or break delivering a keynote speech, whether this is in a school assembly setting, or in this case, for me delivering 20-minute or 1.5 hour keynotes in a variety of settings and countries.


The best public speaking (workshops and keynote speeches) interact with the audience and match the content with cognitive load theory, humour and meaningful information that is useful for the audience. You certainly don’t want to waste people’s time, so make sure you’re worth it!

4 thoughts on “Keynotes: How To Prepare For Public Speaking?

  1. I was so fortunate over a decade ago to have first class training on this through the National College. We always used an adult experiential learning cycle to plan sessions and I use it to this day. I think the most important part of this is that they leave your session knowing HOW to apply the learning. The other thing, which may seem obvious but isn’t, (I’ve sat through some dire keynotes) is that if you really believe in what you are talking about, are passionate about what you are talking about, you’ve already captured your audience. Personally, visuals are important for me, pictures though and rarely words, but I can also work without them. I think a good presenter learns from watching others, and the bad role model is the best role model as you avoid being like them!

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