When They Let Their Hair Down: Secret Confessions of Audience Members Post-Keynote

illustration of woman telling man a secret

It’s always a funny moment. Excited audience members, fresh off of being unexpectedly inspired (and sometimes a little tipsy) are more than happy to tell me stuff I never asked them.

“We thought you were gonna be sooooo boring!”

“Thank God you’re not anything like yesterday’s keynote.”

“I actually listened to you from start to finish, that was so exciting!”

“I can’t believe I took three pages of notes!”

And, they go on and on. I’d be embarrassed by all the gushing if I wasn’t keenly focusing in on something else.

What the heck is happening in these other keynotes? I’ve asked myself that a hundred times now. And why aren’t they telling the powers-that-be the same thing they’re so eager to tell me? I had questions, I got answers. Take note. Here’s what your audience members aren’t telling you.

1. They don’t want to be talked at, even when you bring in an expert. They want to be talked to.

Audiences are telling me they don’t need a lecture, they’d prefer something that feels like a conversation. I’m not talking about adding more fireside chats (they’re getting tired of those, too). I’m talking about experiences that feel like the speaker’s info is being shared with peers, not taught to students.

2. The first sign that the person on stage has given this “talk” a million times in the last week and they go somewhere else in their minds!

Audiences are loving it when it feels like the speaker truly did their homework on them. They can see through “title customization”, that’s what I call it when the speaker simply swaps out the name of the company in a few key places versus actually learning about the industry and the audience’s pain points. They are crying out desperately to be seen and when it feels like they are being regurgitated to, just like the last audience, they disinvest from the moment. They only come to once the applause starts signaling an end is near.

3. They really want to feel something…other than being dead inside!

Clients have a bad habit of thinking their audiences are too intelligent to be inspired, that the smarter they are the less they want content that aims for the heart as well as the mind. I can tell you from the lines of men and women who cry afterwards when they try to tell me what hit home, people really want to be connected to on a deeper level. They want to experience emotion, feel inspired, and have some sort of emotional release during your keynote’s time on stage. This doesn’t mean it needs to be mushy or emotionally manipulative, but they want speakers who can hit funny bones, pull heartstrings, and make them feel like they can do anything!

4. Your audience is not as impressed by the big names as you think.

From former NFL players to best-selling authors and established leadership gurus, they are all getting side-eyes in secret from your audience, and often from the client when all is said and done. They want to be surprised and delighted, not just impressed by a name. If that name does not have the skill to inspire, reconsider inviting them to your event.

Read More5 Tips for Finishing Strong from Top Keynoters

Instead, pay attention to what audiences are saying about some of the more unknown, but credible speakers out there. Look for comments about being moved, thinking and believing differently, or about the speakers attention to detail. You’ll probably end up making a larger impact, and potentially saving a good chunk of change while you’re at it.

In the end, audiences are smarter than we are giving them credit for. They are more jaded by the conference experience than we are willing to admit. They have other places they would rather or really need to be, so whatever experience we are creating for them must snatch them out of their heads and center them right where they are. They’ve grown quiet about what they want because they don’t believe the agenda is really about them anymore. It’s a tall order, but if we listen in to what audiences are saying, we can craft a more powerful experience. It’s what they deserve.

Jade Simmons is a classical concert pianist and acclaimed creator of mind-blowing transformational experiences.

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