Working Smarter

Looking for a Keynote Speaker? What You Need to Know

Posted by Joe Robinson


YOUR ASSIGNMENT, should you decide to accept it, is to book a great keynote speaker for your meeting, off-site, or conference. It is not a mission impossible, but it can be if the speaker and the event are not in sync or the presentation doesn't engage your audience. 

I remember a travel conference where I did a keynote address. I always like to hear other speakers and see what they’re up to, so I sat in on another presentation. The speaker was a national figure, known for being, of all things, a con artist. I wonder if the organizers considered how that theme could be taken the wrong way for the products they were promoting.


The speaker had achieved a kind of fame by pretending he was an airline pilot, doctor, and lawyer, and swindling people out of tens of thousands of dollars. What was this guy doing here? Maybe the pilot angle was the connection to the conference?

He went through his life story of scheming in an expressionless, rapid-fire monotone that let us all know he had done this many, many times before. Heads defaulted to smartphones.

The topic seemed so off-point from the focus of the program, which was to promote travel to a particular southern state. It was truly a mission impossible to tie the speaker’s address and the travel business together, which in a way was a good thing for organizers, considering what his topic was.


It’s worth defining: What is a keynote speaker, anyway? Is it just someone with a wacky biography? Or is a keynote about spotlighting the purpose of the conference or industry, connecting with the audience in a personal way, compelling storytelling, engaging the crowd in interaction, and giving them useful knowledge that can improve their lives, fire them up, and entertain them?

The keynote speaker delivers a featured speech at an event, usually about an hour, often opening or closing an event. The goal is to engage, entertain, and motivate the audience and leave them feeling great about the event. There are few times in the week when we can be inspired or get advice that makes life more satisfying or meaningful. The keynote address can be a moment that allows people to focus on things that go missing in the rush of the week. It’s an undistracted, undiluted entertainment experience that is a powerful opportunity to persuade, rally, and inspire.

A keynoter should have deep knowledge of the topic at hand. Planners should always look for a subject matter expert who can present with gusto. This lends your event credibility and translates into higher attendance and better reviews. Look for speakers who are also established authors and who have been vetted by the media. Keynoters who have strong media presence across print and broadcast have been preselected for their expertise and audience skills.

In my own work as a keynote speaker I have found that audiences learn a lot more and have a much better time when there are opportunities for engagement. Participation is one of the keys to a gratified life, the route to our core needs, and I see it on display whenever I am doing a keynote. When people have a chance for strategically placed activities and involvement, the program connects personally and participants feel a part of the event, instead of mere spectators. And they have fun, which gets word-of-mouth going for the next conference or off-site.


As an old newspaper editor of mine once said, you have to show, not just tell. Activities help do that. For instance, when I’m talking about how multitasking is a myth and that we can’t do two cognitive tasks simultaneously, I move to the “show” portion, with an exercise given to me by one of the top multitasking researchers, David Meyer at the University of Michigan.

I have everyone count out loud as fast as they can from 1 to 10. Then I have them do the same with letters A through J. They have no problem with single-tasking. Then I ask them to put them together, 1A. 2B, 3C, 4D as fast as they can. It all falls apart by 4, and the lesson is learned. We can’t do more than one cognitive task at a time, since there is only one neural channel for information to flow through.

Showing, not just telling, leads to a connection with the audience and a good time had by all—making the event planner the most popular person in the room.

If you would like to learn more about my keynote programs, from work-life balance, to motivation and happiness, visit the keynote page or click the button below.

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Tags: Joe Robinson, keynote address

How to Stop Job Stress Before the ER

Posted by Joe Robinson

To the outside world, Catherine Thompson England seemed to be handling the pressure of her job as a caseworker for abuse victims well. Though she had told her boss that stress was mounting, it didn't appear to be a problem, since she was getting the job done. But the Pennsylvania social worker was staying late and working at home to do it, a growing trend in a world of tight budgets and understaffing.

Things weren't going well at all. One day the pressure exploded and Thompson England had a breakdown. She was hospitalized for 10 days.

"People don't want to hear about stress, because everybody has it," says Thompson England, who has a five-year-old son. "You will deal with a lot of stress before you reach out, because it's not taken seriously."

Stress has become such a normal part of the day-to-day that it has become a kind of adrenalized wallpaper. Bringing up the subject is to point out the obvious—or that you are a wimp, unable to take it in a bravado world that feigns invincibility. Fear of being wimpy, though, leads to real weakness—physically, since stress plays a role in five out of the six leading causes of death, and financially, since stress costs the nation a boggling $1 trillion a year.

Chronic stress triggers conditions that kill more people every year than cancer and nicotine combined, but it's treated as if it's no more serious than excess gas or bloating. Take a pill and deal with it. Americans certainly do, consuming $16 billion worth of antipsychotics each year and $11 billion in anti-depressants.

There's a disconnect between stress and the conditions it sets off—hypertension, stroke, coronary artery disease, diabetes, insomnia. Many of us watch our cholesterol, get exercise, keep sugar under control, and yet don't do anything to manage the switch linked with the diseases we're otherwise trying to prevent: stress. That's because we've never been taught to take stress seriously—until a heart attack or burnout.

I come across this every day in my work as a stress management educator. There was the manager at a government security agency who had a stroke in his 40s. The real estate agent with panic attacks. The CEO leveled by a heart attack. 

Unlike more exotic bugs and conditions, there is a cure for stress: knowledge. Science knows how to prevent and manage it. The stress response is activated when a perceived threat overloads ability to cope with the danger. It's an early warning system that worked well in hunter-gatherer days when threats to life and limb were frequent, but it doesn't know how to compute the social stressors of the modern world. A number of proven stress management processes can turn off the false alarm of stress. Once the danger signal has been shut off, the stress stops in four minutes.

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Job stress is serious business for business leaders who want to cut medical costs and absenteeism, increase performance, and maybe save lives, including their own. Brian Curin, president of Flip Flop Shops, which sells sandals and a casual lifestyle at 80 stores around the country, discovered that he took too casual of an approach to his own health. Though he exercised and ate well, years of stressful business-building had taken a hidden toll. Curin failed a treadmill stress test, and a follow-up angiogram revealed that his heart was starving for oxygen. He had four major blockages, one of them 100 percent—at the age of 38.

"It was years of running as fast as I could go at the speed of business," said Curin. "It really shows the effect that stress can have on you. They said if I had had a heart attack, they wouldn't have been able to help me."

He had to have a quadruple bypass to repair the damage. Curin was so shaken by the experience he decided to do something about it. His company started an initiative with the American Heart Association, My Heart, My Life, to advocate for stress tests at companies and educate customers on stress prevention.

Stress testing, whether by exercise test, ECG, blood pressure testing at work (one out of five people have elevated readings at work but not at home) or other modalities, has to become as routine as dental or cholesterol checks to identify people like Curin, who are unaware of the problem, or England Thompson, who fear reaching out might mark them as a wimp or burden to others.

England Thompson learned she has to speak up more, set boundaries, and share the load with others. "We need to normalize the fact that stress is a very real thing and you don't have to deal with it on your own," she said.

Stress testing, coverable mental health counseling, and social pressure to change macho attitudes can make it acceptable to get help and overcome the shame, bravado, and willful ignorance that feed the chronic disease mill of stress.

Tags: smash stress, stress reduction, stress and health care costs, stress management, job stress, burnout, stress and heart attacks, work stress, chronic stress, burnout prevention, managing stress, Joe Robinson

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