It’s All On You: Will Your Keynote Speech Be a Home Run?

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It’s all been leading up to your 20 minutes on a stage…

The events team has spent a small fortune planning it…

The marketing team has spent six months promoting it…

And the sales team is waiting in the wings, eager to capitalize on it…

And all you have to do as the keynote speaker—is hit it out of the park!

Easy enough, right? Actually no. Most leaders say it’s one of the hardest things they’re asked to do. Few leaders like doing it, and no leaders like hearing the expectations described above. So, they wait too late to begin planning for it – and they strike out.

It happens more often than you might think. About 60% of all the keynotes that will be delivered in this upcoming conference season will fail in their main objective: positioning new opportunities for the company.

How can that be? After all, most company keynote speakers are senior executives with an entire support staff. So how can more than half of their keynotes fail to leave an audience impressed?

The truth is that most keynotes follow the same formula: the usual cliches to shine light on the brand, mixed with this year’s fresh coat of paint and a presentation about what you’re doing and why your customers need it.

And while this formula is easy to pull together by an internal marketing team, it rarely meets the expectations of what an audience came to hear. The audience wants a broader view. They want to hear industry insights and comparisons, they want perspective that is relevant and useful to their companies and their plans, and they want to be entertained by how the keynote speaker weaves it all together.

We’ve witnessed countless keynotes over the years, and this disconnect replays itself time and time again. A keynote speaker takes the stage to great fanfare and spends the next 20 minutes talking about their own company. They don’t connect the dots to marketplace issues, industry opportunities or their customers’ priorities. And the audience is left to figure out: does this matter to me?

It takes alignment on three key elements to make a keynote memorable and repeatable. And it’s why we developed our formula for a winning keynote:

A Clear Storyline + Memorable Stories + A Compelling Storyteller


The Storyline:

Impactful communication leverages the power and clarity of a storyline to lead listeners to a clear takeaway. It’s the right structure that leads listeners on an incredible journey with a blend of insights, discovery and a little fun.

The journey looks different from one keynote to the next, but great keynote speeches lead to big Aha’s. If there’s nothing new, the keynote just diluted the value of the entire conference. These are the headlines; these are the proof points, and this is the foundation that supports all the other sessions.



Audiences love stories because they’re repeatable when they’re told well. But only about 22% of stories that are told in business settings are memorable. And in our years of research on stories, there’s one pretty clear reason why: the story being told wasn’t aligned to the journey for the listener.

Successful storytelling ties together key points. We often say that a successful keynote can be measured by a listener who remembers your message and can validate it by repeating a story from your presentation.

Stories make a message real and bring complete ideas or data to life for an audience. But by themselves, their impact is limited. It’s the combination of stories within a storyline that gives a keynote its shelf life. Without a set storyline, stories entertain without leaving a lasting impact. And without stories, a storyline often struggles to bring points to life.

A keynote speaker needs both in order to make a message resonate until next year’s conference. And that leads to the differentiating element … the presenters themselves!


The Storyteller:

We tell many presenters that communication is a blend of head and heart. Good data points align with the brain and good stories align with the heart. Presenters who can engage both head and heart have a much better chance of connecting with an audience.

Great storytellers don’t just want you to hear their stories. They want you to feel the story and they inject emotion into stories in the way that they tell them. Think of a favorite speaker in business, comedy, politics, or religion. They all have a certain energy and conviction that seems to pull you in.

Most speakers aren’t willing to invest the time to learn how to do this well. They’re relying on the communication style they’ve had for more than a decade. And while it’s good enough for running a business meeting, it isn’t good enough to engage an audience from a stage. It takes coaching, it takes effort, and it takes the right blend of all three ingredients in our formula to bring it to life.

A Clear Storyline + Memorable Stories + A Compelling Storyteller


Conferences are back and bigger than ever. Your customers are giving you 2-4 full days of their time, and most companies are counting on only a few people to lead a journey that catapults everything else into place next year.

Are you one of the people they’re counting on?

It’s a lot of pressure, but we can ensure you’ll deliver on it. Invest the time and effort to improve your skills, and you’ll knock it out of the park.

If you’re the next speaker, commit to being the best one.

We’re here when you need us!

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

Harnessing the Power of Effective Communication

From CIO Business Review – Top 10 Most Inspiring People in Leadership Consulting 2023

In today’s fast-paced world, communication has become more important than ever. Whether you are a business leader, a public figure, or simply someone who wants to make a difference, the ability to communicate effectively is essential. And when it comes to mastering this skill, Sally Williamson is the name to know.

As the president and founder of Sally Williamson & Associates (SW&A), Sally has spent more than three decades coaching leaders and teams to deliver impactful messages that resonate with audiences. By coaching clients to organize ideas with a focus on listener expectations, Sally helps communicators develop compelling storylines that engage and influence audiences in any situation.

Taking Steps to Bridge the Gap

Sally’s passion has always been communication, which began with her interest in public relations and journalism. She learned to write with a listener in mind and had a growing fascination with business and business leaders. As she observed how business decisions were made, Sally noticed commonalities in why ideas failed and she soon realized the correlation between individuals who could communicate effectively and those who could not. Sally knew that this was an area where she could make a significant difference, so she shifted her focus to executive coaching. And she began to develop a methodology and supporting tools to help others communicate to achieve their goals.

Building the Business

Sally began the firm as a solo entrepreneur with a keen interest in the impact of communication on business outcomes and a desire to help individuals influence results. The first clients were enterprise sales teams who recognized the importance of coaching to create a winning presentation, and the coaching worked remarkably well.

By 2004, Sally had assembled a team, and SW&A opened its first brick-and-mortar office to host workshops and coaching sessions. As SW&A’s reputation grew, success attracted more success, and the SW&A team continued to expand, with the development of a coaching curriculum and the launch of Tailored Programs across nearly every industry and every function in the corporate world.

Today, SW&A is a consulting firm that helps managers and leaders become persuasive communicators. Its approach shifts communication from a technique-based toolkit to an intention-led methodology that empowers anyone to become more compelling in what they say and how they say it.

Although the firm’s mission remains the same, the skills it teaches have significantly expanded, enabling the team to solve client problems today and anticipate communication needs in new contexts.

Leading with Determination

If Sally had to be described in one word, it would be determined. As the head of the firm, she cannot oversee every aspect of the company’s operations, but she still cares deeply about it. Sally believes that her primary responsibility is to instill that same level of caring in every member of the team. To achieve this, she splits her time between managing some of the more complex projects the firm takes on and supporting other team members to ensure that they bring their best work to every engagement.

Sally’s workdays are never typical, which keeps her work challenging and rewarding. Every client presents a new challenge and a unique situation. Some days, she spends up to 12 hours coaching individuals and then works under a tight deadline to ensure that they are ready for a presentation. On other days, she may deliver a full-day workshop to a small group or a keynote presentation to a large audience. But every day brings the joy and passion of helping others leverage communication to influence and connect with others.

Addressing Major Issues for Impactful Change

SW&A prides itself on embodying its values through its actions, methods, and team collaboration. The company’s competitive advantage stems from its genuine desire to make a positive impact and its dedication to continuing until that goal is achieved. This approach is reflected in their coaching style, which prioritizes adapting instruction to best fit the individual’s needs.

As society and the business landscape have evolved, SW&A recognizes the need to address sensitive and critical human issues in business settings. While progress has been made, there is still much work to be done to solve challenges and evolve cultures. It will require thoughtful communication and authentic and sincere engagement from leaders. Sally hopes to continue to help leaders advance culture change and make a real difference.

Embracing Life Fully to Live with Fulfilment

Balance varies depending on your stage in life. Sally was fortunate enough to prioritize raising a family and during that time, family took precedence over work. She made trade-offs and missed opportunities on the professional side because she prioritized her personal life. Although she missed some significant professional moments along the way, she was able to reset the balance as her children grew older, and she made building her business her top priority. Today’s professional settings are much more flexible and allow men and women to balance priorities and take the initiative to define how aspects of the career journey fit within their life.

As a leader, Sally strives to support each employee on their unique journey. Some are still developing their careers, while others see SW&A as their final chapter. Her aim is to create a culture that allows for all of it and one way they do that is taking the time to celebrate each other frequently.

Gaining Wisdom Through Overcoming Challenges

Through her experiences, Sally has gained knowledge from every challenge she has faced. While reflecting on some of the more difficult situations, she has come to realize the value of hindsight and objective analysis. Despite her small business, Sally’s clients are often large corporations, and sometimes individuals make choices that don’t seem like the right ones through SW&A’s lens. Then, according to Sally, “Over time as more pieces fall into place, we see the full picture and can understand why a poor decision was made. Several years ago, my mantra to my clients and to myself became: ‘everything makes sense.’  If you’re in a situation that doesn’t make sense, you’re missing information. And I’ve learned to seek that missing information or simply move on knowing that it will be revealed eventually.”

Success Hinges on Effective Communication

According to Sally, success for any coach, whether they are coaching communication skills or tennis skills, is measured by their clients’ takeaways. Although effective communication is well-understood, its value is only realized when one can impart it to others. She says, “We see initial success when we improve someone’s confidence or strengthen their impact. And over time, I’ve seen the value of that success reinforced as clients come back again and again because they value your input and partnership.”

Expanding the Reach

Over the last few years, many businesses have faced unprecedented challenges and opportunities, and SW&A was no exception. This compelled her team to reconsider the business’s tools and restructure some of their offerings. It also opened up new opportunities for them to transform communication from being just a skill they teach to becoming a final product they can offer. Apart from coaching individuals to be effective communicators, SW&A now helps companies improve their communication in various situations and uses their expertise to bring teams and ideas together to drive impact.

Looking ahead, SW&A has planned to expand their communication offerings over the next five years. They also aim to publish two new books and develop programs that leverage the insights from these books to influence and impact new communication situations.