Dear Opening Keynote Presenter,

Hi, it’s me, sitting in the darkened back row for your opening keynote presentation.

I’m sure the conference organizers picked you because of your impressive background and career history, so me sitting in the back is no reflection on you. If I’d realized all the awards you’ve won – the awards that took up way too many slides near the start of your presentation – I’d probably be right up front to take down every word. Because with that resume and such an incredible presentation title, it is obviously going to be downhill the rest of the day after you’ve left the stage.

We've Been Left Out

The only problem is your incredibly-titled opening presentation is so focused on YOU, it has absolutely zero to do with any of us sitting out here in the crowd. I’m sure the content must be really important to you, but frankly, there’s none of us, our challenges, our expectations, or unfortunately, our interests incorporated in what you chose to address today. Talk about making it hard to get some notes written (or live tweeted) that will be helpful later.

So since you’re apparently in your own little world today reveling in your voluminous accomplishments (and mistakenly thinking we’ll revel in them too), the least I can do to try to be a contributing part of the one hour of our lives you occupied is to share with you the notes I WAS able to write. And to no one’s surprise (and your incredible delight, no doubt) all the notes are about YOU! Yes, YOU . . . the keynote presenter! All my notes just happen to be on YOUR favorite topic!

So here’s what I learned during the past sixty minutes regarding how not to be an opening keynote presenter.

Don't Do These Things

  • Never turn all the lights off to do your presentation in the dark. Darkness may make your videos pop, but you’ve made yourself invisible to the audience.
  • Use the microphone. You may think you have a booming voice, but don’t use all of your boominess only to not be heard in the back half of the room.
  • Let us know what in the world you’re planning to talk about, even if it only means something to you. At least with some advance notice on what you’re covering, we may be able to think ahead and create some personal connection to your material.
  • Spend less time on your credentials. You’re a keynote speaker. I’m confident the conference organizers picked someone qualified. The longer you take to justify your importance, the less I believe it, but hey, that may just be me.
  • Even if you did just type your presentation this morning, don’t call further attention to your indifference regarding ensuring we have a valuable learning experience.
  • We’re not talking while your video plays; you shouldn’t be talking either. When you insist on talking, there are two things going on that make no sense. One at a time is more than enough, thank you.
  • Put your important point at the top of the slide, not in small type at the slide’s bottom. With this room’s low ceiling, none of us in the back are seeing any of your “important” points.
  • We’re not interested in information so specialized that none of us will ever be able to do, imagine doing, or even learn something from hearing you talk about doing this work.
  • Do us all a favor and get us involved in your keynote presentation – even a little bit. Maybe ask for questions. Maybe ask a question. At this point, people are already writing very vicious things on the evaluations. Making them raise their hands to answer a question could slow down their ability to write bad reviews about you.
  • If you’re going to emphasize to us how important emotion is, you should actually show some emotion in your presentation. Funny might be a good emotion to introduce first. While you’re at it, maybe you could be a little humble and show some humanity. All three of those would be much appreciated.
  • Before you get done with your keynote presentation, give us at least one thing we can take away and use from your session.

I’ll admit the last comment was a cheap shot since as I look back, I did take away this list post of things to never do as a presenter. I’m confident, though, you would NEVER suspect yourself of being guilty of ANY of these.

But while you’re not the first person to do these things, you ARE the first person I’ve ever seen who did them all in a single presentation.

And that’s an accomplishment to add to your cavalcade of resume slides.

All the best from the dark seats in the last row,


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