For a while I thought I’d be a Keynote Speaker. It looked like something I was perfectly equipped to do, as a unique thinker and fluent performer. I’ve spent plenty of time around people who do this kind of thing for a living and they’d always encouraged me to take it up too. I can’t even count how many people have asked me for my TED talk.
Here’s the trouble.
Keynotes are one of those experiences that feel like learning. It feels like progress. A good keynote helps challenge us and motivate us forward, or so it seems. Only they never really do.
I’ve attended keynotes that inspired me to change my life, sure. I’ve wanted to devote myself to the speakers cause and see the world from their perspective, and occasionally enough to even to buy their book. But in most cases, this is completely fleeting.
I’ve gone up to many speakers after their keynote to ask clarifying questions, add connections, and just to say thanks. Not once have they asked me for followup. They feel good. I feel good. But what here is changing? How would they know if it did? How would I?
Keynote speeches are useful from an event planning perspective, and certainly for marketing purposes. And hey, I’m all for feeling good :) Still, I know now from both sides of the stage that this is all the gig is ever going to be about. Which isn’t really very much, now is it?
I love performing. I take it seriously, and I love the play. There is a healing aspect to the embodiment I experience as an actor, a comfort I get when I stretch my voice in song. I love the feelings of connection, of expression, of inspiration. For this, it’s worth the work. But as for creating change, it doesn’t really do anything. And some time ago I came to question if it was actually worth doing on that basis.
Keynoting is performing. I thought it was different, but it isn’t. I worked very hard to get good at presenting keynotes and conference presentations and interactive workshops. I probably never made it to “great” status, but I hit my target of getting really good at all this. Having hit this target, there’s really nowhere to go though. No way to improve, no way to measure impact. It’s simply not part of the gig, and all my creative attempts to change this fell quite flat. People don’t want more and don’t do more. Fair enough, but then why would I?
I now feel the same way about keynotes as I do all other performing: ask me nicely, I might say yes. I don’t get to do this kind of thing anymore, and it feels good to do. Only every once in a while, though. Not as a career. It’s not worth it because it’s not feasible to measure its actual worth.