Dump the Hour Keynote and Do This Instead

Here's an "alternative" keynote format we've used at Filament that combines the best of TED Talks, conversational engagement, room for introverts and extroverts to think and process alike, and speaker-audience connection. It is lightly edited from its original form as posted in a Tweet-stream here.

First, this works best when the room is set in rounds with 4-8 attendees. It can work in auditoriums or when a room is set as "classroom" style -- and don't get me started on what an oxymoron that is -- but it works best in rounds.

Before the speaker begins, every audience member gets a worksheet with room for notes, a place to doodle, and a few prompts like: What was the most compelling thing you heard? What did you disagree with? What would you like to know more about? etc.

On the agenda, the keynote is given an hour (so it looks familiar to those too afraid of big changes), but it is broken down differently:

  • Minutes 1-15: The speaker gets 15 minutes to make their three key points. They can use slides if they want, but it is best to limit the number if you can.

  • Minutes 16 - 20: Once the speaker's 15 minutes are done, the room gets 5 minutes of silence to contemplate what they just heard and complete the worksheet. This is ridiculously hard for extroverts but loved by introverts. It is OK if some take out their phones, though only a few will.

  • Minutes 20 - 40: After the silent time is over, each table gets 20 minutes to talk with one another about what they just heard, what they liked, etc. Ideally, they'll follow the framework from the worksheet, but not terrible if they do a bit of networking, too. During the table time, the speaker can roam around the room and engage one-on-one with audience members who have specific questions. However, each tables' key deliverable during this period is ONE question they'd collectively like to ask the speaker.

  • Minutes 41-60: Finally, for the last 20 minutes of the hour-long keynote slot, each table can ask their question of the speaker. If you have a lot of tables, obviously you'll only pick a few, but every table can still submit their question for the speaker to answer later if they're able. In case it’s not obvious, the reason the table must ask a question collectively instead of allowing individual questions is to eliminate the long-winded, self-important audience member from asking their 5-minute, "I'm so smart, don't you agree" question that bores the rest of the room to tears.

We've found this is so much better than the traditional "sage on the stage" hour-long keynote. It is easier for the speakers, better for the audience, and more fun to boot! I hope you'll try it and let me know if it works for you.

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