Issue 3 of The Art of Keynoting
The best advice I've ever read about performing comes from the late, great Robin Williams: “When in doubt, go for the dick joke.” Now, this advice clearly isn’t for everyone, but it has been invaluable to me. You see, as a professor, I'm not supposed to do dick jokes. So when I do, people remember it.
Being professional and being memorable isn't the same thing. You should obviously strive to be professional, but this alone isn't enough if you truly want to shine as a speaker. To take your speaking to the next level, you need to find a way to make an impression on your audience. Any number of people can talk about leadership or strategy or innovation or reaching your goals, which means that there will always be many speakers that could replace you. In order to ensure that does not happen, you need to find the thing that makes people remember you, that makes you stand apart from all the others.
Some people do this by the way they look or by having a gimmick. They might dress up like rockstars, wear spectacular eyeglasses, or an affected scarf. In and of itself, this isn't a bad idea. Having a look will help, although it should never become more important than your message. You should however be careful that this doesn't look too much like an affectation, and make you memorable for the wrong reasons.
Better then to hone your speaking and your content so that it, rather than the way you look, becomes what sticks in people's minds. And this is where dick jokes come in. When I get up to keynote, people know I'm a professor. As a consequence, they expect/fear that I'll be theoretical and boring. So I try not to be. I try to make people laugh about the mistakes we make in innovation, and can through in the odd rude joke to truly drive this point home. Since innovation professors are rarely funny, let alone tell dick jokes, people remember me.
So find a way to surprise, delight, play against type. This doesn't need to include jokes – it might be the examples you choose, the way your deck looks, how you move on stage. It might be how you jolt the audience by turning their assumptions around. But find it, the thing that makes your content stick in people's minds, the reason why they remember you. No-one remembers "the one that speaks about innovation". But they do remember the professor with the dick joke.