73 1/2 Things I Learned On Stage As A Keynote Speaker

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Motivational Speaker Kelly Swanson is an award-winning storyteller, author, and comedian who teaches you how to harness the power of your story to connect, engage, and get results. In this blog, Kelly focuses on the business of professional speaking. Kelly’s post day is Friday. If you aren't sure how to comment on this story, click here.

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73 1/2 Keynote Speaker Life Lessons From The Stage

1. Find out about your audience in advance if you can.

2. There is no room for mediocre.

3. Meeting planners don’t care how talented you are, that’s already an assumption. What they care about is whether their audience will like you.

4. The show must go on.

5. Likability is everything.

6. Your opening sets the tone. Make it good. It’s hard to bounce back from a weak opening. You can lose them in the first couple of minutes.

7. You can not prepare for every distraction to your show. Just stay calm and react.

8. A bad demo is worse than no demo.

9. Excitement is contagious.

10. Always seek to add more value, but never underestimate your value.

11. Never eat chili before a show.

12. Your success is not defined by the world. You decide what success looks like for you.

13. Being comfortable on stage is everything.

14. You are performing from the minute you answer your phone and engage in a conversation right up until – well, it never stops – you are always “on.”

15. Speak like you speak – talk to them, not at them.

16. When disruptions happen, acknowledge them. Don’t pretend that you aren’t aware the lights just went out. If you can make a joke about it, your audience will think you’re a genius.

17. Live and learn and always treat yourself as a work in progress.

18. Success is not a method, it’s an attitude.

19. Find a way to be the only one who does what you do.

20. Timing is everything – on stage and off.

21. If they see your passion for what you do, they will feel it too.

22. You are not a star to be admired. You are a vessel so that your gift may flow through you – remember that and serve others.

23. Praying helps.

24. If it doesn’t get a laugh, pretend like it wasn’t supposed to.  ( I learned that from George Burns.)

25. Remember that your audience wants you to do well. They aren’t waiting for you mess up. They are cheering you on.

26. You never know who is sitting in your audience.

27. Marketing is simply telling them you are here. Any way you know how.

28. Watch game film.

29. Never underestimate the value of a thank-you note.

30. Get a website.

31. 10% of your audience will hate you because they hate everybody. 10% will love you because they love everybody. 80% will reserve judgment. That’s the group you want to impress. Forget about the unhappy 10%. You’ll never change them.

32. Nothing will help your appearance more than spandex and a good pair of suck-me-in panties.

33. Nobody notices normal.

34. It’s okay if somebody doesn’t “get” what you do. Even if they’re your family.

35. Be true to who you are and at the end of the day you’ll know that you did your best.

36. Mingle with your audience first if you can.

37. Dress like you. If you’re a southern redneck, don’t come out in a ball gown.

38. When something really cool and unexpected happens on stage, write it down. Work it into your act.

39. Think of how radically different the world would be if our every decision was made thinking of someone else first.

40. Dream big. Think outside the box. Look at what everybody else is doing and do something radically different.

41. Smile. Smile when you’re talking to them on the phone. Smile when you walk on their property. Smile when you’re on stage and when you’re getting into your car to go home.

42. Every now and then take the job at the senior citizen for a chicken breast and a glass of sweet tea.

43. Don’t break the rules until you’ve learned them.

44. Learn it like a script, then practice telling it like you didn’t memorize it.

45. They may not remember what you made them think. But they will always remember how you made them feel.

46. Funny sells.

47. If they hire you for thirty minutes, talk for 29. Never ever ever think you have the right to go over your allotted time.

48. Your stories are never as interesting to somebody else as they are to you – get a second opinion.

49. Remember that not everyone can do what you do. That makes you valuable.

50. Don’t steal material. It’s just not nice.

51. The days are over of waiting for your big break. Make it happen.

52. Sometimes you get in front of the wrong crowd. Quit early.

53. Find ways that your material can relate to your audience – a universal theme – a common thread. You may not all share the same culture or background, but there are certain experiences that you do share –  first love, getting spanked, relationships, etc.

54. Don’t get out of the race because you don’t think you can be the fastest. The world is big enough for all of us.

55. Remember the big picture.

56. Never try to copy somebody well known. If they want him, they’ll hire him.

57. You’ll get into trouble pretending like you know what stage right is.

58. You are here for a reason. Treat that honor with care.

59. Seek wisdom from those who are willing to give it. Surround yourself with people who know.

60. Other performers are not your enemy. They are your PR people, your support group, your advisers, and your cheerleaders.

61. It’s not talent that makes you rise to the top. There are plenty of talented performers waiting tables. The most successful aren’t the most talented – but the most persistent. The ones who keep getting back up.

62. Don’t leave your values at home.
motivational speaker life lessons

63. You don’t have to figure everything out today.

64. There will always be someone telling you that you can’t do it.

65. Your client isn’t there to make you feel good about what you do. That’s your job.

66. Every audience is worthy of your best show.

67. It’s not talent that will set you apart – but being different. But accept the challenges that come with wearing a different label. It takes a lot of courage. Do it anyway.

68. Leave the stage while you’re ahead. Never overstay your welcome.

69. Big hair will make your thighs look smaller.

70. Give back. Not because someone once gave to you, but because you can.

71. Often we are the very thing blocking our path to success.

72. Turn your head away from the microphone if you need to burp.

73. Don’t be too hard on yourself. At least you’re better now than you were ten years ago. Aren’t you?

74. There are three things motivational speakers  must include in their  brochure:  a bio about the artist, a…

( I told you, 73 1/2. Get it? If that bothers you, your last lesson is to lighten up!)

I’d love to hear what your career has taught you! Wanna share?


  • This is great…Thank you

  • I love this one: “nobody notices normal.” This is so true about so many dreams and especially dreams on the Internet. Great list.


  • Kelly, this is amazing advice to read especially in my position as an aspiring speaker. Thank You, I had some good laughs for the “Never eat chili before a show.” I once had an experience of eating spicy food before my talk, Oh boy! I had to try so hard to keep in the winds and not embarrass myself!! (Face palm)

    Thanks you , this was inspiring! I needed to read this.

    Regards Sue

    Ps. You Rock lady! Wow!

  • “Big hair will make your thighs look samller” – you got a laugh-snort out of me on that one. Love “Nobody notices normal”. We are so lucky we don’t fall in that category :)

    Great list Kelly!