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Preparing a Keynote

I’ve been working on the keynote speeches I’ll be delivering this summer to teachers at two different summer writing institutes. I’ve heard lots of keynote speeches at teaching conferences before.  However, I’ve never been a keynote speaker.  And even though I’ve delivered lots of professional development presentations and have spoken publicly in front of 500 people, preparing a keynote speech is challenging since it’s a new genre for me! I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself to craft something that will inspire the teachers in attendance.  Writing a keynote speech feels like a tall order!

Ruth and I are delivering one of the keynote speeches together, so we spent some time chatting about that keynote on the phone.  Ruth has delivered keynotes so I looked to her for some advice when we did some phone planning.  The most important thing she shared was to have a “thread” that runs throughout the speech.  I have spent time outlining my speech since our conversation, but I’m still searching for my “thread”.   (NOTE: My speech is about developing one’s own writing life since it will positively influence writing instruction.)

Therefore, I took a step back from outlining the speech and thought about the genre of keynotes speeches.  Keynotes speakers are supposed to inspire the audience.  They’re mission is to capture the essence of a professional gathering and rally a group of people in a short amount of time.  Perhaps that’s why I’m feeling a lot of pressure to get it right.

I started studying notes from past keynote speeches I’ve heard.   I’ve attended nine TCRWP summer institutes, which means I’ve heard 45 keynote addresses.  Add-in other professional conferences I’ve attended in the past decade and that amounts to a lot of keynote addresses!  I’ve taken notes and have even blogged about many of them.  Therefore, I reviewed what I wrote down.  After all, I want to share things with my audience that are compelling enough for teachers to capture in their notebooks or on their iPads.
From my notes…

Reviewing notes from keynotes felt a bit like the work of using mentor texts.  Just as we encourage students to seek out mentor texts to help them write better, I went back to speeches that moved me and asked myself, “What can this speaker teach me about giving a good keynote?”  Reviewing my notes made me realize it’s time to move beyond the outline.  It’s time for me to start crafting the actual speech!  (I just hope I get it right!)

If you have any other tips, advice, or suggestions for me about writing a keynote, then please share!  This feels really big and I can use any words of wisdom you have.

Stacey Shubitz View All

Literacy Consultant. Author. Former 4th and 5th Grade Classroom Teacher.

17 thoughts on “Preparing a Keynote Leave a comment

  1. My favorite thing of all that Lucy Calkins does when she gives a keynote is she always starts it off by saying, “Colleagues…” I love hearing her say that, as if I’m really a colleague of hers. I’ll bet many of the people listening to your keynote feel the same way about you.

    The other thing I’ve noticed that I always enjoy in the keynotes I’ve heard is when the speaker starts off by talking about something connected to everyday life and then uses that as an analogy for teaching literacy (Kathy Collins is so great at this–references in different years have been to the Williams-Sonoma catalog, quizzes in light magazines, the thingie with lots of lenses at the optomotrist,…and all end up being beautiful analogies to teaching.)

    I hope you share your keynote speech!


  2. Look for the strongest lines in your keynote – underline them – leads and endings matter – endings matter more, people will remember what you leave them with – would love to hear keynote from Stacey Shubitz 🙂


  3. Best wishes Stacey. My biggest speeches have been at our Continuation ceremonies and so I’ve given about 20 of them. My best tip may be is that I always found some story that I wanted to “give” to those I was speaking for, the students. Mostly it was a story that connected their past (at our school) to their future (wherever they planned to go). The rest of the guests were there to listen, but I really wasn’t speaking to them. No matter the theme (like yours is personal writing), your specific audience (the teachers) is the important key. If you write “for” them, it’ll be great!


  4. A friend/colleague made sure I read this post since I am also in the process of writing a speech; the graduation variety! It’s May 24th, but I think I’ve been writing it in my head since September! The problem is getting it down on paper. I enjoyed SOL writing in March and really thought I’d be a much better speech writer when it came to May, but alas, I still feel it is so different from what we did in March. I’m trying to find the commonalities. This post really helped me – as well as the “Power of Three” article that Amy posted. Good luck Stacey – I am empathizing with you!!!


  5. I’ve given a couple of keynotes and the best advice I’ve gotten is to overwrite a little bit but then clearly mark which passages of your keynote you would cut if you’re running over time. So that you can quickly skip over things that are extraneous, but your big ideas will all get out there. Which is usually what happens to me… :). Good luck!


  6. Just get ready for an unexpected moment to come your way. You might feel surprised in the moment or even crazy with laughter. You will say Eureka (I’ve found it) and instantly you will know how you can use it with your thread…hmmm… it is kind of like when you get your slice day after day in March. We all will be so interested in what you have to say and wish we could be there to celebrate. xo


  7. How exciting, Stacey! It sounds as though you have mustered together a wonderful “key note plan” already. Lucy always seems to give the most inspiring keynotes – she manages to share the big picture even as she anchors everything in our daily practices as teachers. But, my favorite keynote was Naomi Shihab Nye’s at the summer institute in 2011. She wove poetry, storytelling and the work we do as teachers together in such a warm and inspiring way. I think it was so compelling because her inimitable voice came through so beautifully – and this is true of Lucy as well, you feel the power of their words because they believe in the power of their message, and they want you to believe that you, too, have a message, a purpose, in this life you have chosen as an educator. Wish I was there to hear YOU speak!


    • Tara-If I could be half as inspiring as Lucy, then I will have succeeded. I’ve been studying the notes from her keynotes very closely since they always make me want to run out and do something more/be better. I didn’t hear Naomi Shihab Nye in 2011. She must not have been at the Institute I attended.


  8. I don’t have any tips, just wanted to wish you well. I think you are on the right track with inspiration and a thread. Lester Laminack gave one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard at All Write two years ago. I felt like I was just listening to him talk about his trips – which was amazing – and then he tied it into our classrooms. I was so moved by it. Good luck!


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