Just saw something that caught my eye on Twitter.  A friend of mine (it was Kartik) was incredulous over the apparent train wreck of a keynote address at this year’s CES.  I guess the whole keynote was a bit goofy, and the mashup of video from the session was kind of funny to watch.  It did cause me to spend some time thinking about the trade shows that I attend, and the various different keynotes that I have seen.  I have seen some great GUEST speakers, the motivational speaker types who touch on themes of leadership, commitment, and courage.  As I went through my memories, I couldn’t think of a single keynote speech that I walked out of feeling good, inspired, or more educated.

So why do we have keynote speeches at trade shows and technical conferences?  I assume that most technical types are like me, and want to get to something worthwhile.  The keynote doesn’t give us anything but fluff.  Here are some reasons that I can think of for a keynote address:

  • Rally the troops  – This might make sense at something like an EclipseCon, where individuals from different organizations are present, and you want to set a common theme or tone for the gathering.
  • Rally the Analysts – Many of these get reported on and written about by industry analysts, who will then talk about how companies have a vision of the future.
  • Ego boosting – Who wouldn’t want to be a “rock star”, up on stage with a thousand people hanging on your every word?  There is only one problem with this – it doesn’t work.  Most of the folks that I have seen have charisma (they must have something on the ball to get to where they are), but it doesn’t translate well in a video, or to a large room.

Can we just abolish the overblown keynote address?  Couldn’t we do this in a more targeted (and cheaper) way by doing something special for the industry analysts, and something special for the various interest groups?  As more of a technical/business guy, I want to hear three things in a keynote speech:

  • Where does the speaker think the industry/world is going?  What trends are they seeing?
  • What is your organization doing to address these trends?
  • What are the implications of this?  Why should I be excited/scared/happy?

So please stop with the concerts, actors, comedy groups, light banter, etc.  It does me no good.  It’s boring to watch on video, and even more boring in person when I am 300 rows back and can hardly see you.  I want you to give me a new perspective on what is happening, and help me find out how that is going to impact me personally and professionally.  Keep it simple, keep it focused, and give me information (not entertainment – that is why I have a TV).  I don’t mind some quick jokes, or funny comments, to keep things moving and to lighten the mood.  Just STOP with the big productions.  Quit wasting your investors/stockholders money by hiring bands, comedians, actors, etc.  Stop trying to entertain me!

So I am declaring the “big production” keynote speech dead.  For every conference that I go to (even my own conference, Innovate 2013), as soon as I see one actor/comedian/musician take the stage, I am walking out.  If I see some contrived skit started, I am walking out.  I am not being rude, I just need to spend my time more constructively.

This blog won’t change anything, leaders at high tech companies are in love with their keynote speeches.  What this does do is tell you where you can find me at any conference.  Just wait outside of the big ballroom during the keynote address, I should be out in about 5 minutes.

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