I will never forget the day I got the casual email from Noah Coffey with Blog Indiana. “We really liked your proposal (as did visitors to the voting site) and we would like you to be our opening keynote on Thursday morning. We think the content of your session is very timely and would make for a great start to the conference.”

Oh yeah, there was screaming.

See, when I’d submitted my presentation on visual content strategies, I’d crossed my fingers and toes hoping to get a breakout session. I never thought they’d let a little-known kid open Indiana’s biggest blogging seminar.

I was wrong.

From there, it was a three month whirlwind of preparation, leading up to the 50 minute blur of the presentation itself. I learned a lot of lessons and made a lot of mistakes along the way. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you prepare your first keynote:

1. Know what a keynote is. Yeah, okay, laugh away. But I’d only ever attended one major conference before–the previous year’s Blog Indiana–which meant I’d only ever seen two keynote presentations. Unlike breakout sessions, a keynote needs to have broad appeal. It needs to be something that can speak to rookies and veterans alike. Try to keep things broad and big picture. A keynote isn’t the time to get bogged down in details.

2. Research. I spent about ten weeks researching my presentation and about two weeks writing it. I knew the examples, data and stories I would share would really make the stories. I collected mounds of research and spent hours scouring every Facebook and Pinterest page known to man. 90 percent of that research never made it into the presentation, but it all served to inform my thinking and serve as support and ammunition for my overall message.

3. Play to your strengths. My secret: I hate PowerPoint. I think it’s usually a crutch instead of an aid. If my presentation on visual content hadn’t necessitated imagery, I would have probably done without it entirely. So instead, I limited my slides to their bare essentials. There are only two text-based slides with takeaways for the audience. Every other slide is a picture and a headline. It created a more minimalist style to the presentation and let people see the importance of the images instead of being bogged down in words.

4. Practice, practice, practice. Practice with an audience. Practice alone. Practice with a stopwatch. Practice in your car. Practice in your sleep. Practice in your dreams. And do all that without making it sound rehearsed. Great presentations sound completely spontaneous–but you can bet the speakers have worked like dogs to make it sound that way.

5. Remember: Everyone wants you to succeed. I was petrified to stand up in front of that room. In that room were my mentors, my idols, my teachers, my boss. But you know what all those people also were? Friends. Every person you speak to at a conference wants you to be great. There is not a person in that room who wants to pay to see the speaker fail. Remember, you’re in a room full of people who are ready for you to be amazing. All you have to do is go out there and do it.

My first keynote as a social media speaker speaking experience was exciting, incredible and overwhelming. Also? Really fun. Speakers, what advice would you give rookie keynoters?

Excerpts from my presentation

My Slides