The Key To A Great Keynote: Rebooting the Standard Conference Presentation

Museum Resources
Marketing & Aud Dev Associate
Museum Resources July 28, 2017 Featured Image

When you hear the words keynote speaker, you’re probably thinking about an industry expert who will deliver a profound, influential speech. In reality, though, when it comes to keynotes, we want someone to give a speech that will embody and establish the theme of the conference, not just simply an inspirational speaker.

We’ve had the honor of being invited to keynote and speak at many different conferences over the years, and here’s what we’ve learned – and why we’ve hacked the keynote.

Why Your Keynote Should Be Rebooted

The museum field has been consistently showcasing fresh and new ideas to update programming, outreach, and, ultimately, our methodologies. While speaking about these topics is great, wouldn’t it be better to show it?

Whatever event, tour, or program you’ve done, whatever your thing is – try adapting it for the stage.

Museum Hack started with our unique tours in New York City that are centered around three things:

  • Passion-based storytelling
  • Active participation that affords guests agency
  • VIP feel / tangible takeaways

Keynotes specifically are a fantastic chance to practice what you preach. People have come to expect unconventional approaches to everything we do, and that should include keynotes.

For us, this is a way for our team to showcase the skills we use on tours, in workshops, and during team-building.

How We Crafted Two Memorable Keynote Speeches

We’ve recently been able to flex our keynote muscles at The Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums (ALHFAM) and the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries (AAMG) conferences, where Dustin Growick tested out our new approach.


Dustin Growick Keynote Presentation at ALHFAM Annual Conference | Image from Juilee Decker, attendee

The theme of ALHFAM’s annual conference was “Breaking Through Barriers: Living History in Modern Times.”

They hired us to keynote the conference to give inspiration and practical tools for increasing meaningful visitor engagement, reaching untapped audiences, and exploring how we use smartphones and social media to reimagine the traditional museum experience.

ALHFAM, as the name suggests, is a very specific group that deals with slightly different challenges than the larger museum field.

We used our new keynote method – it’s easier to tailor a presentation to problem solve for the site-specific challenges, and we showcased specific strategies applicable to ALHFAM’s members.

Just like on our tours, we picked an object and told its story, we gave away some secrets for providing VIP treatment, and a few lucky attendees snagged signature dino swag from Dustin.

What did ALHFAM think of the presentation?

“We were thrilled to have Dustin join us for the keynote address this year. The response of the 240 attendees to his presentation was enthusiastic. People were talking about the program for the remainder of the day and throughout the conference.”

We loved getting to meet and talk with this tight-knit community, and follow the action on the #ALHFAM2017 hashtag on Twitter.


The Association for Academic Museums and Galleries is another group with very specific needs. They were looking to add an upbeat and progressive voice as their Conference Keynote speaker.

AAMG is a group that specifically works to get college students and the surrounding community to come to their museum, so they called us for tips, tricks, and inspiration.

We used this opportunity to practice what we preach, most notably with a game we like to play in the museum called Tableau Vivant.

You read that right – the popular parlor game from the 19th century. Volunteers came up to act out different artworks that we pulled from the host gallery’s collection. This gets visitors moving, involved, and brings back one heck of a party game.

What were the results? Well here’s what Twitter had to say:

Ready to try it yourself? Here are our top tips:

  • Creating a go-to conference keynote that can be easily tailored for different environments or types of conference audiences is extremely helpful in getting your message out in as many outlets as possible.
  • Going to at least one meal/reception/event prior to your presentation is a must in order to break the ice with a few people so you know you have go-to volunteers during any activity or question section.
  • If you can, it’s great to be able to see and explore the presentation room and setting prior to your talk so you know how to facilitate interactive components.

Interested in having us at your conference? We’d love to be there! Email us at [email protected]

written with 💖 by Julia Kennedy

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