In an era that values diversity and inclusion, keynote speakers have a responsibility to represent a wide range of perspectives and voices. They have the opportunity to challenge biases, promote inclusivity, and serve as role models for individuals from all walks of life. This role goes beyond the content of their speeches; it extends to their ability to create an environment where everyone feels seen and heard.
While discovering the UK’s Most Encouraging Keynote Speakers to Follow, we came across Karen Lowen.
Karen’s distinctive voice emerged early in her speaking journey, heavily influenced by a fellow speaker whose speeches she admired. Infusing her presentations with her signature sense of humor, Karen found a powerful tool to engage audiences, even when discussing intricate or dry subjects.
Below are the excerpts from our interview with Karen.
What inspired you to become a keynote speaker, and how did you get started in this field?
Many years ago, I engaged a marketing company to act for one of my companies. They announced one day that they had secured me a speaking slot at a prestigious event and that I would be speaking alongside some eminent speakers. I reacted with horror as, at that time, the idea of speaking in front of more than a few people in a boardroom filled me with terror.
I declined the invitation but vowed that I would do all I could to overcome my fear of speaking in public. I joined my local Toastmasters club, which is a not-for-profit worldwide organization that teaches, mentors, and guides public speakers from all walks of life. I was not convinced that they would be able to help, but I was welcomed from my very first meeting, where I met speakers who had overcome shyness, stutters, and other speech difficulties.
With their guidance, I was soon competing in National contests before the end of my first year with them.
I found my ‘voice’ – my unique way of talking – quite early on, inspired by another speaker whose speeches I particularly enjoyed. Whilst I often talk on some quite dry subjects, I always inject my trademark sense of humour into all of my speeches. Breaking up heavy subject matter with humour ensures that you engage with your audience and keep them listening throughout.
What do you believe are the key qualities or skills that make a keynote speaker truly encouraging and impactful?
I have listened to a great many speakers over the years, and I’m often appalled at their level of technical ability. If you are a seasoned public speaker, there is no excuse, in my book, for undue hesitations, filler words, and errs and ums. I never cease to be astonished at how many politicians and other public figures cannot make a fluid, coherent speech.
Taking the time early on to learn the basic techniques of good public speaking will pay dividends in the years that follow and in your speaking career. The structure of a speech can only take you so far; delivery often counts for how you move around the speaking platform; body gestures, intonation, and volume all matter. Plus, if you do not sound genuine, convincing, insightful, and amusing, then no one will want to hear what you have to say.
It is vital to do your research before accepting any speaking engagement. Who will you be speaking to? How big is the venue and speaking space? Is it an informal engagement, such as an after-dinner speech, or a large event where you will be the sole focus on a stage setting? What are you being asked to speak about?
How do you approach your keynote speeches to ensure that you inspire and encourage your audience effectively?
Know your audience is a mantra I like to repeat to new speakers. It is crucial that you fully understand who you will be speaking to so that you can write and deliver a talk that will keep them engaged and talking about you for weeks to come afterward.
Can you share a specific instance where your speech had a profound effect on an individual or a group of people?
I was once asked to give a talk on leadership and management styles to a group of people with no business or management knowledge. There are dozens of ways that I could have focused a talk on this subject, but I had to assume that my audience would have no prior experience of leadership that I could draw on.
After much thought, I wrote a general introduction to management and leadership and then framed the rest of my talk around five of the main leadership styles illustrated with the use of food items. This also gave me valuable props to use, which also helps to hold an audience’s interest. An onion became my bureaucratic leader – able to overpower others and only complement certain other working types. A basket of apples became my democrats – all the same and happy to decide which way to roll by consensus. A shepherd’s pie became my altruistic leader – each individual, whilst unique, acting in unison to create something greater as a whole. You get the idea, and it worked. My audience was engaged throughout and, judging by their enthusiastic applause, enjoyed the content and delivery of my speech. There was also much debate following the talk about who was more of an onion than a shepherd’s pie!
How do you stay up-to-date with current trends and topics to ensure your speeches remain relevant and engaging?
No matter how many speeches I give, what keeps me wanting to share my thoughts on stage or lectern is that I thrive on audience feedback. There is a moment in a good speech when you can feel that you are holding the attention of the room in your hand. You are taking them on a journey where, just for that moment, you have taken them out of their reality into a world that you have created. That is the moment that I think many speakers long for and what keeps inspiring me to share my knowledge, wisdom, and experience.