Storytellers vs. Key Note Speakers… What’s The Difference


Conferences all seem to follow the same recipe. Opening night cocktails in a large room surrounded by vendors. Then there’s networking and connecting with old friends, alumni, and some enemies.


Opening day, there’s a Public Key Note Speaker who has probably published a book and has over 1.1 million Instagram followers. This is how the last conference I attended started. And when it came to the keynote speaker part, I was turned off.


A woman with grey hair, wearing a pepto bismol pink suit, stood on stage. She claimed to be an LVN who practiced nursing in the 70’s. She talked about nursing in the 1970’s while she flapped her arms up and down and looked into the audience with a blank stare. In acting this is called a ‘monologue’: a long speech by one actor in a play or movie, or as part of a theatrical or broadcast program.


I was confused to why this woman was on stage. It was a conference for Nurse Practitioners. Many of the nurses in the audience had masters and doctoral degrees. Many were not even born in the 70’s.


Unfortunately, I quickly became bored of the monologue, which had no meaning. We as nurse practitioners are facing many trivialities concerning healthcare: full practice authority, male lawmakers passing strange laws that affect women, and a list of other important stuff. But there was a LVN reciting a monologue about the 1970’s, which had nothing to do with me.


Disinterested, I quickly left the ballroom, and headed to a restaurant. At the restaurant  I bumped into several other nurse practitioners that had left the conference. With guilty faces facing me, I said: “Let’s just say it, she sucked!”


As we all sat down to have breakfast with each other, one by one we started to share what type of work we did as nurse practitioners. One NP shared she worked at the largest adolescent transgender clinic in the United States, another was doing her doctoral study on medicinal marijuana to be used on children with seizures, and I shared about my writing and story telling shows.


There was a beautiful bonding and connection that was happening. The stories were amazing. They were interesting. They were happening in the modern age.


In my opinion the use of keynote speakers is a thing of the past. It goes far back to Greek and Roman times which was known as rhetoric. To me it feels purely evangelical: someone is trying to preach something  that I really can care less about. And they are just relaying a message. They do not connect with the audience, because they are connecting with their message. With in five minutes, it starts to sound like the teacher talking in Charlie Brown cartoons…”wa, wa , wa.”


Storytelling is the wave of the future. A ‘key note speaker’ person challenged me and said: well, people have told me that I do storytelling!” That was a weird statement? She didn’t even know for herself that she was doing storytelling? “People” had to tell her?


When you tell a story on stage it’s unscripted. Yes, you write a story out, you work to “learn” your story not memorize like a monologue. A story comes from the heart and you are connecting with your audience. The story should resonate with the theme. People are able to learn from storytelling.


In this world of “fake” news allegation, the general public is just done with ‘fake.’ We are done with people getting paid money to speak at a conference just because they wrote a book, but may have nothing in common with the status quo of the conference goers. Conferences are expensive and people want to be entertained. We want to connect. We want to here stories from people that are just like us.