What is a Keynote Speaker – Everything You Need to Know

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What is a Keynote Speaker (1)

The meaning of a keynote speaker lies in the name itself – to deliver the “key note” of the event. These speakers set the main agenda and tone for the conference or event while the other speakers add to the surrounding themes. 

Many people would recognize former Apple CEO Steve Jobs as a great tech leader and an outstanding communicator, but not a lot would consider that his role as a keynote speaker is in no minor part a reason for Apple’s success. Like him, many others excel in this specific role.

I’m an artist who had the chance to perform as a keynote speaker at numerous events and have watched and listened to some great speakers, as well. I also studied discourse and stage performance as part of my training as an artist. As such, I know this is a crucial component in many events, but there are various types of keynote speakers used for different purposes. 

In this article, I’ll analyze the various aspects that make a keynote speaker, what’s the use for this role in public speaking, and many other considerations.

What is a Keynote Speaker?

A keynote speaker is someone who gives a keynote address at a large meeting. But to really understand what a keynote speaker is, we have to look at the word “keynote” a bit closer. 

Basically, a keynote is a talk that establishes a central theme. So, the keynote speaker is the person in charge of delivering that talk.

These speakers are often chosen from a pool of well-known personalities in their field who can also raise interest (and attendance) for the event. 

What Is the Role of a Keynote Speaker?

Leaving the personality or prestige of the speaker aside, they are in charge of setting the tone of the whole program and summarizing the message that will be transmitted throughout the event. 

Unlike a guest speaker, the keynote speaker has a very specific role. Of course, this has changed a bit recently, as there has been an increase in people using the word keynote to just mean “invited talk,” at events with many keynotes, such as an opening and closing keynote, and more in between.

A keynote speaker’s prestige is an implicit part of their job. But it’s not only the social status of the speaker that is essential. It’s also important for their discourse to be dynamic and for them to be well-prepared for mass audiences. 

Also, even though it’s not strictly their job, it’s vital that the keynote speaker is active in promoting the event on their social media channels or among their other circles to raise more awareness.

Why Is It Important to Find the Right Keynote Speaker?

As you can see, the keynote speaker is a critical part of any event. In fact, you could compare a keynote speaker to a movie trailer.

In the trailer, studios hope to display enough material to convince people to watch the movie, so there’s a promotional aspect. But it also sets the movie’s tone and reveals what to expect.

The right keynote speaker works the same way, except you don’t see the trailer before the movie begins. So the social aspect of the speaker is of even greater importance when considering this. An upstanding individual with a significant following would be a great choice.

Audience engagement is also vital for any keynote speaker. When hiring someone for this role, you need to do your research to find the right person for the job and the intended audience. Like any message, the sender and receiver are equally important.

In the case of keynote speakers, everything has to be scrutinized before committing to someone. The pace, tone of voice, commitment to a cause, and conviction of ideas all play a role when a speaker is in front of an audience.

It’s also important to look for people who are prepared. Some speakers might be excellent communicators or storytellers, but keynote speeches are very specific kinds of addresses, so they should be able to deal with its requirements.

What are the Qualifications of a Good Keynote Speaker?

Qualifications of a Good Keynote Speaker

It is vital to find a keynote speaker whose personality, philosophy and cadence fits the objectives of the event. While each speaker will be different, you can ensure the one you pick has a few professional qualities like the ones I’ve listed below. 

First, leadership skills are paramount. This is because the keynote speaker sets the tone and needs to lead people in the right direction.

Second, authenticity is crucial. Impostors are easily spotted, and the speaker should be able to back up what they say implicitly, either with their on-stage presence, some anecdotes, or even through their background.

Third, the speaker needs to strike a balance between brevity and storytelling. Any speaker has to be a good storyteller, but in keynote speaking, this is delicate since the speaker needs to go straight to the point. This takes a lot of experience and training.

Of course, charisma and confidence are essential as well. Speakers must be credible and believe in what they say, which usually comes from experience in the field or commitment to a cause. And charisma is that special aura some people have, which can light a room with enthusiasm with their presence. This is perhaps the most challenging thing to measure.

Where Can You Find a Keynote Speaker?

Finding a good keynote speaker is an art in itself, and you can book their services from agencies or find them on your own. 

If you go the agency route, they will usually present you with their keynote speaker roster. They generally have specialized speakers for each situation, like vinyl speakers, and they know their people well, so you need to select someone from among their recommendations and pay their fee (which can be 20-30% of the total).

The only problem with using an agency is that it may not have the person you’re looking for. Perhaps there is a certain quality you need for your event, and none of their speakers deliver that. In that case, you would probably need to work independently to find the perfect keynote speaker.

The first impulse is to hire someone famous related to the event’s needs, but they are often expensive. While less experienced keynote speakers can typically cost between $1,500 and $5,000, famous ones could start at $25,000, and more for celebrity keynote speakers.

So how do you ensure the chosen keynote speaker is a good match for the event? This is a complicated task since you have to do your research. 

Since you’re finding someone on your own, a good place to start would be to ask your network for recommendations. You could contact colleges, universities and other educational institutions or charities and other foundations. 

A good idea before hiring anyone, either a keynote speaker or a guest speaker, is to look online for clips of prior speeches they have given. If you find videos of their presentations, you’d be able to assess their performance and if they suit your needs. If possible, watch several videos, as each event might require a different approach.

Of course, nothing beats the dynamics of a live assessment. If possible, participate in events where they are featured. This way, you’ll get impressions from the audience, which is challenging to measure by just watching videos.

You can also check out comments in forums or on social media about a particular event, which might mention the keynote speaker. This is important because the keynote speaker is not usually the main event, but if someone mentions how great the keynote speaker was, it definitely offers something memorable.

The good thing about keynote speakers is that their reputation follows them. However, separating their regular activities from their keynote speeches is also necessary. This is a very common mistake people make, since there are excellent professionals in their field who have a poor on-stage presence.

With that being said, no keynote speaker will perform at their best if they don’t have the necessary information for their services. They need to be briefed about the whole event, including who else is speaking, what the audience demographics are, what topics should be covered, and anything else that might impact what they say.

Tips to Deliver a Perfect Keynote Speech 

Tips to Deliver a Perfect Keynote Speech 

What if someone asks you to be a keynote speaker? It may happen because of familiarity, if you’re an expert on something, or if you want to try it as a career move.

Whatever the reason, there are some key concepts you should bear in mind before and during the speech. Here are the most important considerations.

1. Get familiarized with your client’s wishes

You want to make sure you both have the same expectations, so it’s best to set a timely appointment and review all the details first. 

Even if what they want is not a keynote speaker, you can still offer assistance by finding someone that’s a better fit, or even attempt to do it yourself. Bear in mind discourse is a big topic and different speaker types need different preparation and skills.

2. Understand what the keynote is about

What does your client require? Is it a light-hearted topic? Is it a serious issue? Do you need to inform people about something, or entertain? Is it a product or an issue? All of this comes into play when assessing what shape your speech will take.

This is extremely important to tackle first since it may be what’s required is not your style. In general, audiences need entertainment and engagement, but checking that your style matches your client’s vision is fundamental.

3. Learn everything you can about the audience

As I mentioned, the receiver is as important as the sender. In speeches and other performances, audience feedback lets you improvise and gauge how you’re doing. The important thing is to connect with the audience. That means whatever you’re saying has to be relatable.

You could do some research for this, such as participating in similar events, looking at the target audience online, browsing forums, and more. 

4. Understand the topic at hand

Understanding the topic is the most important aspect here. You not only need to know the topic in and out, but you also need to understand the problem or, better put, why there is an event about it. 

For example, you might be a smartphone expert, but you won’t fare well if you don’t know what product your client wants to present. You must consider why people are assembled there, what kind of problem the product solves, and, perhaps most importantly, why you are there. 

5. Prepare your storytelling

Good keynote speakers don’t simply talk about the event’s topic. Instead, they ingeniously link it to personal anecdotes or thoughts, which effortlessly merge into a single thing: the reason why the audience is there and how their lives will be a little better afterward.

Remember not to talk facts-only. People are moved by emotional anecdotes rather than cold numbers. Make a joke, share anything that makes you relatable instead of just being on a podium.

6. Practice makes perfect

Rehearse a lot before the event. Make slide decks in due time, and refine the wording, body language, and tone of voice. Remember that keynotes don’t last long, and you might be required to finish in as little as 15 minutes.

You might need to trim some of your material to make it. And it would be best if you also practiced some improvisation, which is an invaluable skill for any presenter. This way, you are prepared to expect the unexpected and act accordingly.

7. Connect with people, online and offline

If you get the chance to meet audience members before your speech, take advantage of the opportunity. Make small talk and discuss the event; everything will help when you deliver your keynote speech. It will also bolster the relationship between you and the attendees.

Don’t dismiss connecting with them through social media. It can net you a steady audience, improving your chances of getting other events. You can eventually become an authority in the community, which will make your job easier, net you more contracts, and increase your fees.

Market and Promote Keynote Speakers to Boost your Event

Hiring a popular keynote speaker is a good idea but you should know how to make full use of their popularity. It will help to create a lot of buzz before the event, and eventually help with boosting audience numbers as well. There are many promotional ideas to achieve this

The name of the keynote speaker can be a marketing tool if you get a big name. Use it wherever you can, and mention it at every possible instance when discussing the event with colleagues, interested parties, and online audiences. Use social media to virtually promote your event as well.

If the speaker is not very well-known yet, you should mention them anyway, and it would go a long way if you could show clips of their previous performances or anything that highlights them. 

If possible, you should try to set up the keynote speaker for some interviews to discuss the event’s topic. Then you can maximize this in your social media advertisments, which will impact attendance.

You can also ask the speaker to promote the event from their channels. It’s a symbiotic advantage for both parties since they’ll get the prestige of holding such a role in the event, and you get more awareness.

How to Book a Keynote Speaker?

If you know a keynote speaker personally or know someone who does, the best way to book them would be to speak directly with them. They might redirect you to their agent if needed.

Otherwise, you could look for keynote speaker agencies, or talent agencies with keynote speakers. They link you with speakers and help you determine who might be the best according to your needs and expectations.

Remember that some keynote speakers absorb the agency’s costs while others don’t. It would help if you clarified everything from the start, so there aren’t any misunderstandings.

Check our guide on Best Tailgate Speakers


Now you have a good understanding of keynote speaking. You should be able to better assess your needs as an event planner and what you can and can’t expect from a keynote speaker.

If you’re interested in being a keynote speaker, you also have a good grasp of what it means and some tips on how to get started.

As with any public performance, nothing can be said or written about when it comes to the actual moment of delivering. This is a make-or-break moment, where anxiety might kick in or, conversely, you might feel you were born for it.

The best advice is to follow your instincts and be confident in your abilities. You were put there for a reason — show them why. Do so graciously, and keep in mind you’re one of the most important factors tasked with delivering a message.

If you have any questions about the topic, feel free to contact us! If you liked the article, check out our website for more posts like this.