What is a Keynote Speaker John Howard
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Corporate Events

What is a keynote Speaker? Find Out How to Make Your Event Stand Out

What is the fundamental role of a keynote speaker?

The keynote speaker is the most important presenter at your event. They usually speak at the beginning of your event. They will deliver an energetic, entertaining, and well informed presentation to open or close the event.

What is the role of a keynote speaker?

The keynote speaker’s role is to captivate the audience from the very beginning of your event and introduce a theme to the agenda.

To achieve this, they should have attended a briefing with your key stakeholders to gain a thorough understanding of the audience and the outcome to be achieved from the session.

Following a briefing, the keynote speaker will tailor their presentation content to be highly relevant to the audience and display an understanding of the industry in which they operate. They will use different techniques to achieve engagement, including high quality visual aids, storytelling and audience engagement.

As the first impression of the agenda to follow, it is critical to choose your keynote speaker wisely.

What Is the Difference Between a Guest Speaker and a Keynote Speaker?

Keynote speakers will normally “headline” an event and may also close the event. They will enjoy a high public profile or outstanding credentials in their field. Their presentations provide high impact content specific to their field of expertise or experience.

Guest speakers are engaged to provide more of the detailed content for the event. Their presentation will focus on industry specific skills or information and be delivered in an informational format. Or they may provide specialist skills training in particular areas.

Event Speaker General Steven Day

What Makes a Good Keynote Speech?

A well received keynote speech will be delivered with energy, passion and even some entertainment. It's easy to be impressed by a keynote speaker's background or topic, but the most important thing for their success at your event is how professional they are and how much presence they have on stage. If their presentation style is lackluster, the audience will not be engaged.

A keynote presenter should never read their speech word for word - at worst, they should only need to refer to prompts. The best keynote speakers are so knowledgeable about their subject that they never need to refer to notes. This will allow them the freedom to roam the stage and interact closely with more members of the audience. A great keynote speaker is able to gauge the interest of the delegates and adjust their content on the spot to ensure it is relevant.

The keynote speaker should always deliver your guests the best experience and outcomes possible. Some may ask the audience questions or conduct role plays or demonstrations to help with this process - audience engagement is a very effective way to keep the interest level at its peak.

A great keynote presentation can be recognised by the lack of restlessness in the crowd, furious note taking and the reaction of the audience at the end of the presentation.

Great keynote presenters will be available after the conference session (time permitting) to individually meet delegates, sometimes selling and autographing books or offering online platforms for further interaction to ensure the message remains after the initial presentation.


What are the benefits of having a keynote speaker at your event?

A keynote speaker can add great credibility to your event and capture the attention of the audience for all of the conference content to follow.

Chosen well, the keynote speaker will engage and inspire your audience with their enthusiasm for their topic and its relevance to your guests.

They will encourage the audience to be open to new ideas, be motivated for change and be enthusiastic to implement strategies that can improve their lives, either professionally, personally or both. By investing in a keynote speaker, your audience will feel valued and that you have invested in their experience at the event.

A high profile keynote speaker can be promoted in the marketing of your event (within the guidelines provided by the speaker’s agent), which will increase ticket sales.

What are the Types of Keynote Speakers?

Motivational Keynote Speaker

A motivational speaker typically focuses on stories of overcoming adversity and achieving goals. Their purpose is to motivate and inspire the audience and come from a diverse range of backgrounds. Their uniqueness is their personal story.

Celebrity Keynote Speaker

A celebrity keynote speaker is a person who enjoys a high profile in mass media and is considered an authentic specialist in their area. They will usually be well known to your target audience. Examples would include media personalities, sportspeople and politicians.

Specialist Keynote Speaker

This category of speaker will specialise in a certain area of current trends. They may cover areas such as handling disruption, change management, climate change, diversity - all subjects that are top of mind in today’s society and a focus for many businesses.

Industry Expert Keynote Speaker

Industry experts have a high level of respect and a great deal of valued experience and knowledge. They will usually have access to data and trends that are industry specific and not readily available to outsiders. They therefore become a very valuable resource for your event.

Entertainment Keynote Speaker

This keynote speaker uses their entertainment skills to engage the audience. Typically, they would be used at the end of the event to provide a light-hearted end to an intense program or segway to a closing function. But they still deliver an important message and are quite often used for dinner speaking engagements.

keynote speaker vs guest speaker

How do you choose the right keynote speaker for your event?

Step 1: Know your desired outcome

Ask yourself who is in your audience and what is it you want them to take away from the presentation?  Are there specific areas that need to be addressed that this speaker can enforce?

Step 2 : Do your research

When choosing a keynote speaker, you'll want to consider several factors to ensure you choose the best possible candidate for your event.

  • Provide your speaker bureau representative with a brief and request their recommendations. Alternatively, write your own list of speakers to make direct contact.
  • Determine the style and impact of the speaker, and look for videos you can access on the speakers’ websites or through other online channels such as Youtube, Twitter and TEDx videos.
  • Seek feedback from industry colleagues who have used the speaker/s you are considering.
  • Look at speaker reviews to ensure you have proof of the dynamics of the presentation before committing to your keynote speaker.
  • Consider how the Guest Speaker will enhance the marketing of the event to attract your targeted audience.

Step 3 : Consider your theme

When deciding on a keynote speaker for your event, ask yourself does this speaker’s content relate to your theme?  How willing are they to adapt their content to ensure it is relevant to the outcome you desire?  This should be discussed with the speaker candidate prior to committing. A good keynote speaker will understand the importance of weaving your theme into their presentation.

Step 4 : Consider the keynote speaker’s style

Is the keynote presenter’s content validated, unique and relatable? Do they show a level of enthusiasm and flexibility that makes you feel confident they will deliver the desired experience for your audience? How well do they understand your industry and business culture and are they willing to invest time in researching content to ensure its relevance? Are they providing real takeaway value to your audience or simply “selling” their product or services through the presentation?

Step 5 : Consider the keynote speaker’s fee

Fees are determined by the level of demand for that speaker’s content and their time. Two fee options may be offered - one to provide an online presentation (requiring less time for travel etc) and the other for a “live” presentation. Your speaker bureau representative or direct contact will advise you of the fee on enquiry.

Step 6: Important factors to consider in budgeting for your keynote speaker

  • Are there any particular audio visual requirements that the speaker will require outside of what has already been organised or budgeted?
  • Is air travel required and what on ground costs are necessary such as accommodation, meals, airport transfers?
  • Are there any other costs such as sourcing materials for delegate participation?
  • Can your budget accommodate the investment in this speaker?

Step 7: Confirm the keynote speaker

Finalise all arrangements with the keynote speaker’s agent or direct contact.

  • Review the contract carefully, particularly around any clauses such as restrictions on filming or recording the session.
  • Ensure there is agreement if you require some video footage of the presentation for a highlight reel or access to the speaker for media interviews.

When Choosing a Keynote Speaker all of these considerations should be planned and agreed to prior to entering into a contract to ensure you receive all the benefits you expect for your event delegates.


When do event planners hire a keynote speaker?

Keynote speakers are hired when the event is considered important enough to create real impact and deliver a fantastic experience for the delegates.

A great keynote speaker will determine the overall rating of the event from conference attendees’ feedback. They will launch the event with a real wow factor and are generally engaged to enhance the credibility of the event within any given industry.

When opening the event with enthusiasm energy, motivation or inspiration, they will open the minds of delegates to all of the content to follow. That is why it is so important to choose your keynote speaker wisely.

How long does a keynote speaker talk for?

A keynote speaker will typically present for at least 45 minutes and up to 60 minutes or more. This length of time will allow them to address more in-depth and technical industry-specific topics.

The length of a keynote speaker's address will also depend upon the format of your conference such as:

  • How much time in the event schedule do you have for the keynote presentation?
  • What is the purpose of your presentation?
  • Are there any specific topics that need to be covered?
  • What is the age group of the audience?
  • Do you want there to be interactive activities incorporated into the presentation?
  • Will you have a Q&A session at the end of the speech?

Each of these factors are important to both the smooth running of the event and the success of the presentation and must be clearly communicated with the speaker prior to the event.


How to introduce a keynote speaker?

Most keynote speakers (or their agent) will provide a standard introduction script. It is important for your MC to meet the speaker and personalise this introduction to their requirements and to include relevance to the event theme. There may even be updates about recent accomplishments or other news to make sure the information is up-to-date.

The introduction of a keynote speaker is a great way to set the tone for the speech, make the speaker feel welcome and appreciated, and establish the speaker's credentials and suitability for the topic.

When introducing a speaker, keep in mind these three things:

Try to keep it brief.

Keep in mind that this is not about you. Use one sentence to greet the audience and introduce yourself, two to describe why this speech is so important, and three to four to describe their qualifications as a speaker. Finally, introduce the speaker by their full name (with correct pronunciation).

Get informed.

The bare minimum is to know how to properly pronounce the speaker's name. Getting to know your speaker's background and presentation style before you have to introduce them is a great way to get inspiration for your own opening remarks. If you can, include just a few bullet points that highlight their relevant experience or expertise.

Don't be shy; just dive right in.

In the introduction, you have the chance to set the tone for the entire speech. When you're done with your introduction, be the one to start the applause and greet the speaker.

There are a few pitfalls that you should avoid when introducing a keynote speaker.

  • Struggling too hard to make people laugh.
  • Using adages like "this speaker needs no introduction" as though they have some sort of magical power.
  • Reciting their entire profile on Wikipedia or CV in full
  • Including potentially embarrassing details about one's health or family.
  • Reading the introduction word for word and avoid many paragraphs - personalise it, keep it short and tease the audience into anticipation
  •  Telling the whole story in the introduction as it diminishes the impact of the keynote speaker’s message.

How do you thank a guest speaker?

Saying "thank you" to a speaker after a presentation is an excellent way to show appreciation and reinforce the presentation's main points.

Genuineness, specificity, and individualisation are the three pillars of an effective thank-you speech.

Be Genuine

This is the crux of the thank you note. Many courageous and open-hearted actions are displayed by guest speakers. It will go far in showing your gratitude if you start by praising these qualities. Rather than a cliche like "thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule," emphasise the significance of the speaker's presentation. After hearing the speech, how did you feel? Use words like inspiring, illuminating, and potent.

Be Specific

In your speech of gratitude, you may also wish to emphasise the significance of certain ideas presented in their talk. Including them in your thank-you will make the speaker feel appreciated and also help the audience remember the most important points. But don't just paraphrase what they said; tailor it to your audience, and like your introduction, keep it brief and to the point.

Be Personalised

Doing the legwork for an excellent introduction will serve you well when it comes time to express gratitude to your speaker. Assist them in feeling that their presentation was appreciated and worthwhile. Considering you've already compensated them for their time, it's not necessary to show your appreciation with a gift, but it's always appreciated.