What is a keynote and how to select a speaker

With their ability to energize, ignite, influence, and empower an audience, keynote speakers play an instrumental role that can either make or break an event. Their words, actions, and presentations leave an impact on all attendees, which makes keynote speakers the highlight of every conference or event. But what exactly is a keynote speaker and how do you select the best one?

In this guide, we’ll deep dive into everything there is to know about keynote speakers, including who they are, what they do, and finally, where to find them.

What is a keynote?

As their title suggests, a keynote speaker is the leading speaker at a particular event. In other words, they are the headliners, main attractions, and stars of the show.

While keynote speeches and addresses are commonly associated with graduations and other formal ceremonies, institutions and organizers often employ the expertise of keynote speakers to enhance audience experiences during company retreats, conferences, and lectures.

Role of a keynote speaker

As headliners, the main role of a keynote speaker is to set the tone for the event. They dictate the energy and theme of a show through their presentations and guest engagements. If they are scheduled to present at the start of the event, their primary focus is to provide a glimpse into what the affair is all about and hint at its overall structure.

As part of their role, speakers must:

  • Set a positive and relevant tone
  • Attract and engage audiences
  • Educate and leave a lasting impression

Often, the topic of the presentation will depend upon the organizations that have set up the entire event. The organizers typically provide talking points or areas of discussion for the keynote speaker.

While the keynote speaker is the main event, the organizers still have the final say over the content of the event. As such, these planners should select a conference keynote speaker that will be able to appropriately and passionately speak on the topic of the event.

The importance of a keynote speaker

Every planner knows how incredibly challenging it can be to keep attendees interested and engaged throughout the entire conference, especially if it’s a lengthy one.

If the keynote speaker is assigned to kick off the program, their speech and presentation can establish the expectations and energy levels for the rest of the event. Apart from their piece, if the chosen keynote speaker is renowned in their field, then they also have the ability to attract a following and entice the audience.

That being said, choosing a speaker to headline a conference is not only a necessary task but, more importantly, an art form. You need to find speakers who can deliver with conviction, blend education with motivation, and inspire enthusiasm, which is no easy feat.

To start on the right foot, you must understand what your event needs and find a specific type of speaker that can meet your needs.

4 types of keynote speakers

Depending on what your conference needs, you can choose between four main types of professional speakers to headline your event.

1. Motivational speakers

Motivational or inspirational speakers are best suited for events that require a boost in morale. Some event examples include wellness retreats, company outings, and year-end conferences.

Motivational speakers are so sought-after in these scenarios because they know how to relate to their audiences. They understand what their concerns are and motivate them to find solutions that work for them. They promote resilience that has the power to move and empower their audience.

But to make their presentations effective, excellent motivational speakers must speak from life experiences and deliver their narratives with great storytelling. Only then can they compel their audience and motivate them to action.

2. Industry expert speakers

For more business-centric events, industry expert speakers may be the appropriate choice. This type of speaker can fit right in when it comes to lectures, expos, reports, analyses, and other corporate presentations. They provide knowledge and expertise that can help businesses grow and thrive in their industries.

3. Celebrity speakers

If the goal of your event is to stand out and gain traction, one of the fail-proof ways to do so is to have celebrity speakers headline the show. Celebrities and online personalities have large followings and can influence an audience, attract delegates, thrill sponsors, and leave a lasting impression. These are the essential characteristics that can make your event successful.

What’s more, with celebrity speakers on your stage, you can boost brand recognition and increase attention. As such, you can book celebrity speakers from sports, film, politics, music, arts, reality TV, and so much more.

In the age of digital media, you can even tap online personalities that have made a name for themselves on social media platforms. Your list of potential speakers is endless!

4. Entertaining speakers

Often, people associate keynote speakers and speeches with being monotonous and long. If you want to change it up and create a whole new experience for your audience to remember for years, get entertaining speakers. These are speakers who have a way with words and expressions. These are individuals who can grab a person’s attention and maintain it no matter how long it takes.

With their impressive ability to keep audiences hooked and interested, entertaining speakers will leave your guests with a smile on their faces.

Selecting the right keynote speaker

Learning about the types of speakers at an event is just the beginning of the process. Now, you need to contend with a more challenging step — selecting the right keynote speaker.

To help you narrow down your search, we have come up with a list of considerations you need to keep in mind when choosing a keynote speaker for your conference.

Determine the purpose of the event

What is the purpose of your event? Is it to boost morale, educate, or entertain an audience? How many speakers do you need? How long will their presentations last? These are essential questions to ask yourself when choosing the right speakers. Remember, your speakers will adapt to your event, not the other way around. Clarifying the objective of the entire affair is key to helping you identify which talent suits your needs.

Understand your budget

Next, you need to understand your budget and allocate how much you’re willing to spend on a speaker. Naturally, the more well-known speakers like celebrities, politicians, or industry experts are more likely to cost more than low- to mid-level speakers that are not necessarily well-known, but still prominent in their industries.

Know who your audience is

Your audience is another essential factor to consider. It is the focus of your event, and therefore, should be considered every step of the way — especially when choosing the types of speakers for events that attendees want to see.

As much as you would want to gain traction and get the biggest celebrity possible (should the budget allow), this strategy will not work if your audience is not interested in that type of speaker. Perhaps, your audience is businesspeople whose main goal is to obtain knowledge. In such instances, selecting an industry expert speaker may be the more appropriate approach.

On the other hand, if your audience is composed of students who need a bit of moral support, maybe a motivational speaker is the best choice for them.

In any case, knowing who your audience is and what type of speaker they want to see can help you find the right talent for your event.

Review past speeches of potential candidates

While some speakers may look good on paper, they may not deliver in terms of presentation. That’s why it’s important to not just research their background but also review some of their past speeches.

Most speakers have a website where you can access their profiles, as well as their experiences. If not, you can always go to YouTube to see how they speak. Getting a glimpse of their stage presence is critical before booking a speaker for your event. Otherwise, you risk the chance of getting a speaker that cannot effectively present their piece to your guests.

Streamlining your keynote presentation

Keep in mind that the power of a keynote speaker lies in their presentation. Fortunately, technology has come a long way, making it easier than ever to streamline keynote presentations.

AI tools, such as session and abstract management and speaker management software, are now available to make the entire process easier. With this software on hand, you can keep track of your speaker’s content, centralize all data, and delegate responsibilities.

Keynote speakers set the tone for the event

With this guide, you have a deeper understanding of the different types of speakers at conferences and how to choose a keynote speaker for your event. Remember, the speaker you choose will set the tone for the event, so it’s important to invest in the right technologies so you can stay on top of the entire program.

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