What is a keynote speaker? The words “Keynote Speaker” are the most searched term for people looking for experts in public speaking. But there are misunderstandings around what is a motivational speaker, public speaker, plenary speaker, keynote speaker, inspirational speaker, breakout speaker, content speaker, etc..
Set The Tone For The Event
A keynote is a talk that sets the tone for the conference. It is usually the first general session presentation of the conference, or the first speech of the day. As a keynote speaker, one of my main messages is about human engagement. When I am in the keynote role and deliver my talk titled “Connecting With People In A Gadget Crazed World”, the message gets people focused on how and why they need to interact and network more at the conference. It becomes the foundation of the conference culture.
All Speakers Are NOT Keynote Speakers
Not all speakers are the right choice for the keynote address. A data heavy technical presentation delivered by an industry expert can be an important part of a meeting agenda. But if that speaker is not an experienced public speaker, it can suck the energy out ot the room.
Some meeting planners and committees get very focused on credentials, and forget that humans in their audience want more than an excel spreadsheet with pie charts. If the speaker has heavily detailed slide, which they mostly read, they are not a keynote speaker.
Finding The Right Balance
This is not to say research and data are not important. All speeches need to have useful and actionable content. But a talk that is just about the data is not a keynote speech. A successful keynote usually is focused on one main topic. The speaker has a “key” point that they want to bring to the audience (a “key note”). They anchor the message through their experience as a storytelling speaker.
An experienced keynote speaker knows how to combine their information and personal stories. Experts who are new to speaking are not usually chosen for the keynote role. Keynote speakers need to have experience on stage and the ability to connect with an audience on an emotional level.
This is often hard to identify, as “style” is subjective and what is engaging for one type of audience may not land with another.
Not A Canned Speech
A keynote speaker should be willing to work with the meeting planner to customize the message for the individual needs of the conference. A good keynote speaker will understand the industry and use a combination of humor, actionable information, and audience participation.
Customizing a presentation takes time, and requires a commitment to being a speaker and part of the meetings industry.
Certified Speaking Professional
In recent years more people have begun chasing speaking as a career, but not all of them are committed to all aspects of the industry. Nor do they all understand the meetings industry.
While there is not single way to determine the skills and dedication of a keynote speaker, one option is to look at their participation level in groups like MPI, ASAE, PCMA, and the National Speakers Association. NSA has a certification called the Certified Speaking Professional, and currently less than 1000 speakers hold this designation. The CSP shows that the speaker has industry longevity and has cleared a rigorous review process.
Selecting Your Keynote Speaker
To find the best keynote speaker for your event your need to start early. The most active keynote speakers are booked six months to a year in advance. The more time you have to review your choices, the more options you will have.
Be prepared when you start the keynote speaker search. Talk to people in your organization or ask friends in other companies / association meeting teams. If you are unsure where to start, contact a speakers bureau. Gather ideas, and know what you want to accomplish.
Be open to fresh ideas, and think about the diversity on your program agenda. Be clear about what the audience needs to experience, and communicate that with all your potential speakers.
Make sure your final decision is run through the “audience test”. Ask yourself “is this the right choice for the audience, not the planning committee”. When your decision is made with that question in mind, everyone will win.
Thom Singer is a keynote speaker and professional master of ceremonies. He is the host of the entrepreneur podcast, “Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do” and the author of 12 books. Book him today to speak at your next event.