What is a Keynote Speaker?


World-class keynote speakers are very rare.  Awful keynote speakers are unfortunately very common and dreaded by conference participants everywhere. You can usually tell if a keynote speaker is going to shine in less than a couple of minutes.  With a great keynote speaker there’s an immediate total emotional and mental connection, a stage presence, an energy which captivates, the whole auditorium lights up.

Being a keynote speaker is not a logical or rational thing only.  You can watch videos of keynote speakers and try to analyze style or content but there’s something else going on.  In fact videos are a very poor tool to capture the experience of being part of a live audience that is being “worked” by a pro. It’s almost mystical – the connection of one person with hundreds or thousands is the primary characteristic of a world-class keynote speaker.

People relate to people, and at the end of the day that’s what really counts.
What are Top Speakers’ greatest assets:
  • Keynote speakers have the ability to grab people’s attention.
  • They formulate their own lasting provocative ideas.
  • They can give people a boost and stimulate morale.
  • They have the ability to positively change the lives of people they meet.
  • Keynote speakers can communicate complex ideas in short phrases or simple terms.
  • Keynote speakers take the wider view – setting the tone and perspective for everything that follows.
  • Keynote speakers entertain as well as inform.
  • Great Keynote speakers have a genuine interest in other people.
  • Keynote speakers are warm and confident in what they are saying without being arrogant.
  • Keynote speakers are flexible:  your event’s success is more important to them than their great ideas.
  • Keynote speakers work closely with organizers to make the message fit well.
  • Keynote speakers are good team workers.
  • Keynote speakers pay the closest attention to detail to get it right.
So how can you tell in advance who is going to be a great keynote speaker and who is going to be a total disaster?
Important tests for potential Keynote Speakers.
  • Audition them on the phone
  • Do they listen?
  • Do you like them?
  • Do they really get what you are trying to do?
  • Do their ideas really fit your keynote theme?
  • Are they persuasive, getting your attention?
  • Can they communicate powerfully in a direct and simple way?
  • Do you think you can work with this person?
  • Have you talked to others they have worked with?
  • Has anyone actually heard them give a keynote speech at an event?
  • Have you at least seen a keynote video?
  • Have you looked at the slides from a sample keynote presentation?
  • Do they give keynote speeches at a lot of events like yours?
  • Do they speak well of other contributors or slag other people off?
  • Are they rigid or accommodating?
  • Do they have a sense of humour?
  • Do they have an agent representing them, with a strong reputation, as a further badge of quality and guarantee of past success?
  • Have you searched the web using the speaker’s name to see what others are saying about them?  Remember your conference delegates may well do the same.
  • Do they have a high profile on the web?
  • Have you searched press files to see how often they are quoted?
Common mistakes people make about Keynote Speakers.
Just because someone is a Professor or the author of a book does not necessarily mean they are great in front of an audience.  Many of the world’s best and most original thinkers are hopeless in front of a sizeable audience.  And successful Chairmen or CEOs of companies can be an even greater risk as keynote speakers:  they got to be where they are for many reasons, but rarely because they are primarily great conference communicators.  And even if they are, you may find you are getting little more than a long commercial, albeit for free.  Celebrities from film, TV or sport can be wonderful entertainers, especially at a lunch-time or dinner session, but you may be disappointed if you expect great numbers of sharply relevant insights into business success.  Politicians are professional speech-givers, but you can land up with a party-political broadcast unless they are recently retired.
Keynote conference speaking has become a specialty area in it’s own right in recent years, almost an art form, with a select group of practitioners dominating the world stage at corporate events.  It is a now a distinct profession, with various entry paths, many of them eclectic.
And the qualification?  There is of course only one: the ability to delight an audience.