If you have ever attended any type of professional conference or other event, you’ve undoubtedly been invited to a keynote speech. Usually, the keynote speaker is a bold-faced name, a leader in your industry or a noted expert in a topic or issues related to the conference them, and is charged with kicking off the event and getting everyone excited and ready to learn. In fact, it could be argued that the keynote speech is the most important hour of the entire event.
That’s right: Even with a killer series of breakout sessions and panel discussions, luncheons, cocktail parties, and all of the other events that make up a conference, the keynote speech can actually transform your entire event. Who you choose to speak, what they talk about, and the way they inspire the audience can all make or break your event as much as any other factor.
Keynotes Defined — And Why They Matter
To begin the discussion of the importance of the keynote speech, it’s useful to define a keynote. In the simplest terms, a keynote is a speech or talk given at the beginning of the event that sets the tone or establishes the underlying theme of the event. Keynote speakers tend to be motivational, inspiring the audience to get excited for the rest of the event and giving them ways that they can incorporate the information they are about to receive into their own lives and work.
In most cases, keynote speakers are chosen for their excellence in a particular area and their ability to draw an audience. That doesn’t mean that you have to hire a household name to deliver a keynote, but expertise and excellence in their field is a must. Perhaps even more important, though, is the ability to deliver a dynamic speech that’s focused on the theme of the event. Someone might be a renowned expert, but that doesn’t always make them ideal for a keynote, especially if their message is muddled, self-focused, or not in line with the spirit of the event.
Remember also that a keynote speaker is not someone who is going to provide detailed plans, provide insights into the next steps the audience should take, or solve all of your organization’s problems in less than 60 minutes with an inspiring speech. Instead, the keynote should be focused on explaining to the audience why the information they’re about to learn matters and how it applies to their unique situations.
Finding the Right Keynote Speaker
Choosing a keynote speaker can be one of the more challenging aspects of planning an event, but it’s worth the time and effort. Keep in mind some of the principles of choosing a great speaker.
- Don’t Look Within Your Industry Only. While a well-known speaker from your industry can add to your event, don’t be afraid to look outside of your industry or the specific theme of the conference to find a great keynote. For example, someone like Robert O’Neill, former SEAL Team Six leader, can provide unique insights on leadership, teamwork, and decision-making that will change your attendees’ perspectives even if they’ve never been a part of the military. Just be sure to confirm that the speaker is comfortable speaking in front of an audience like yours, and is able to tailor the talk to your needs.
- Discuss Research. When vetting potential speakers, discuss their approach to research and how they plan to structure their talk. How do they plan to customize their speech for your audience? What do they see as the main themes of your conference and how can they work within those themes? Don’t leave a speaker to fend for him or herself and try to determine what you want, but work closely together to ensure everyone is happy. Provide the speaker with information they can use to craft a relevant, well-received speech.
- Don’t Overlook Delivery. Finally, be sure to evaluate a potential speaker’s ability to speak in addition to their message. A message is only as compelling as the person delivering it, so don’t let great information disappear into a so-so delivery. The best keynote speeches are those in which the speaker can engage the audience through dynamic delivery that allows their message to be heard loud and clear.
Again, a keynote speech sets the tone for your event, so it’s important to choose the right speaker to kick it off. By remembering the mantra that the keynote is the most important hour of the day, you’ll be able to find the right person to make your event memorable and useful to attendees.