digital drawing of a keynote speaker speaking at a podium at an event

What Is a Keynote Speaker and How Do You Find One?

With the power to influence, energize, ignite, and even empower an audience, an impactful keynote speech has the potential to make or break an event’s success. But what is a keynote speaker, exactly, and how do you go about finding the right one? Let’s find out. 

In this post, we take a deep dive into what a keynote speaker is: Who they are, what they do, and where to find them. Why? Well, for starters, harnessing the power of an accomplished and enticing speaker could help take your event to the next level. 

What is a keynote speaker?

A keynote speaker is the primary speaker at an event. While many people may be most familiar with keynote speeches or keynote addresses from graduations or other similar ceremonies, event planners commonly employ these speeches to headline conferences, company retreats, wellness retreats, and other large events. The keynote speaker could be considered the main attraction, the headliner, or the star of an event. 

What is the role of a keynote speaker? 

In addition to setting the tone of an event, keynote speakers may be responsible for dictating the energy and encompassing the theme of an event. If a keynote speaker is slated to speak at the start of an event, they’re the first glimpse that attendees get into the spirit and overall structure of the event. In these instances, a keynote speaker’s purpose is primarily to set the stage for everything to come.

Keynote speakers are usually hired by an event planner or coordinator and may be provided talking points to cover in their speech. Event managers may have some of control over the speech itself and hire speakers who meet the requirements of their event, but it of course varies from event to event. Depending on an events objectives, planners may choose to book a speaker who specializes in motivating others, promoting mindfulness, or sharing insights based on a specific business or industry. 

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Why is it important to find the right keynote speaker? 

Event planners know all too well how difficult it can be to keep attendees engaged over the entirety of a conference ” especially a lengthy one. If the keynote speaker is scheduled to kick off the event, their speech can help set the tone, energy levels, and expectations for the rest of the event. Additionally, a keynote speaker’s notoriety can, in and of itself, help attract an audience to an event, and their power as a speaker can make or break the energy of the audience once they arrive.

Finding the right speaker to headline your conference is an art. You want a speaker who can blend motivation with education while sparking enthusiasm from event attendees. Being a great speaker is all about understanding the expectations of the event, the event planner, and the audience. 

What are the qualifications of a good keynote speaker? 

Every great speaker has their own unique style and cadence. When looking for an outstanding speaker to deliver the keynote speech at your event, look for someone who has a personal style and philosophy that complements the event’s objectives. Additionally, competent speakers should also meet certain professional qualifications. 

While individual traits may vary, a good keynote speaker may: 

  1. Have a specific field of focus and be considered an expert in that field. 
  2. Be viewed as a credible source of information. 
  3. Speak in an engaging, dynamic, and well-paced manner. 
  4. Be able to connect with audiences that have varying levels of expertise. 
  5. Have extensive public speaking experience. 
  6. Boast a list of professional references and previous speech examples. 
  7. Have a reliable and respectable public image. 
  8. Be viewed as an innovator in their chosen field. 
  9. Competently employ various methods of learning and delivery styles.
  10. Understand and work within the boundaries set by event managers. 
  11. Be able to sense disengagement and turn things around. 
  12. Have the ability to go off-script if necessary, and then steer things back. 

Where can you find a keynote speaker?

  • Ask your network for recommendations. Contact colleagues, industry experts, and event professionals in your network for advice. Where did they find the speaker for their last event? Is there someone they would recommend, or a resource that they’ve used in the past? 
  • Contact colleges, universities, and other educational institutions. Reach out to professors, department heads, and administrators for their suggestions. Whatever your field, the associated department at your local institutions likely have a long list of speakers, experts, and even alumni they could provide. Educational recommendations will likely come with a variety of the speaker’s past material to review as well.
  • Look to charities, foundations, and other related organizations. Experts and motivational speakers who frequently work with charity organizations tend to have a unique passion for the topic on which they speak and promote.
  • Check out the National Speakers Bureau, and other similar databases, for a list of experienced keynote speakers. Organizations like the National Speakers Bureau provide event professionals with a database of expert speakers available for hire. To learn more about what they provide, turn to this section of the NSB’s website, which reads: “Remember the last time you were at an event, sitting on the edge of your seat, hanging on every word the speaker said? You looked around and everyone else was doing the same. We know who those speakers are.”
  • Use Speaker Match to connect with industry experts. A quick, easy tool for finding motivational, keynote, and professional speakers, Speaker Match allows users to request suggestions on related speakers based on speaker and budget information provided. You will then receive a list of recommendations based on your criteria. While recommendations are limited to speakers who register with the service, there is also a Speaker Directory users can browse to ensure their industry is covered prior to requesting recommendations.

However, before beginning your search for a keynote speaker, remember that popularity does not necessarily correlate with value. Just because a speaker is recognizable or has a large online presence does not automatically mean that they will contribute anything of particular value to your event and its attendees.

Double-check the credentials and professional references for a speaker before doling out lots of cash for name recognition. Before committing to a keynote speaker, use a Conference Cost Estimator to confirm that the speaker’s fees fit within your budget guidelines. 

Market and promote keynote speakers to boost your event

While you don’t want to book a keynote speaker based on popularity alone, hiring a recognizable speaker can be a powerful way for planners to market an upcoming conference, retreat, or other event. Promoting an event’s keynote speaker in the marketing for the event can increase buzz, leading to higher registration numbers and increased event attendance

Include information about the keynote speaker on marketing materials for the event and corporate event announcements. Highlight a brief biography of the speaker, their credentials, and perhaps 2-3 brief reviews of their previous speeches. Outline how event attendees will benefit from hearing the speaker as well as what they’ll miss out on learning if they don’t attend. 

Virtually market the event, as well as the keynote speaker. Promote the keynote speaker on social media and your event website. Add their bio, a headshot, and a link to the website to register for the event in your promotions. 

Additionally, see if the speaker is willing to write a post or blog that you can showcase online to help get the word out. Connect with the speaker via their online profiles as well so that you can tag them on Facebook, Instagram, and highlight their information on business and event pages. 

Now you know all about keynote speakers!

Up next, become an expert on all things related to event seating layouts with our guide to 8 must-know types of seating arrangements.