The keynote speaker sets the tone of a meeting or event. He or she will usually kick things off with a speech that is longer than most or all other speeches or addresses delivered during the event, such as a weekend conference. The keynote speech will be a broad speech, covering many topics. The other speakers will then dig deeper into one aspect of the keynote speech. Whatever the theme of the conference, the keynote summarizes the ideas that follow and generates excitement for the event.
For people who do not attend the event but still have some interest in the topic, the keynote speech is what they will most likely listen to later. For this reason, the keynote speech can serve as an advertisement for the entire conference. It is quite common, therefore, to get a popular personality or a person of prominence or notoriety to deliver the keynote address.
A keynote speaker is often confused with other kinds of speakers, such as a motivational speaker. However, while a keynote speaker can motivate people, the terms are not synonymous. A keynote speaker is the one who delivers the big picture speech to the audience, who develops the overall theme of an event and creates expectations for what is to come. In whatever manner he or she chooses to do that, whether by motivation, humor, edification or other method, the speech that kicks off the event with the broadest coverage of what is to come is the identifiable keynote speech.
What Kind of Keynote Speaker Is the Right Choice?
Some occasions call for a specific kind of keynote speaker due to the type of event, while other occasions lend themselves to a less-specific style of speaker. It all comes down to subject matter, audience and what the goals of the organization are. An event organizer needs to consider what the specific goal of the event is for the organization. There are several possibilities.
- It could be a scientific symposium or a political event about an important issue. If the main goal of the event is to educate the audience, the speaker will have to have a familiarity with the topic. If the audience is going to consist of experts in the field, the keynote speaker must have impeccable credentials. If it will be a general audience, the keynote speaker will need to be adept at communicating material to a lay audience.
- Motivation is often the goal for sales conferences, or other industry-specific events open to people working in the field. In this case, the keynote speaker will need a flare for oratory. However, it will also be important to set an example. At a sales conference, a motivational keynote speaker should have achieved something notable in the field, or in some way done remarkable things through dedication and effort.
- An inspirational speaker is like a motivational one, and often the same person can deliver both kinds of keynote address. An inspirational speaker often focuses on overcoming the odds. This type of keynote speaker, for instance, might have excelled as an editor despite being dyslexic, or lost his or her legs in combat and has learned to live a fulfilling live despite their setback. An inspirational speaker focuses on a feeling and a lesson, while a motivational speaker focuses on action.
- Promote change. If the goal of an event is to achieve change in behavior or attitude, a keynote speaker who can motivate as well as educate might be the best solution. The purely motivational speaker is often speaking to people who already share a common goal and are just looking for some emotional energy to get them going. An educational speaker is usually addressing an audience that came eager to learn. An organization that seeks change may have to overcome biases and predispositions in the audience, and so a more complex approach is warranted.
- Increase Awareness. If there is an important issue that an organization deals with, the first step on the path to promoting change could be raising the awareness of the general public. An educational speaker may tell an audience of professionals about a new cancer therapy, but a keynote speaker who seeks to increase awareness will speak more about the prevalence and consequences of cancer to a more general audience. If the goal is to increase awareness, expertise in a subject matter may be less important than the high profile of the keynote speaker.
- Promote development. This sort of keynote speech is usually for professionals of a common industry. There should be an element of education as well as motivation. The keynote speaker must have experience in the industry, a recognized leader with many stories to tell and a wealth of wisdom gained from experience. In dynamic, evolving industries the keynote speech may highlight the latest advances and developments in the industry.
- Sometimes the goal is simply to entertain. Rather than giving an overview of a theme or delivering the essence of a conference, the keynote speech is more about setting the right mood. The event may not have a single topic and thus there is no core theme to sketch during the speech. The event organizers simply want to make sure the audience enjoys themselves. The keynote speaker should have a gift for connecting with an audience. A proficiency in humor is also important for such a speaker.
There are many ways to deliver a keynote speech. One should consider the audience and the subject matter when determining the tone and approach of the speech. Smaller conferences might have more specialists in a field and therefore the keynote speech can reflect this with more in-depth coverage. For a large audience or a lay audience, humor may work better.
The keynote address could be the most important part of a rally, meeting or conference. It is important to choose the right person who knows the subject matter but can also bring a higher profile to the proceedings.
The keynote speaker needs to understand the size and composition of the audience to fashion the appropriate speech for the occasion, and he or she must also understand the tone the organizers of the conference wish to imbue to the occasion. The success of a conference often hinges on the effectiveness of the keynote speaker; getting the keynote address right is a large part of the battle.