Like so many of us, I have seen my fair share of keynote speakers over the years. And like so many experiences in life, we often remember the shockers as much as we remember the standouts.  But what constitutes a standout, and how do we make sure the speaker we engage for our next conference or dinner is just that?

One of the biggest steps in designing a compelling conference program is selecting the keynote speaker. Why? Just as the name suggests, the keynote sets the tone of the program and acts as a drawcard to attract delegates in the first place. However the choice shouldn’t be led by just a ‘name’ – a high profile speaker could be a bad fit for your business or association. Yes the impact could be lasting, but not in a good way! 

A keynote should be memorable and influential; it could be thought-provoking, persuasive, even revelational but it must always add value to the conference by establishing the core message and framework for the rest of the program. Add into the mix that keynotes can be a significant investment for your conference or event budget and the pressure is certainly on to nail it!

keynote speaker

However, like all major decisions, if you follow a clear selection process you can be confident in making the best choice. Here are some tips for you to keep in mind when selecting a keynote speaker for your next event: 


1. Take a step back


Do your research. Have you identified ‘what’s new’, pressure points and ‘hot topics’ within the industry? If not, do it. You will also need to set measurable conference objectives to guide you. Ask yourself, what will be achieved by bringing this group of people together; why is it important? 

2. Know your audience

We previously talked about the importance of audience profiling and we’re not just talking about demographics. This step will paint a clear picture of why a delegate would attend your conference – what are they looking for? If you answer this question with your keynote, you will drive attendance to your event. 

3. Set the tone and flow

A conference theme whether published or not, is important in establishing the tone you want your keynote to set and the key message you need them to convey and support. 

You will also need to look at the flow of the program and determine when a keynote presentation will add value. It’s all about creating the overall story you want to tell at your event. For instance you may consider keynotes not only to open and close the program but also after lunch, traditionally consider the graveyard shift. Or you might engage a keynote for the conference dinner to enhance the overall conference experience.

keynote speaker

4. Have a brief (and stick to it!)

There are so many speakers to choose from, all with different experiences, styles and messages. As a result it is vital that you have a very clear brief for each keynote session of the conference. When shortlisting, this brief will serve as an important reference, especially if you’re working with a committee or team who will invariably have differing opinions and recommendations. Alignment with the session brief and their ability to be able to tailor the presentation for your audience has to be a priority when choosing a keynote speaker.   

5. Ask around 

Your colleagues are a great source of information, so if you are considering a particular speaker ask for recommendations.  If someone has seen them first hand, they’ll be able to give you a fair assessment of a speaker’s ability to meet your brief. I also like to have a chat with potential speakers over the phone to get a sense of how they’ll be to work with, and what types of key messages they will convey in their presentation. Don’t forget speakers bureau’s are the experts here and can be your best friends when it comes to sourcing the right speaker. 

6. Assess logistics 

When defining the content goals for each session, you will also need to consider other decision influencers such as budget, room setup and audience size. Do you want the session to have interaction from the audience; how will that be managed? These factors may also impact your choice of a keynote speaker. 

7. Have realistic expectations

The role of a keynote speaker is to move an audience to think and ultimately act in a different way. However it’s important to remember that a keynote has a short period of time (usually 45 – 60 minutes) to achieve this. 

During this time, the speaker can take the audience on a journey by persuading them to look in a new direction, and often a speaker will call for a commitment from the audience towards change. They shouldn’t be expected to cover in depth strategy, or detailed implementation plans. 

The power of the bringing together of people; the energy created when a group become aware and all face a new direction together – it is in that moment that change can happen. This is why I love my job!