What is a Keynote Speaker?

What is a Keynote Speaker?

It might be tempting to - quite incorrectly - assume keynote speakers are at the more dry, dusty and staid end of the ‘speakers to hire’ scale. It’s certainly true that a ‘keynote’ or ‘conference speaker’ is likely to be hired to deliver a serious message, specific knowledge or to educate or inform on a precise topic, but the skill is all in the delivery. 

While the term is now often colloquially used more broadly to describe any high profile or headline speaker at an event, a true keynote speaker will inspire just as a motivational speaker does, but they will do it in a very focused way.

The usual length of a keynote speech will be about 40 to 45 minutes. Keynote speakers may include industry experts, politicians, businessmen and women, journalists, broadcasters and academics.

A keynote speaker does not mean a dull individual standing at a lectern - they may well tell some gags, involve the audience or do something surprising and, professionals at least, will certainly inspire.

The role of the keynote speaker

Keynote speakers are most likely to be booked for conferences, seminars, summits or other formal gatherings.

Through their address, a keynote speaker will encapsulate the fundamental messages and themes of an event and, as a result, will usually speak either at the beginning of the meeting to set the tone of discussions or at the end to summarise learning.

Speaking at the beginning will see a keynote speaker used to help inspire discussion or work.

When closing a conference, their role is more to conclude and wrap-up what has been learned and give attendees some ‘take-home’ thoughts.

Timing the keynote speaker for the beginning or end of an event can have the added advantage of encouraging delegates to either arrive on time or stay right to the end too.

That is not to say a keynote speaker will never give an address to delegates in the middle of an event. In this case their role may be to sum up what has gone before and perhaps add a new dimension to discussions going forward. It really is up to you – and it’s important to consider when the speaker can have maximum impact, based on the desired effect.

Is there any difference between a keynote speaker and a motivational speaker?

A great motivational speaker can be the go-to person for a keynote speech. The difference between what might be labelled a ‘motivational speech’ and a ‘keynote speech’ will likely be in the content of the address. The content is likely to be focused on a specific part of what the speaker has learned and will be delivered with very particular purpose.

To take an extreme example, Sir Bob Geldof is a powerhouse of both motivational and keynote speaking. Having inspired a nation to donate millions to ease African famine among his myriad achievements he can, of course, motivate by drawing on his personal stories and experience. Equally, Sir Bob can drill down into those experiences to talk in a focused way on specific aspects - world aid, mobilising action, the list goes on.

In another example, a medical doctor may not initially seem like the first port of call to deliver a message around performance and communication. But, as he explains in an exclusive interview with NMP Live, Dr Phil Hammond – NHS doctor, health writer, journalist, broadcaster, speaker and comedian - has very specific experiences and insight into performance and communication thanks to his experiences.

“I think medicine is in part a performing art,” he said. “If a patient doesn’t feel better for coming to see you, then you’re probably in the wrong game. So I think there probably is an element of performance in medicine and I think the two run side-by-side. I often say, I just communicate for a living...I listen and I speak."

The defining quality of a great keynote speaker is in being able to translate their unique experiences to create lessons for others.

Does a keynote speaker need to be from your own industry?

You’ll require your keynote speaker to have a good knowledge of their audience and, certainly, of the aim you had in mind when booking them to speak. However, an effective keynote speaker need not necessarily represent the industry of the people they are addressing.

The fundamental purpose of a keynote speaker is to bring a different perspective and encourage delegates to view something in a different way. An external keynote speaker brings a fresh and unbiased viewpoint unconstrained by internal preconceptions or barriers created due to existing processes.

A keynote speech should tackle the key point you want the delegation to learn, consider or do differently. To do that effectively your keynote speaker may, but need not be, in the same industry. In some cases, the insight of a speaker who operates in a different industry will add an extra dimension of ingenuity. 

How much does a keynote speaker cost?

One of the first considerations when considering booking a keynote speaker will be your budget. Fees for professional business speakers vary from a few thousand pounds to six-figure sums for CEOs of global corporations, world-renowned entrepreneurs and thought leaders.

The second is around the success and impact of your event. A great keynote speaker will send delegates home with learning points that just may not be possible to deliver or ingrain without their presence and insight. Additionally, their appearance on the agenda may be key to attracting people to attend or, where relevant, in the sale of tickets. 

If your budget is tight and won’t stretch to a professional, you may find someone within your industry who is willing to speak for free or expenses only, perhaps in return for plugging their own product, service or company. Before committing to this route it is worth doing some research into the individual’s experience of public speaking. It is one thing to have achieved a great deal but quite another to be able to speak in an engaging and informative way about it.

How do I find and book a keynote speaker?

You may well be able to find a keynote speaker yourself, either within your industry or community, which could be an especially effective route if you have a very tight or even no budget.

Alternatively, a speaker bureau will ask about your event and needs and be able to suggest individuals who excel in that niche (with your budget in mind). 

At NMP Live, we have decades of experience in this world and our friendly agents are happy to offer you their expertise.

We will take the strain of what can otherwise become a time consuming and daunting selection process, avoiding much back and forth over briefs, arrangements and booking.

Above all, we’ll ensure you have a keynote speaker at your event who will challenge, captivate and inspire your delegates.

Photo: Retail expert, government advisor and presenter Mary Portas

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