If you organize corporate or collegiate events, chances are you’ve hired keynote speakers and understand their importance.
Keynote speakers typically kick off events and are vital in setting the tone. A competent keynote speaker will bring energy, enthusiasm, and entertainment. A great one delivers substance as well as storytelling and humor—bringing the steak, not just the sizzle.
The best keynote speakers take the time to research your industry, issues, audience, and the purpose of your event, then combine that with their own perspective and expertise to craft a unique and valuable presentation. By the time they wrap up their time on stage, the audience is saying, “Wow, that was valuable. I’m going to remember those key points.”
If you’ve been doing this for a while, chances are also that you’ve had hits and misses—speakers who have knocked it out of the park, and others who have fallen a bit flat. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to pick winners consistently? Here’s how to do that.
What (Exactly) is a Keynote Speaker?
As Will Rogers famously said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
Choosing the right keynote speaker is crucial because that person creates the “first impression” for your event. In their hour or so onstage, that person needs to entertain, educate, and create a sense of excitement in the audience for what’s to come over the course of your gathering. Their presentation has to both stand on its own and connect to the content that will follow.
It helps to clarify what a keynote speaker is by understanding what that person is not. A keynote speaker is an experienced, engaging, professional communicator. Keynote speakers are not merely motivational speakers—though they do need to motivate, and often employ similar audio and visual tools.
Keynote speakers are different from industry experts (people who will often lead training sessions or breakout groups at events), though they will have some knowledge of your industry.
Keynote speakers are not entertainers, though their presentations do need to be fun and entertaining. A talented musician, comedian, or magician can provide entertainment—but not necessarily the kind of substance, insights, and valuable takeaways that a keynote speaker delivers.
Keynote Speakers Versus Trainers
Keynote speakers are distinct from trainers, though there is a fair amount of overlap. Professional trainers are rarely, if ever, also keynote speakers. But it’s not uncommon for keynote speakers to also do training.
A keynote presentation is generally broad and high-level (though it should include some specific, memorable points) while training is more direct and often hands-on. A keynote speaker is a standalone type of communicator, different from a trainer, workshop facilitator, or seminar leader. A great keynote doesn’t just impart information, but is inspirational, tone-setting, and reflects the theme of the event.
But again, there are keynote speakers who also do training. Their topics often revolve around leadership, negotiation skills, or (not surprisingly) how to be a more effective communicator.
What to Look For in a Keynote Speaker
Keynote speakers fall generally into two categories: celebrities and professional speakers.
Celebrities include well-known actors and actresses, politicians and government officials, former sports stars and professional coaches, journalists, authors, and other famous people. While some can be insightful, celebrities are generally hired more for entertainment value and their name recognition than deep substance.
The primary value of a celebrity speaker is to attract a crowd. And because these speakers command hefty fees, they are most often sought after for industry-wide events that professionals pay a significant ticket price to attend.
Industry associations and organizations often bring in comedians, ventriloquists, mentalists, magicians, or other entertainers as part of their events. These individuals are great for dinner shows; not so much for keynotes.
True keynote speakers, again, are professional communicators. They deliver entertainment with substance. Their job is to combine motivation, inspiration, and excitement with expertise and credibility. It’s fun and enthusiasm plus practical, actionable ideas.
Three key considerations when choosing a keynote speaker are:
Credentials: Professional keynote speakers can usually back up their expertise and credibility with advanced degrees and professional certifications. This is especially important when choosing a speaker for a gathering of professionals (e.g., doctors, lawyers, engineers, finance pros, executives) or an academic audience. People with credentials care about the credentials of the people they’ll consider listening to.
Experience: No one becomes a professional keynote speaker at 22. Everyone who’s qualified to do this has done other things first. When searching for a keynote speaker, look at what they’ve done professionally as well as through volunteer and professional organizations. Keynote speakers have to bring a combination of left-brained (analytical) and right-brained (creative) thinking to their presentations, so look for evidence of both. Often, the best keynote speakers have “unique” backgrounds, with some unexpected experiences.
Engagement: While this isn’t the most important factor, it is essential. Even the best content provides little value if the delivery is dull. A boring presentation with endless primarily text-based slides will have attendees mentally checking out and fiddling with their phones. A keynote speaker needs to be able to hook the audience with style, then keep their attention with substance.
As with any “purchasing” decision, third-party validation matters. Every qualified speaker will have a sizzle reel on YouTube and numerous client testimonials. These will rarely be a deciding factor, but they’re helpful to check out.
Why Select a Keynote Speaker from Best Corporate Events
Corporate conferences, all-company gatherings, and sales kickoff meetings are great opportunities to conduct team building and professional development programs. If you’re already working with us for that activity (not to brag, but we literally wrote the book on corporate team building), why not hire your keynote speaker through us as well?
While there are lots of places to find keynote speakers, there are three significant benefits of working with Best Corporate Events for your keynote speaker in addition to your team building / professional development activities.
Single, powerful management portal: BEST’s client portal enables event organizers to track all of the production aspects of your team building and professional development programs on a single page. See event details, information about your facilitator, shipping status, venue information, and more. If you also book your keynote speaker through us, all of those details can be tracked within the portal as well. We also offer a version of the portal with additional features for DMCs.
Package discount: If your organization purchases both a team building event or professional development workshop and a keynote speaker from BEST, you’ll get a 10% discount on the total engagement. Not only will you save money, you’ll also simplify the process since you don’t have to work with a separate agency or speakers’ bureau to bring in a keynote speaker.
More than a keynote: The keynote presentation can be a standalone event, or an initial touchpoint into a deeper dive into communications training. For example, BEST featured keynote speaker Tom Leu can deliver follow-up training workshops or seminars during the same conference, or at a later date. This training can be delivered in-person or virtually.
Tom is a member of the National Speakers Association, and a certified professional coach with a graduate degree in psychology, whose background includes both teaching and dean roles in the collegiate environment. But he also knows music (he’s been in rock bands for decades and currently composes music for films) and is a published professional photographer. He brings all of that background and more to his one-of-a-kind energetic, entertaining, and educational keynote presentations.
Your choice of a keynote speaker is crucial, as that speaker sets the tone for your corporate or collegiate event. The best keynote speakers combine enthusiasm and entertainment with substantive, actionable takeaways for your people. You’ve got lots of options for finding a standout keynote speaker, but Best Corporate Events should be on your list for consideration, particularly if you’re already working with us for team building.