If you’ve entertained the idea of making your living as a keynote speaker or master of ceremonies, I have a little secret for you: you can do it.
Want to know how to BECOME a keynote speaker? I’ll walk you through it step by step (or should I say, letter by letter):
How to BECOME a Keynote Speaker #1: Brand yourself
As a keynote speaker, you are your own product. So, you need to brand yourself the way a business would!
Curate your public perception
When the public thinks of you, what do you want to come to their minds?
Perhaps you want to be the approachable, fun keynote speaker who always brings the party wherever they go.
Maybe you want to be the cutting-edge industry expert who is always equipped with the latest knowledge in your chosen field.
A consistent brand = a successful brand
Whatever you choose, you must stay consistent and incorporate your brand into everything you do.
From your website to your attire, your visual presentations to your marketing materials (more on that later), everything you put out to the public needs to gel with your overall brand – so understand what that is, forwards and backwards.
Create a tagline for your business and use it as a guide for everything you do. Like a mantra, it should be short and clear – something you will never forget.
What do you want your impact to be?
Identify where in the speaking business you can make the greatest impact and use that to build your brand.
For example, if your skills and life experience lend themselves to communicating with young people, curate your speaking business to cater to organizations and schools that address the needs of young people.
How to BECOME a Keynote Speaker #2: Enhance your public speaking skills
You’ve got the drive, you’ve got the discipline, you’ve got the decorum – but do you have the public speaking skills to give an impactful keynote speech?
Be your own audience
You know that feeling when you look at a picture from ten years ago and think to yourself, “What was I wearing?!” (No? Just me?)
Well, sometimes we all think we are nailing it when we’re actually doing something a bit… cringeworthy. To avoid this, observe your work as objectively as possible and practice the skills you need to improve upon.
Are you enjoying the (*cough* your) performance?
A good process in life for aspiring keynote speakers is to record themselves. It may sound silly, but hear me out: listening to your keynote speech can be a very different experience from delivering it.
Here are a few ideas: Observe your tone, rhythm, speed, timing, enunciation, storytelling, and projection. Where can you improve? A keynote speaker will go from good to great, great to excellent, if they acknowledge the areas in which they can progress.
Learn from the best
Who has a speaking career you admire?
Take advantage of the rich online catalog of videos and podcasts and immerse yourself in the work of keynote speakers you wish to emulate.
What is it about them you love? Is it their comedic timing? Their authentic, heartfelt way of connecting with the audience? The eye contact they make with the audience?
Keep a handful of your favorite keynote speeches bookmarked on your computer and return to them for inspiration whenever you need it.
How to BECOME a Keynote Speaker #3: Connect and collaborate
One of the most challenging parts of starting a career in keynote speaking is getting your name (and face) out there.
This is where you really need to put in some elbow grease and pound the pavement. You never know when you’ll meet the first person to hire you as a keynote speaker!
Attend industry events and be ready to talk
As you will read about in #4, a great keynote speaker understands their niche. And because you are going to become a great keynote speaker, you will stand confidently in a niche, too!
Depending on what that is, I highly recommend that you start attending speeches and conferences that pertain to your chosen industry of focus. You’ll start to network and word of mouth will spread!
Where should you go to talk with industry professionals?
For example, if you specialize in professional development for teachers, then you may meet helpful connections at school board meetings and education conferences.
Or maybe your public speaking centers around diversity, equity, and inclusion practices in nonprofit organizations. It would probably be worthwhile for you to attend nonprofit fundraisers, as well as regular DEI training sessions.
How to find events
You can identify events by:
- Checking organizations’ and business’ websites and social media pages
- Contacting their outreach departments
- Reading local publications’ recent articles
As you begin to network, you may meet other folks at events or in online groups who are also looking to build careers as keynote speakers. This is a great opportunity for both of you!
If you click with another aspiring keynote speaker, partner up and help each other stay accountable as you build your businesses.
The benefits of having a public speaking partner
You can keep your eyes out for events and networking opportunities the other may benefit from, serve as fresh eyes for each other’s marketing materials, and be each other’s audience for practice runs of keynote speeches.
Chances are the two of you won’t fit into exactly the same niche, so you will not be taking away from your own career growth by supporting each other.
How to BECOME a Keynote Speaker #4: Own your niche
A niche is basically a specific subsection that people specialize in.
It will be extremely helpful to your public speaking career if you select a niche for your keynote speeches. Generalists may be able to speak on a variety of subjects, but it is likely that they can’t go into as much depth as someone who is a true expert in one field.
Address a specific problem
Event organizers are interested in hiring industry experts. If you have the expertise to help audience members solve problems and improve their lives, you are guaranteed to attract speaking gigs.
What sorts of questions do audiences want answered?
Whether the issue at hand is a lack of diversity amongst nonprofit boards, a need for mental health care practices to be introduced in a corporate setting, or the desire for creative work styles to decrease burnout and increase satisfaction amongst employees, a professional speaker and corporate emcee will bring answers to the table.
Serve a particular audience
There are universal challenges that impact everyone, it’s true. But an effective keynote speaker knows that what sets them apart is their ability to find the common thread between each individual audience member and speak to that.
What makes a keynote speaker memorable is their specificity. As you prepare for a speaking event, learn about the audience.
- Are you speaking to a group of employees? Volunteers? Students?
- What are they looking to learn from you?
- What are their needs and how can you best serve them?
- What can you learn about their organization or business that will help you put your speech into even more specific context for them?
Your industry knowledge is what qualifies you to be a keynote speaker – but answering these questions is what will grab the audience’s attention and set you apart.
How to BECOME a Keynote Speaker #5: Market yourself
You want every conference organizer and event host to know your name, right? Well, then you’re going to have to speak up, create excellent content, and market yourself!
Marketing is an ever-evolving beast. If you want to create a career as a keynote speaker, then you are also committing to a lifelong lesson in marketing. The most effective techniques are always evolving, so embrace the excitement and know that you are not alone in this.
Maximize your online presence
I am going to say this simply: event organizers must be able to find a keynote speaker online.
While some event planners already have relationships with keynote speakers, many are looking to hire someone with different expertise than those in their inner circle boast. (Read: you!)
What this means is that your brand, your niche, you need to have more visibility online, and that means more than just a website. Consider the following:
- Maintain a clean, updated website.
- Post on social media regularly.
- Utilize search engine optimization.
- Invest in running ads.
As always, stay consistent and true to your brand.
Form a community
When you are the product in your business, things can feel a little isolated. Luckily, there are lots of ways to build a community of friends within the speaking business while keeping your skills razor-sharp!
Join the roster at a speakers bureau
Speakers bureaus are organizations that help event organizers identify and hire guest speakers, keynote speakers, and the like.
Getting on the roster at speakers bureaus:
- Legitimizes your business
- Gives you the opportunity to speak with other speakers and make contact with potential clients
- Drastically increases the likelihood that an event planner will contact you for their events
Become a member at the National Speakers Association (NSA)
Yes, there is an association just for people who like to speak publicly, like you! The NSA offers myriad benefits to members, but they can assist with your marketing efforts specifically by offering business strategy, monthly speaker industry guidance, and business tools at enterprise pricing.
How to BECOME a Keynote Speaker #6: Embrace your purpose
I saved the best for last.
Let me speak plainly: something in your life, in your story, inspired you to pursue this career of being a keynote speaker.
Let me share a word of advice: When things get challenging (and they will), you need to have a rock-solid understanding of why you are doing this to keep you focused and driven.
What is your mission as a keynote speaker?
Did you have a meaningful experience in your life that taught you a valuable lesson, and you want to speak to that lesson during your presentation?
Do you have special knowledge that will help people navigate the most difficult times in their lives and you want to speak with them about it?
Do you believe that one of your greatest gifts is building community and helping people feel seen and welcome when you speak to them?
Whatever your goal is, let it be a compass as you traverse your career and your life.
This isn’t the place for ego
On that note, being a keynote speaker isn’t about talking to listen to yourself talk. Quite the opposite, actually – it’s about talking to help others. Whether that be by educating, entertaining, or inspiring (or all three!), your job is a service to others.
If you thought becoming a keynote speaker would be the right career because you enjoy the spotlight and having all eyes on you during a presentation, then please think again.
Time for a Review!
Congratulations, you have learned my six key tips for becoming a keynote speaker! Let’s wrap this up by summarizing what we’ve learned:
#1: Brand yourself.
#2: Enhance your public speaking skills.
#3: Connect and collaborate.
#4: Own your niche.
#5: Market yourself.
#6: Embrace your purpose.
You can do this!
Keep Reading: A 3-Step Beginner’s Guide to Motivational Speakers
Adam Christing has been called “The Tom Brady of emcees.” He has hosted more than 1,000 company meetings, special events, gala celebrations, and more. He is the author of several books and founder of CleanComedians.com. For more event tips, follow Adam Christing on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and YouTube.