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What exactly are keynote speakers? How do they differ from guest speakers? And, most importantly, how can their presentation support your event?

You’ve got questions – I’ve got answers! To keep things simple, let’s break this down.

Here are 7 key factors that explain what a KEYNOTE speaker is and how one can be an asset to your event:

See Related: What is a Guest Speaker – And How Can They Take Your Event to the Next Level?

What is a KEYNOTE Speaker #1: Keeps Audiences Engaged

Keynote speakers are the event headliners. It is not only their job to communicate the overarching theme in their keynote speech, but also to excite the audience!

Good keynote speakers can share attention-grabbing facts

When guests make the effort to attend (or log on to) an event, they want to leave with something they didn’t have beforehand. And I’m not talking about gift bags (though those can’t hurt!) – I’m speaking about information.

Those who give keynotes are frequently experts in their respective fields, so they should come prepared to share fascinating information your audience may not find anywhere else.

Guests love humor – but understand the room

Let’s talk about this. Any time a client gathers a large group in one place (in-person or virtually), there will probably be a little bit of awkwardness as the audience settles into the event. (Should we speak to each other? Should we stay quiet? Am I allowed to make a joke?)

Dissipate this discomfort by introducing a keynote speaker who brings levity and humor to their keynote message

As you will read more on later, those who give keynote talks are responsible for setting the tone of the event. So, adding playful elements to the keynote speech communicates to the audience and every other speaker that it’s okay to have fun!

That being said, every event planner will have a different vision. If humor is not appropriate for a certain event, the keynote speaker should be aware of this ahead of time, so as to avoid communicating an inappropriate mood to the audience.

What is a KEYNOTE Speaker #2: Expertise and Credibility

As the headliner, your keynote speaker should be someone who draws crowds – or at least fills the capacity of your space!

Hiring a keynote speaker with name recognition and credibility within your industry are great ways to earn the audience’s respect.

Keynote speaker with credentials reads from bookIndustry updates

Leaders selected to give keynote speeches are often titans of the industry. Therefore, they have the credibility to prepare and deliver new and important business updates that will excite your audience.

Need some motivation to kick off your brainstorming?

If you are hosting a tech conference, your keynote speaker may be the CEO of a major tech business and talk about relevant themes of innovation and progress.

Or perhaps you are hosting a festival of authors! Your keynote speaker can be a bestselling author speaking on the ever-evolving representation of gender identity in modern fiction.

The importance of admired figures

While industry experts are completely legitimate choices to deliver keynotes, event planners – and even an event emcee – may feel the motivation to invite someone whose impact is a little more qualitative.

For example, audiences may be inspired to hear that a renowned thought leader will be the keynote speaker, or perhaps a celebrity who can share a unique perspective on the subject matter.

What is a KEYNOTE Speaker #3: Yield Results

What is the goal of your event? Whether you hope to raise money for your business, inspire volunteer sign-ups, or increase your organization’s overall visibility, the right keynote speaker can help you accomplish your mission.

Increase ticket sales or donations

If your mission is to see significant financial growth for your organization or business, use your research to inform which keynote speaker you hire.

While keynote speeches tend to address the overall message of an event, professional keynote speakers know how to add personal touches that elicit emotional – and financial – responses from the audience.

Boost audience engagement

We’ve already learned that those who give keynote speeches often have a certain degree of clout, right? This is something your audience will respond to, so take advantage of it! 

Here are a few examples of how a good keynote speech can get your audience involved:

If you are looking for feedback from your employees, perhaps the keynote speaker can conduct a few “show of hands” polls during their keynote speech.

If you are hoping for more volunteer sign-ups, ask the keynote speaker if you may raffle off a signed copy of their latest book to one of the audience members who signs up during the event to volunteer.

Many people love to use social media to show their friends and family the impressive things they are up to. A well-known keynote speaker can encourage plenty of social media usage during the event, strengthening the client’s online footprint.

Good keynote speaker gives opening keynote at corporate eventBonus: How To Host A Networking Event

What is a KEYNOTE Speaker #4: Not a Guest Speaker

While guest speakers may be sprinkled throughout your event, the keynote speaker is the main ingredient – guest speakers are there to reinforce the themes presented by the keynote speaker.

What do I mean? Well, if the keynote speaker is chocolate cake, then guest speakers should enhance the taste of chocolate and drive it home (you know, a guest speaker can be peanut butter, espresso, mint, aaand now I’m hungry).

Keep to the theme

Of course, a good keynote speech explains to the audience why they are there. The keynote message communicates the overall message of the event and serves as the bedrock from which all other speakers build their presentations.

Set guest speakers up for success

We know that keynote speeches have the power to create a consistent atmosphere for the event (which helps your audience feel safely guided through all of the content being presented).

But have you thought about the ways in which a keynote speaker and a guest speaker can support each other?

If you are planning an event, secure your keynote speaker and corporate emcee with plenty of advance notice. Then, ask if you may read the speech a few weeks prior to the event date. Here’s the benefit:

After absorbing the keynote speech, share key tidbits, anecdotes, and themes with the other expert speakers delivering a presentation at your event. This advice will give the guest speakers a chance to incorporate relevant storytelling into their presentations and solidify an even stronger through-line for the entire event.

What is a KEYNOTE Speaker #5: Offer an Encouraging View of the Future

Great speaker adds inspirational elements to event for larger audienceKeynote speakers play a critical role in inspiring your audience by offering them words of encouragement and positivity. The world we live in can feel quite unforgiving at times, but a talented keynote speaker will leave audiences feeling hopeful that the actions they take today will change tomorrow’s world for the better.

Focus on achievements

Your keynote speaker should be briefed beforehand on the audience to whom they are speaking: is it a marketing team who just garnered the business’ highest-ever social media traffic? Is it a society of gardeners who helped plant sixty vegetable gardens citywide in the past year?

An inspirational speaker will celebrate those successes! The audience will feel seen, appreciated, and ready to continue the work.

Look ahead

We know that those who give keynote speeches are frequently industry experts. But have you considered hiring a motivational speaker to give the keynote presentation?

If your audience needs a jolt of inspiration, a motivational speaker may be just the right fit:

Always tie your choice of keynote speaker back to the goal of your event: if you want employees to leave a conference feeling determined to hit their numbers for Q3, or your goal is for first-year students to feel confident exploring all of the different clubs on campus, then consider selecting from the deep pool of motivational speakers.

What is a KEYNOTE Speaker #6: Timing is Everything

While some event planners may get creative and place a keynote speech at the conclusion of an event, it is far more typical to hear a keynote address at the beginning.

The reason for this is simple: keynote addresses establish the tone of the event and provide a framework for how the audience is meant to understand this event. That can be difficult to accomplish if the keynote speech is at the very end!

Benefits of an early keynote address

There is a reason why so many conferences feature an opening keynote speaker – it is effective!

Kicking off events with a speaker who excels at public speaking, engaging audiences, and commanding the stage, is a great way to connect with audiences right off the bat.

If the audience had any questions about the tone of the event or conference, all of those questions should be answered when the keynote speaker takes the stage.

Perks of a closing keynote speaker

It can be risky to close your event with a keynote speaker because you may not reap the benefits we’ve discussed (setting the tone, introducing the concepts that guest speakers will discuss, capturing the audience’s attention with industry knowledge).

Still, a closing keynote speaker can send the audience off on an incredibly impactful note.

Perhaps every speaker leading up to your keynote has been an industry expert – their speeches have been fascinating, but may have lacked heart or didn’t resonate emotionally with attendees.

Choosing a motivational speaker to give the closing keynote ensures that your attendees will leave with enthusiasm, feeling inspired, and truly taking the value of the event to heart. And with a great master of ceremonies, you’ll have that inspiration set up with plenty of welcoming remarks. 

Industry expert shares knowledge and research at conferenceWhat is a KEYNOTE Speaker #7: Establish the Specific Tone of the Event

We touched on this in #6, but now it’s time to dive deeper!

While a guest speaker’s presentation may delve into more specific topics that contribute to the overall theme, it is the keynote speaker’s job to introduce that message and set the tone of the event.

What does this mean? Well, here’s an example:

If the keynote speaker’s mood is affable and funny, then guest speakers should adopt a similar style in order to create a consistent atmosphere. However, if the keynote speaker decides to speak in a more sober, businesslike tone during their presentation, then that should be echoed throughout the event or conference. Consistency is the name of the game.

Professional keynote speaker lectures on specific topicThe Beginner’s Guide to Keynote Speakers, Summarized

Congratulations, you’ve graduated!

Let’s wrap things up by recapping the seven key tips you need in order to understand what keynote speakers are and how they can help you:

Keynote speakers Keep Audiences Engaged and Invigorated.

Keynote speakers have Expertise and Credibility.

Keynote speakers Yield Results.

Keynote speakers are Not Guest Speakers.

Keynote speakers Offer an Encouraging View of the Future.

Keynote speakers know that Timing is Everything.

Keynote speakers Establish the Specific Tone of the Event.

Keep Reading: 6 Ways to Guarantee Laughs During Your Next Speech

Adam Christing has been called “The Tom Brady of emcees.” He has hosted more than 1,000 company meetingsspecial eventsgala celebrations, and more. He is the author of several books and founder of For more event tips, follow Adam Christing on InstagramFacebookPinterestLinkedIn, and YouTube.