You want a great event, and aside from a well-stuffed swag bag, there’s no better way to ensure that everyone leaves with positive memories than nailing the keynote speaker. A keynote speech can look a variety of different ways depending on the nature of your event, the industry you’re in, the venue you’ve booked, and the particular theme of the conference.
Choosing Your Keynote Speaker
Here are some of the considerations you should make when seeking that perfect keynote speaker:
- Plan ahead. Try to have your speakers booked no less than a half year ahead of time. Talented speakers see their schedules fill up fast. You’ll also want to have all the details worked out in terms of expected attendance, type of stage, and length of speech, as these will be questions your potential keynote speakers may have for you.
- Know your audience. Rather than focusing on what you want to see or hear, put yourself in the shoes of the average attendee. What will their background be? What stage of their career are they at? What messages will resonate with them?
- Complement your event. Make sure your keynote speech and keynote speaker mesh well with the workshops, presentations, and networking sessions that make up the rest of your conference. You essentially need to understand your event’s “personality” and then identify a keynote speaker who matches or complements that personality.
- Budget. To avoid wasting your time or anyone else’s, know exactly what you’re willing to spend on a keynote speaker before you begin your search. How far your money will go depends a great deal on what sort of event you’re holding and what sort of industry you’re in.
- Define your goals. What do you want people to get out of attending the keynote address? Should they be inspired? Informed? Revived? Motivated to act? You can start with a particular message, or even just a particular tone, and work backward from there to identify the correct speaker to convey it.
- Reach out. Gather recommendations and referrals from colleagues, online resources, and potential attendees. People who step forward to plan conferences are usually collaborative by nature and will be happy to talk to you about their experiences in choosing the right keynote speaker. Your conference will be a community-building event, and the planning stages should be approached accordingly.
- Think local. Especially if budget is a concern, you might consider experts in your local area. People take note when local flavor is sprinkled into speeches.
- Keep it fresh. Make sure you’re finding someone with interesting ideas and things to say. Look for a speaker who is charismatic and exciting to listen to, but don’t sacrifice authority for entertainment value. Identifying young professionals at the forefront of new research in your field can be a great place to start.
- Imitate. Look at session notes and online videos from other, similar events, or think back to some of the best conferences and keynote speeches you’ve attended in your own career. There is nothing untoward or malicious about borrowing and building upon good ideas, and any speaker will be flattered to know you reached out because you saw their work elsewhere and liked it.
- Watch keynotes. While you aren’t expected to travel around the world attending conferences to poach a keynote speaker, you should at least spend some time online watching keynote addresses. This can help you develop a clear idea of the sort of keynote you want for your own event, and you may even discover a speaker you’d like to reach out to.
When you’re putting together the perfect keynote address, it’s equally important to know what not to do. Here are some strategies you should avoid:
- Clout-chasing. Just because you have the opportunity to book a celebrity or “influencer” doesn’t mean they’re the right person for your event. Avoid getting stars in your eyes and focus on identifying the right vessel for the message you want to convey. If that person happens to be a minor celebrity or other known commodity, so much the better, but celebrity status should never be a condition of your search.
- People-pleasing. Choose a speaker because they make sense for the event and add value to the conference rather than because you think they’ll appeal to the lowest common denominator. Speakers with bold thoughts and ideas may rub a few attendees the wrong way, but that’s often the price of genuine inspiration. This is not to say you should hire an “edgy” or deliberately abrasive speaker; do not consider that under any circumstance outside of a comedy club.
- Gimmicks. If you want to hire an entertainer, get a band or comedian to work your after-conference cocktail hour. Your keynote speaker should be someone with relevant, actionable information and a knack for sharing it with others. A properly chosen keynote speaker will naturally be entertaining, not in any affected or forced way, but because their story will resonate with the audience.
When finalizing your choice, remember that a keynote speaker’s popularity is not the most important factor — it’s not even their skill as a speaker, their personality, or their experience. The most important factor is your conference and whatever it’s all about. Identify your message and end goals first, and use them as guiding principles for finding a speaker who can serve and build upon the culture and values of the event.