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What Makes A Great Keynote Speaker

What is a keynote speaker? A keynote speaker sets the “pitch” for a seminar, convention, or technical meeting–similar to how the oboe (the instrument least affected by ambient conditions) sets the pitch for tuning an orchestra. Success depends on organizational and audience expectations, as well as the availability of your preferred keynote speaker. In other words, a keynote speaker for conferences and motivational speeches literally imparts the ‘key note’ for the entire event.

A great keynote speech can really bring a conference, convention, or other event together.


Essentially, the keynote speaker builds the audience up, making them look and think about a specific topic in a way they may never have done before. Some keynote speakers are able to do this based on specific personal experience, while others are known for looking at topics from unusual perspectives. A successful keynote speech is about leaving the audience invigorated and inspired to make the most of the other information they’ll encounter during the event.

What Makes a Great Keynote Speaker?

An exceptional keynote speaker is comfortable with himself or herself, and this comes across as having credibility and having both feet on the ground. An audience should feel as if the keynote speaker is speaking to them like they were friends or family. Outstanding keynote speakers understand the tension that exists whenever someone goes on stage, and they diffuse that tension through a sense of connectedness with the audience, often with humor interwoven. And although a keynote speaker has to be comfortable being the center of attention, the best ones listen and interact, whether during a post-speech Q and A session or when talking to attendees informally afterward. An excellent keynote speaker will have the ability to enthrall their audience with their mellifluous speaking and sound stories. Additionally, a seasoned motivational keynote speaker will have a draft of their presentation at the ready for clients to look at and give feedback on. This helps both you and the speaker keep the theme and purpose of your conference aligned.

What Should You Not Expect from Your Keynote Speaker?

If an organization with serious problems expects a keynote speaker to come in and miraculously heal everything that has gone wrong, disappointment is certain. However, a good keynote speech can be a powerful vehicle for delivering new ideas and inspiration. This can nudge an organization toward taking real steps to address problems and move forward to success. Also, keynote speeches aren’t where you’ll get detailed strategies or plans. Generally, at an annual meeting or technical conference, participants get the granular details from other speakers, while they take in an overarching perspective from the keynote speaker.

Finding and Booking Your Keynote Speaker

When selecting and booking a keynote speaker, ideally, the event host, meeting planner, and speaker should discuss and agree upon the purpose of the keynote speech. A good keynote speaker knows which questions to ask you in order to know whether he or she is a good fit. Most importantly, they will have a better idea on how to exactly tailor the keynote speech to engage the audience to the fullest. Additionally, when searching for the right keynote motivational speaker, it’s essential to consider the following:

  • Does this person have the expertise to offer something new and unique to the audience? Do they have what it takes to inspire your attendees?

  • Does this keynote motivational speaker have relevant experience to the theme and intention of your event?

  • Do they have the experience necessary to deliver engaging and professional speeches?

Your speaker’s communication skills should be evident when you first contact him or her.

If you want to book a keynote speaker who is in high demand, you may need to be prepared to be flexible about when the keynote speech will take place. Though traditionally delivered at the launch of an event, people are now comfortable with keynote speeches that take place at other times. With the right build-up and information campaign, a keynote speech can be effective whenever it’s scheduled.

Generate Buzz Before the Big Event

Your organization and your audience will get more from your keynote speaker if you set the conditions for “buzz” to develop around the speech. If you can get your keynote speaker to do an interview by email for your website, blog, or even an in-person interview for your YouTube channel, you’ll elevate your event status while raising the profile of your organization. Strategic social media posts about the keynote speech can be remarkably effective as well. You can continue the buzz after the event by sharing photos from it. Ultimately, this can boost your web traffic and social media presence as well.

Are Keynote Speakers Worth the Effort and Cost?

The right keynote speaker takes his or her audience on a journey that is both intellectually and emotionally resonant. People are social creatures, and they take action when inspired, so a great keynote speaker can definitely have a positive effect. This is particularly true for the keynote speaker who can use the force of his or her personality to deliver information that the typical speaker may find too challenging to deliver. When people see the keynote speaker taking the stage, they naturally grant that person temporary authority and let them into their heads. The right keynote speaker knows how to use this temporary authority optimally. The right keynote speaker for conferences is certainly worth the effort and cost as they have the ability to add value to your event. With the right tactics, a keynote speaker can even take the pressure off the rest of the event and the other special speakers by creating a comfortable and inviting atmosphere. At the end of the day, keynote speakers can help you increase the reputation of your event, and ultimately, your business.

I take the responsibility that comes along with being a keynote speaker seriously. It’s something I love doing, and I would be happy to talk with you about whether I’m the right speaker for your event.


Meet Stephen Ekstrom, Keynote Speaker and Chief Strategist at The Tourism Academy

stephen_ekstrom_tourism_academyAdvisory Panel Chair and Chief Strategist at The Tourism Academy | is Stephen Ekstrom. Ekstrom began his career in the 1990’s on college radio at Quinnipiac University. He went on to create and deliver successful tourism development strategies for now thriving destinations, theme restaurants, cultural institutions, theatrical management companies, and some of the world’s most recognized attractions. He’s called upon to speak at colleges and universities, conferences and countless panel discussions each year. He hosts The Tourism Academy's Business Class podcast and is a featured writer for several travel magazines. He’s also been profiled by media giants like the New York Times, NBC, ABC, CBS Morning, and NY1.

Host of the Business Class Podcast and featured travel writer for Vacationer Magazine, Groups Today and several other publications

Connect with Stephen on LinkedIn

Twitter: StephenEkstrom


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