Everything You Need to Know about Keynote and Guest Speakers

[A quick word on how this was done…this ended up being very time consuming. From a writer’s perspective, the issue is that the outline is very broad and general, and its structured in a way that made it very difficult to avoid repetition. It would probably make a great 1000-word piece if things were pared down a little, but I actually had to add two sidebars at the end to get it up to 2K. Hope that’s ok…please let me know if you need anything else.

Know your role. That’s the key to success in just about any profession, and it’s especially true if you’ve chosen to make your livelihood as a professional speaker.

But there’s more to it than that. When you go into a given setting and situation as a speaker, you have to know the specific demands. There are subtle nuances when it comes to tone, content and approach, and the more you know about these things, the greater the chance of success.

So where are we going with all this? Simple. If you’re going to ramp up your career and then fine tune it as you go, you need to know the specifics about being a guest speaker versus being a keynote speaker.

It’s important to look at this distinction from both sides of the aisle, i.e., one side being those who are either speakers or aspiring be speakers, and those hiring said speakers for their event or conference.

What is a Keynote Speaker?

We’ll start with the basics—what exactly is a keynote speaker?

Simply put, the keynote is the lead speaker in an event or a conference. The keynote is usually the lead speaker, although there may be two keynote speakers, one at the start of the event and a second at the end. There are events with multiple keynote speakers, but these are relatively rare.

Beyond that, the role of the keynote speaker is usually to set the tone for the event. This can be done in many ways that are too numerous to list here, but we’ll go through a few.

Let’s take the example of an industry-specific conference. For this kind of event the keynote speaker may choose to deliver a state-of-the-industry speech.

There are other possible approaches, too. Specific events or product developments may be the subject of the speech, or perhaps a shift in the direction in which the industry is going.

The keynote speaker is often charged with delivering any underlying messages associated with setting the tone, and these may be overt or hidden depending on the circumstances. That generally means following a script of sorts, but some keynote speakers may take their own approach, especially if their individual goal is to be dynamic and inspiring.

Keynote speakers are usually chosen because they have a high level of visibility in their chosen industry, and they often have a unique level of expertise as well. This gives the authority to give an overview of the industry, and they may be asked to use their visibility and expertise in very specific ways.

But some keynote speakers are given more leeway. That often translates to using humor to get the essential points across, and stories related to the event are a common tactic as well. The ability to be engaging certainly isn’t specifically required to be effective, but it certainly goes a long way.

What is a Guest Speaker?

Guest speakers are usually different from keynote speakers, but not always. Some aspects of their role are similar as well, but there are often some key differences.

The biggest difference is that many guest speakers are invited for completely different reasons. They may be asked to charge up the event and inspire attendees, or to offer a change of pace from the typical series of speakers at an event.

In some instance, guest speakers are hired simply to be entertaining. They may even be celebrities or people from completely outside the industry, although these instances are relatively rare compared to the typical guest-speaker scenario.

Guest speakers are often tasked with providing a different perspective on some aspect of an event. A productivity expert, for example, may have a take that’s completely different from any of the approaches being offered or explored at a given work conference.

When Would You Hire a Keynote Speaker?

There are many different reasons why an event organizer might hire a keynote speaker, and much of this depends on the nature of the event.

How big is it? Is the tone of the event or conferences loose and free-wheeling, or buttoned down? What’s the overall goal and purpose, and how is the event organized to achieve those specific ends?

It’s important to break these different elements down and match them up with the specific reasons to hire a keynote speaker.

These reasons often run the gamut. They include educating and motivating the attendees, promoting awareness of a particular trend or development, supplying information, or to provide the impetus for change and growth.

Once these possibilities have been analyzed, the next step is to match the speaker with the goal. This means knowing the kinds of keynote speakers that are available, and being aware of what talents they offer.

In any given industry, it’s possible to find marketing experts, speakers whose specialty is motivation and inspiration, or those who can provide an overview of the industry, analyze trends and forecast the future.

The makeup of the audience is another important factor. Demographics matter, and they often make it possible to anticipate what the reception may be like for a given keynote speaker.

One way to get the best possible keynote speaker is to rely on industry connections and the recommendations they may offer. These sources may know about keynote speakers who have been successful in analogous events, and there’s nothing wrong with using a tried-and-true formula to get the best possible result.

A final thing to keep in mind is that it is possible to have both an opening and a closing keynote speaker. The advantage to doing this is that it can be used to frame the event, to state the purpose up front and then note the accomplishments afterward.

The risk in doing this, though, is that some attendees may leave before the second keynote speaker delivers his or her final address, and it may prove difficult to align the messages of both speakers.

When Would You Hire a Guest Speaker?

Generally speaking, hiring a guest speaker is a more speculative venture. Some of the reasons to hire a guest speaker are similar or identical to those used to justify and select a keynote speaker, but others are completely different.

One of the biggest reasons for hiring a guest speaker is to attract attendees. In some instances the goal is to entertain an audience, or to motivate and galvanize them in certain ways.

Much of this depends on the nature of the event. Single-theme events tend to dictate a guest note speaker who will stick to a script and deliver a speech or message that it close to the basic theme of the event.

The guest speaker may be asked to reinforce key themes, or to emphasize the importance of a new technology or technique. If a new technology or technique is being introduced, guest speakers can provide action items or give the attendees specific takeaways.

In some cases, though, it may be desirable to take a completely different approach. Sometimes guest speakers are hired to provide a change of pace, and in certain instances they may even be celebrities from outside the industry or the scope of the event.

What Should You Look for in a Speaker?

For better or worse, there are many different answers to this question, so we’ll deal with the major ones first.

Start with the necessary level of knowledge. This may seem obvious and fundamental, but if the event in question is technical, a visionary speaker, for example, may lack the necessary chops to connect with attendees at the desired level. If the event is narrowly focused, the level of knowledge takes on far more importance in framing the search.

On the flips side, having the skills necessary to connect is just as important. No one wants to sit through a speech from a speaker who lacks basic knowledge of pacing, presentation and how to engage an audience.

That means you want to look for specific skills. These include timing, a sense of narrative, and the ability to include stories, in addition to the requisite ability to present specific techniques and use data and analysis to support the presentation.

Relevance is yet another key requirement. Is the speaker a match with what your attendees are looking for? Is the presentation likely to stray? Will you

need to reel in a prospective speaker, or can he or she stick to a script?

Another aspect that rarely gets mentioned is the budget for a speaker at a given event. It’s important not to go over budget, of course, but a speaker’s fee is a serious issue that should be part of the evaluation process. It’s easy to get mesmerized by the glitz of a high-profile speaker, but don’t forget the appeal of a diamond in the rough, either. Some of the best choices are less-known people who are great fits or are willing to go the extra mile to match up with your needs.

Diversity should be part of the checklist as well. Well-organized events tend to vary when it comes to the gender and race of the speakers, and different opinions and angles should be considered where appropriate as well. This may not be possible in a technical event, but it shouldn’t be overlooked, either.

One final item to put on your checklist is to do your homework on any prospective speaker. Make sure to look up social media profiles, videos and websites to get a complete idea of how any speaker will present.

Contrast all of this with having a direct conversation with any prospective speaker, and look for great references as well. Don’t forget to be aware of possible skeletons in the closet, as its easy to over look this during the pressure of a search.

Sidebar #1: 
So You Want to Be a Keynote Speaker…

If you do aspire to become a keynote speaker, it’s important to establish yourself as a brand. This can be done in any number of ways—sales and marketing, social media, websites and so on—but the most important thing is not to neglect them.

If you’ve already been chosen as a keynote speaker, it’s important to do your homework in advance. Make sure you know the event, and where you want to position yourself and your company in relation to it.

Be sure to understand the mechanics of your presentation, too. This goes far beyond writing a great speech and knowing your message—you need to know how you want to be perceived and organize your presentation with that in mind.

Sidebar #2

So You Want To Be a Guest Speaker…

If your goal is to be a guest speaker, you may need to have a more varied approach to both your craft and the art that comes with it.

If you’re just starting out you probably want to gain a reputation in a particular niche, or you can take a more generalized approach as in the case of motivation, pure entertainment, and so on.

In some instances, your role as a guest speaker may not be connected to the event at all. But it’s still important to know the audience, either by taking time to study the contents of the event or by speaking more in depth to the organizers or some of the attendees.

There are other factors as well. Make sure you communicate your audio visual needs in advance—a microphone, a lectern, your need to move around. If you’re using slides, you may want to bring your own equipment, as familiarity is important.

When you consider the actual logistics of your speech, allow extra travel time, and give yourself time to acclimate to the setting. Have all necessary contact numbers with you, and know who you need to talk to if there are snafus.

Finally, be aware of your time constraints. Know that your speech may be lengthened or shortened, so plan for both possibilities. Always have extra material at hand if necessary, and know your material well enough to prepare a condensed version of your presentation.

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