Once upon a time, a keynote speaker was a smartly dressed person in a suit who stepped up onto the stage at the beginning of an event or convention or after a dinner. The job of the chosen keynote speaker was make a strong emotional and rational connection with the audience, address the theme of the meeting and set the tone for the day. This type of keynote speaker is still very popular today.

Keynote speakers in sneakers

However, captivating corporate leaders like Richard Branson and the late Steve Jobs, along with the popularity of online organizations like TED, have changed what we now expect a keynote speaker to look and sound like. Charisma, content, credentials and courage are what count in a keynote speaker today.

  • Charisma, because a keynote speaker, especially a famous keynote speaker, can energize an audience, put “bums in seats” and kick-start an event. In other words this type of keynote speaker can fill up the room, set the tone and build excitement.
  • Content, because the audience wants to learn from the keynote speaker what is new and what fresh approaches are happening in the world. In other words the keynote speaker must satisfy the natural curiosity of the audience and offer opportunities to continually improve in a global marketplace.
  • Credentials, because nothing inspires success like success. A compelling keynote speaker must be at the top of his, or her, game and deliver cutting-edge content. To gain the trust and respect of the audience the credentials and credibility of this keynote speaker must be current and beyond reproach.
  • Courage, because the spirit of risk, is an integral part of surviving and thriving. A great keynote speaker knows that risk is vital to innovation and essential to growth. A well chosen keynote speaker knows that tomorrow’s workforce needs courage. The keynote speaker will package his, or her, message to convey that tomorrow’s workforce faces a future with serious social, economic and political challenges. If the keynote speaker has done his, or her, homework the audience will understand how to equip themselves to address these challenges and how to develop new and effective ideas and approaches.

Keynote Speaker Nicholas Boothman in ActionSome companies choose a keynote speaker from within their ranks while many companies bring in a keynote speaker from the outside. Steve Jobs, Meg Whitman and Richard Branson are examples of the former and they are superstars in their own right. They energize, electrify and captivate any audience they speak to,  in no small part because their reputations and expectations precede them.

An external keynote speaker can come in several shapes and sizes. Famous politicians, distinguished athletes and popular celebrities abound in the keynote speaker world. While this type of keynote speaker promises an incredibly magical environment they often have their own agenda. Some use the keynote speaker podium to promote special causes, edge pet projects the national debate or gain exposure in the press. This type of keynote speaker is rarely in corporate evangelical mode.

An economist, a scientist and a business titan can make an extremely popular keynote speaker. A keynote speaker from these fields can be particularly artful at explaining the mess we’re in, how we got here and what we need to do to get out of it. Meeting planners however, are increasingly aware that this sort of keynote speaker may well be out-of-favor by the time their event rolls around.

The “kick-start” keynote speaker

Then, there are the hundreds of extremely talented and diligent motivational and inspirational speakers, who know exactly how to package their talents and present their message as a keynote speaker. This type of keynote speaker, let’s call them “The kick-start experts” know how to grab the attention and the interest of the audience from the moment they step on the stage.

A kick-start expert walks his, or her, talk by making an immediate connection with the audience and holding them enthralled and entertained to the very end. This type of keynote speaker intuitively knows how to fully-connect with their audience on three levels: trust, logic and emotion. Like this they make a powerful, unconscious connection with their audience so they feel, “I trust you, you make sense, and you move me.” Most  professional speakers can connect on one of these levels: some on two. Connecting on all three is the hallmark of a fully-connected kick-start expert.

Intellectual Capital is a real business asset

An excellent kick-start keynote speaker provides opportunities for his audience to get to know one other. A key part of the success of any conference is that people get together, talk and share their knowledge. The keynote speaker should create a bridge for people to connect with each other throughout the rest of the day. This has massive benefits for the Intellectual Capital of the company and the event.

A corporate kick-start keynote speaker is generally aware, from their briefing, that the attendees don’t necessarily all know each other. This is especially true in the case of an annual meeting or convention, where attendees travel from across the country, or even around the world. In such a case it is definitely in the company’s interest that the keynote speaker finds ways to encourage attendees to connect with each other, network and get to meet new people during the conference or event. This is a huge bonus for the company as it massively boosts the intellectual capital of the company. The value of employees sharing knowledge, experience and training provides the company with a competitive advantage to boost profits, generate new customers, share information and massively contribute towards innovation and growth.

Other advantages to hiring a kick-start keynote speaker include:

  • Take-home value. A good kick-start keynote speaker makes an intellectual and emotional impact on his audience and makes sure they leave with tools they can take out into the workplace and use immediately.
  • They must be different and memorable. Their presentations are not typical and not traditional: they are innovative, inspired, and creative.
  • Their content is accessible. The keynote speaker speaks in ways audiences can immediately understand. They are not technical or academic. Their talks are relevant and insightful and offer fresh perspectives and approaches.
  • They do their homework. Kick-start keynote speakers take the time to really learn about their clients business and the challenges they face.
  • They are easy to work with. They must be friendly, accessible and down to earth. Although these busy keynote speakers travel extensively they can be easily reached.
  • They must be reliable, loyal and ethical. A top-notch kick-start keynote speaker always likes to arrive well ahead of time, is loyal to her clients and holds herself to the highest ethical standards.
  • They are flexible. A great kick-start speaker can tailor his presentation for your particular business be it finance, healthcare, retail, hi-tech, hospitality, tourism, sales, real-estate, consulting, pharmaceuticals, etc.

In the end, it all comes down to one question. “Has the keynote speaker met or surpassed our expectations?”

A sure sign that they have is when he or she, or the conference organizers, are approached by audience members after the kick-start keynote speaker comes off stage and are told “even if I get nothing more from today, I’ve got my money’s worth already.”

The genius of all great orators and communicators lies in their ability to use metaphors and stories. The currency of a keynote speaker is stories: true stories. After all, stories are to the human heart what food is to the body. A great keynote speaker tells stories and evokes images to make their message more interesting, to captivate, to explain and motivate their audiences. An “image” is worth a thousand words, especially when it comes to explaining complicated concepts and ideas. A top-notch keynote speaker knows an image conjured up in the mind can get across large chunks of information much faster and more memorably than a long-winded factual description.

What do you think great keynote speakers like Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt had in common? Or Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr.? Not to mention Jesus, Buddha, and the Prophet Muhammad? They all evoked images and told stories to get attention, capture interest, fire desire, and move their listeners to action.

If you found this article of interest, you may enjoy my Motivational Speaker vs. Inspirational Speaker post just as much!