Seven Traits of a Good Keynote SpeakerMaybe it’s because we just saw a slew of them at the national political conventions, or perhaps it’s because we see them at many conferences we attend; in many cases, it’s events we organize where we have to search out an appropriate keynote speaker to headline the sessions. Whatever the reason, keynote speakers are integral to any gathering of professionals looking to further themselves with knowledge and networking.

A good keynote speech should inspire and unify an audience with a common purpose. He or she should also provide direction for the conference purposes and goals. This sets the tone for the event; which can launch a conference with clarity or, at its worst, move it forward with non-existent or muddled ideas.

Here’s how we judge keynote speakers:

  1. Grasp the overall purpose of the conference
    • This seems like a no brainer, but we’ve seen many keynote speakers who essentially use a speech at a conference simply to sell themselves, rather than further the theme of the event. If you’ve been hired and paid as a keynote speaker, the sale has been made and there’s no need to continue to sell who you are.  What you need to do is to sell the theme of the event.  A good keynote speech should be global in nature, inspiring, pragmatic, and memorable. If this is done, who you are (professionally and personally) will be clear.
  1. A singular focus on the target audience
    • The successful keynote speaker always knows at which level to approach the audience.  If you assess an audience properly, you’ll hit that “sweet spot” where you establish rapport, credibility, and attention to the message you’re trying to impart. If you underestimate the audience, you’ll generate boredom; if you overestimate, confusion will result. A good keynote speaker will work closely with the organizer of the event, to make sure he or she knows as much as possible about the psychographics of the audience they’ll be addressing.
  1. Know the value of entertainment
    • Humor can be the lubricant of good speeches. Having said that, make sure you’ve done your homework on number two.  Misplaced humor can be deadly.  Properly presented, humor and anecdotes will yield greater acceptance of your message.
  1. Minimize the use of props
    • Many keynote speakers suffer from TMI (Too Much Information).  Yes, you should substantiate factual statements and images can help to drive a point home, but complex spreadsheets and crowded text pieces can dull your messages. The best keynote speakers use minimal props and let their words do the heavy lifting.
  1. Understand the value of pacing in a talk
    • It’s been said that a keynote speech can be as long as 45 minutes, or as short as 20 minutes. The pacing is more important than the length.  A frenzied pace will exhaust the audience and a slow, laborious pace will put them to sleep.  Variety is the spice of life and; when it comes to keynote speeches, variety of pacing is essential.  A good keynote speaker knows
      when to ramp up the intensity, and when to soften the presentation to keep interest. If you plan to include a Q&A segment in a keynote speech, never end with it; always make sure to do a wrap up and control the message with the final words.
  1. Personalize the theme of the event with real stories
    • For the duration of a keynote speech you have to build a relationship with the audience. There has to be an atmosphere of trust engendered. There’s no better way to do that than to share personal observations. This helps the audience to see that you’re a real person with life experiences, emotions, and lessons learned. When you personalize segments of a speech and show passion for your topic, you have a better chance of selling the principles you’re trying to convey. Some of the best keynote speakers will openly admit they don’t know everything, but what they know has worked.
  1. Simplify the keynote message into a call to action
    • If an audience doesn’t walk away with at least one to three main actionable concepts, then the keynote speaker has failed. Establish a set of ideas early and flesh them out throughout the speech with facts, personal stories, and/or observations. There’s an age old format for public speaking:
      • Tell them what you are going to tell them
      • Tell them
      • Tell them what you told them

A good keynote speaker will leave an audience with methods by which to incorporate the messages into their personal or business lives. Quite often, the messages can be personalized simply by leaving the audience with two to three questions that they have to answer for themselves. In this case, each individual can find a personalized mode of action as they answer the questions in their own context.

After experiencing many speakers in action, these are just a few of the key points by which we judge them. You may have some additional observations about keynote speakers.  If so, we’d love to hear them.