When organizing an important conference, one of your key responsibilities is often choosing the right keynote speaker. The keynote speech sets the tone for the event, so it’s critical that you pick someone who can truly deliver – that is, someone who will orient your attendees to the conference’s goals and motivate them to participate to the fullest.
Now, you might ask, “How do I know when I’ve found such a speaker?” Here are five factors that will serve you well in the selection process:
#1: Familiarity with industry and audience
Nobody can hope to move an audience – at least not in a positive way! – unless they know the ins and outs of your industry, and the people who work within it. So your keynote speaker must be expert in the industry as a whole, and your audience in particular: their jobs, responsibilities, values, challenges they face, even their lifestyles. Speakers knowledgeable in audience psychographics are able to structure a fascinating speech and easily, naturally connect with their listeners. This is crucial to hitting the sweet spot – the practical, pertinent message you want the audience to take away, and they want to get, too.
#2: Emotions and effective storytelling
Choose a keynote speaker who can draw on personal experience for real and meaningful stories, and tie these to the main message. Remember that a keynote address is primarily motivational, and therefore highly emotional. It should stir the listeners to improve their personal lives and inspire them to pursue professional goals with increased passion. The best way to do this is couple major points and principles with relevant experiences and anecdotes.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s viral speech on drug addiction, given during a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, is a perfect example of powerful storytelling. Before he pointed out that America should start giving drug addicts tools to help them get better, he recounted his mother’s experiences and a law school friend’s addiction to prescription painkillers. All pertinent, all poignant.
#3: Good sense of humor
Humor is another factor to bear in mind when selecting a keynote speaker. When skillfully used, humor can engage the audience and create a more open, lighthearted ambiance. If possible, check into past speeches by speakers you’re considering, and see how effectively they use humorous gestures, anecdotes, dialogs and so forth. Does their timing work? Do they allow the audience time to enjoy the joke before pressing on? If you find yourself laughing spontaneously, that’s a good sign! Of course, it’s also important to be sure the humor is appropriate and in good taste. An offensive “joke” can kill any hope of positive results.
#4: Pace and vocal variety
Keynote speeches may last from 10 to as much as 45 minutes. But regardless of overall length, a speaker must be able to speak at a proper pace, and with vocal variety. Speaking too fast baffles the audience, while plodding along too slowly just lulls one and all to sleep. Select a speaker who can hit the right intensity to maintain interest, and slow down to emphasize a serious message. Further, look for speakers who skillfully use a variety of pitches, tones and volumes to create a dynamic presentation.
#5: Tweetable calls to action
A keynote speaker should not end a talk without at least one compelling call to action. This actionable concept should be present right from the start, and elaborated upon throughout the speech using facts, stories and examples to make it stick. You may have seen the very popular – nearly viral – YouTube video of Dalton Sherman, a pupil who delivered a speech at a Dallas Independent School District Teachers’ Conference – when he was only a 5th grader! He repeated his signature phrase, “Do you believe…” many times, emphasizing his central theme.
You’ve probably heard plenty of keynote speakers through the years. If you have any other ideas about what makes a keynote speaker effective, please share them in the comments below.