What is a Keynote Speech / Speaker?
Every industry has its own terminology that is often not understood outside that industry. This certainly is the case in the Event Industry, where the term Keynote Speaker is often confused with Public Speaker, Inspirational Speaker, Motivational Speaker, Event Speaker, Futurist, Industry Expert, etc.
The goal of this article is to define what a Keynote Speech is, and what a Keynote Speaker does, so you can decide who is best to hire for your internal event.
Different Classes of Speaker
There is a difference between someone who is in ‘business' generally and someone who is specifically a ‘trader'; everyone who is a trader is in business but not all business people are traders. Understanding the different classes within an industry helps us understand that industry. So too with the Event Industry.
Every Keynote Speaker can speak but not every Speaker can give a Keynote Speech.
Within the Event Industry, there are different classes of Speaker. However, when organising an event and someone says that they want a ‘Speaker’ they generally mean ‘someone to speak to our people for about 45 minutes’ and they do not usually make a distinction between what class of Speaker they want. Indeed, the terms Public Speaker, Inspirational Speaker, Motivational Speaker, Event Speaker, Keynote Speaker, and ‘Speaker’ are often used interchangeably. However, every Keynote Speaker can speak but not every Speaker can give a Keynote Speech.
What is a Keynote Speech?
The term ‘Keynote’ comes from the world of Music and refers to the note that is played to determine the 'key' in which a song is performed. The importance of getting the Keynote right is therefore essential as it determines everything else that follows.
Similarly, a Keynote Speech sets the tone of your event. It establishes the framework for everything that follows. It sets the underlying theme, the most important revelation, and the core message that everything else in your event will follow. Because of this, a Keynote Speech needs to be planned at the beginning of your event. This makes it the most important Speech at your event.
A Keynote Speech sets the tone of your event & establishes the framework for everything that follows.
To set the right tone the Keynote Speech must be intimately aligned to the essence of your organisation and the goals of your internal event. For more on how to do this see our article: Five Tips to Align your Vision & Strategy.
What is a Keynote Speaker?
Let us now look at the different terms used to describe Speakers so we can understand the difference between the classes.
The term Public Speaker is a general term for anyone who speaks in public. So this offers a little distinction. All Keynote Speakers are Public Speakers but not all Public Speakers are Keynote Speakers.
The term Motivational Speaker has emerged from the American speaking circuit and often refers to a speech that it is delivered with high-energy, impassioned stories, & heart-warming content. While successful within American culture, it is often less successful in other cultures. However, for any speech to be successful, it must have a motivational character. So all Keynote Speakers are motivational but not all Motivational Speakers are Keynote Speakers.
The term Inspirational Speaker is similar to Motivational Speakers, as it also has its origin in the American speaking circuit. These Speakers often talk about overcoming personal challenges, winning in sports, or other uplifting themes that reflect the essence of the word inspiration: ‘to breathe into’. From this perspective, inspiration can give new life and energy to activities, which makes it a very practical thing. Therefore, every successful speech must be inspirational. So all Keynote Speakers are inspirational but not all Inspirational Speakers are Keynote Speakers.
A Keynote Speaker speaks at the beginning of your event to set the tone, and establish the framework, for everything that follows. A Keynote Speaker puts your event first and themselves second. This is why it is often difficult for the wide variety of other Classes* of Speakers to give a Keynote Speech.
A Keynote Speaker puts your event first & themselves second.
A Keynote Speaker masters preparation and performance. Because a Keynote Speech is about your event, and not about the Speaker nor their ideas, they must prepare by researching your industry, interviewing you, and empathising with your audience. And they then deliver this with a professional performance that captures the essence of your event with a tailor-made speech that is both motivational and inspirational. For more on this see our article: What are the Different Types of Keynote Speakers?
A Keynote Speaker speaks at the beginning of your event to set the tone for everything that follows.
* There are terms that refer to where a speech is in the event: Breakout Speaker, Plenary Speaker, Closing Speaker, Seminar Speaker, etc. There are terms that refer to Industry Experts, Informational / Educational Speakers, and more specifically to the topic of the speech (Leadership Speaker, Innovation Speaker, etc.). And currently one of the most popular terms is ‘Futurist’ who consider the future and makes predictions about it based on current trends. However, be aware that the majority of Futurists often do not translate their predictions to your industry and rarely ever translate their predictions to your organisation, which can leave your audience entertained but ultimately frustrated.
So the next time you are considering a Speaker for your event, first consider the different Classes of Speakers. And, when it is an internal event, consider the impact of hiring a Keynote Speaker who will speak at the beginning of your event to set the tone & establish the framework, for everything that follows.
If you want a full description of its benefits before you download this Checklist, check out the Guide to finding the right Keynote Speaker for your corporate event page and you will see all the reasons why.