What Is a Keynote Speaker?


At large conventions, academic gatherings or graduation ceremonies, everyone is brought together at the beginning or end of an event to hear one person discuss the topic at hand. This person is the keynote speaker. They are responsible for either framing the groundwork for the agenda at the beginning of an event or summarizing the goals and lessons taught at the end of an event.

History of the phrase

The term came from the old barbershop singer days who would play one note before singing to determine which key the song would be in. Keynote speakers are usually famous people in a given field who are chosen to share their wealth of knowledge with an audience.

Why attend a keynote speech?

Former alumni of a university who have achieved greatness will return to that school to deliver the keynote speech at graduation ceremonies to encourage students to follow in their paths. Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs and Microsoft founder Bill Gates are well-known and highly sought after keynote speakers for the interesting pioneering stories they can tell to very-intrigued audiences. Often those in attendance of different functions of the events may skip small lectures or meetings, but it's very rare for people to skip the keynote ceremonies, as they prove to be the most important part of the night or weekend events.

Mechanics of a keynote speaker

Keynote speakers are usually given 45 minutes to one hour to deliver their address. Some qualities of well-versed keynote speakers include: highly regarded oratory skills, intelligence and background on the topic, ability to engage an audience, creativity, a good sense of humor, strong use of visuals or audio, and openness for sharing personal experiences. Although most keynote speakers receive free publicity for the event, they are paid a fee to participate.

Keynote speaker organizations

Companies such as Speak Inc. or Keynote Speakers have a database of people on their roster who are experts in a range of topics. These companies help pair organizations with speakers that can enhance a convention and deliver a memorable speech.

Rise of unknown keynote seaker

Sometimes relatively obscure people chosen to give the keynote speech can use the platform to accelerate their career. For example, a mostly unknown Illinois state senator gave the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Due to his high oratory skills, Barack Obama used the platform to showcase his talents to the world and eventually win a U.S. Senate seat and the presidency.

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