When you’re in a gathering, a conference, or any other business event, you may notice that there is always someone to talk at length somewhere at the beginning. This person is called a keynote speaker. However, not everyone really knows what a keynote speaker is, and how it is defined against all other types of speakers—business speaker, motivational speaker, inspirational speaker, industry expert, etc.

In fact, the term keynote speaker is one of the most misunderstood in the business and public speaking industries. Even professional speakers themselves can mistake the keynote speech with other kinds of speeches. There are professional speakers, however, who are paid to do, and specialize in, keynote speeches alone.

So next time you are to hold a corporate event or seminar, or if you’re the one tasked to make a keynote speech, it’s best to know just what exactly a keynote speech is so you can do it right—and even come off giving something your audience will find memorable.


What is a Keynote Speech?

According to the dictionary definition of a keynote speech, it is:

An address designed to present the issues of primary interest to an assembly (such as a political convention) and often to arouse unity and enthusiasm.

A keynote speech is a necessary part of corporate or commercial events, as it establishes the framework that will be followed by the succeeding programme or agenda. This speech sets the “key” of the event, priming the audience with what to expect.

Keynote speeches are different from seminars or inspirational speeches, in the sense that a keynote offers a higher level of abstract ideas, encapsulating the information to be delivered throughout the event in a relatively short amount of time. It doesn’t include the nitty-gritty details—this is left to the seminar or the rest of the programme to cover. Instead, it provides something like a bird’s eye view, serving to inform, inspire, and even entertain. In other words, your keynote speech captures the essence of the event, introducing and highlighting it to the audience. Meanwhile, it’s the seminar, training, meeting, or conference that follows you that should go deeper into the content.


A well-made keynote speech does not only prime the audience for the event, however. It can also hold a powerful role, making the audience learn something they don’t already know, push forth a revolutionary idea, or move people to change.

The Role of a Keynote Speaker

As a keynote speaker, it is your duty to understand what the event is all about: its objectives, audience, activities, drives, and content. This is important so you can tailor your speech and therefore address the expectations and needs of your audience.

This task requires that you spend time researching not only the event, but also the industry, the company, the issues at hand, and the audience. This is especially true for professional keynote speakers who are not often coming from within the organization.

Your speech must set the right tone and context for the rest of the event. Once you have figured this out and done your research, then you must now prepare your presentation. Here, you must mould your presentation to make it unique, compelling, appealing, and distinct for your audience. Use humor when appropriate, but don’t forget to also connect with your audience. Make them participate as well, so this doesn’t seem like preaching or a one-way conversation, which can make your speech dull and unremarkable.

Use of presentation slides are also helpful, as visuals can be effective tools for your audience to better understand and remember your speech. It’s great to also customize your slides to your topic as well as to the corporate brand it is serving.

Knowing what a keynote speech is and what your roles are as a keynote speaker can help you be effective in your task. Also make sure that your delivery is spot on, accomplishing its goals for the event as well as even making a compelling and lasting impression on the audience.