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Katie MoserJun 16, 2023 1:46:23 PM10 min read

How to Find the Best Conference Keynote Speaker for Your Event

You want to make your conference unforgettable, engaging, and educational. We get it.

One crucial aspect that can make or break your event is the keynote speaker. You don't want to leave your audience yawning - or worse, tweeting bad things about your event.

But how do you find the best conference keynote speaker for your event? In this blog post, we'll explore the importance of a keynote speaker, the characteristics of an exceptional one, and strategies for finding the perfect speaker and preparing them for success.

Short Summary

  • Selecting a keynote speaker for an event can significantly impact the tone and energy, inspiring attendees and increasing audience involvement.

  • An exceptional speaker should have subject matter expertise, an engaging communication style with storytelling, humor & passion, as well as being adaptable to any given audience.

  • Evaluation of speaker performance & ROI is achieved by obtaining feedback from attendees & analyzing metrics such as attendance levels and engagement.

A keynote speaker giving a motivational speech to a large audience

The Impact of a Conference Keynote Speaker

A keynote speaker is the primary orator at an event, responsible for establishing the atmosphere and enthusiasm of the event. Selecting the right keynote speaker sets the tone and energy of the conference, hopefully ensuring a memorable experience for attendees and sparking conversations that last long after the event is over.

The job of keynote speakers is to deliver a memorable speech that can inspire and engage the audience. A distinguished keynote speaker not only establishes the atmosphere, but can also assist event managers in promoting the event beforehand and increasing audience involvement during the event.

Sparking Interest

Exciting attendees about a conference can sometimes be challenging. Your chosen keynote speaker should be able to, whether by name, occupation, or presentation content, excite potential participants and convince them to attend your conference. When you promote your conference, be sure to highlight your speaker on your registration site and focus in on their value.

Establishing the Theme

Keynote speakers often have set topics that they speak on often, and they can help craft the direction of your event. If you've already decided on a speaker but haven't chosen a theme for your conference, you can work with the speaker to craft a potential theme.

Woman listens to keynote speech at conference with other group of women

Energizing the Audience

An opening keynote speech will help get the tone set for the entire conference and excite participants for what's to come. A great speaker will energize the audience, while also connecting their speech to other keynotes later in the conference.

A closing keynote is also important to your event. It's like a bookend to your event and helps ensure that attendees remain for the entirety of the event. This final speech will also set the tone for how attendees will remember the event, and how they will apply the messages, such as future trends, to their day-to-day lives.

A keynote speaker with expertise in the subject matter

Characteristics of an Exceptional Keynote Speaker

An exceptional keynote speaker possesses a unique mission or purpose, is credible and trustworthy, is comfortable and confident on stage, and is relatable to the audience. They understand the power they hold while on stage, and the responsibility that comes with it, inspiring and unifying the audience with a common purpose and providing direction for the conference goals.

Qualifications of a good keynote speaker include having a distinctive style and philosophy, complementing the event objectives, meeting professional qualifications, and being an expert in the subject matter. Note that this doesn't mean the person is the top expert in their field; they may be another expert that doesn't necessarily have as big of a name but is still highly skilled in delivering speeches.

In the following sections, we will delve deeper into the characteristics that set exceptional keynote speakers apart.

Subject Matter Expertise

Subject matter expertise is paramount for keynote speakers. It lends credibility to their presentation, which ultimately lends credibility to your conference as a whole.

A well-informed speaker, who is deeply knowledgeable about their subject, can provide nuanced insights and stimulate deeper discussions among the attendees.

Engaging Communication Style

You should look for a speaker that has an excellent communication style, both in-person and onstage. A charismatic speaker can captivate the audience with their storytelling, humor, and genuine passion for their subject, leaving a lasting impression and inspiring attendees to take action.

Adaptability and Customization

Adaptability and customization are essential for a keynote speaker, as they permit the speaker to adjust their message to the particular audience and event, thus making the most significant impact. It also enables them to modify in response to unforeseen changes or difficulties during their presentation.

A speaker who can tailor their message to suit the needs of the event and its attendees is more likely to leave a lasting impact.


It's important to consider budget when selecting a keynote speaker. When fees can get up in to the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, you have to deeply understand your budget and where your dollars are best spent.

Sometimes this means looking to internal speakers to host your keynotes or at least offset some speaker costs throughout. If you need to go with a more expensive speaker to pull in interest for the conference, it may be worth looking for sponsorships to offset the cost.

Man standing on stage hosting a keynote while waving to the audience

Strategies for Finding the Perfect Keynote Speaker

Finding the perfect keynote speaker for your event can be a daunting task, but with the right strategies in place, it becomes much more manageable. Some effective strategies for finding the ideal keynote speaker include networking and referrals, research and online resources, and working with speaker bureaus.

Networking and Referrals

Asking respected individuals for recommendations is an excellent way to find the best keynote speaker for your event. Personal connections and industry contacts can offer invaluable insights into a speaker's strengths, weaknesses, and suitability for your event, helping you make a well-informed decision.

Internal Resources

Don't forget to look internally when selecting a keynote speaker. Depending on the type of event you're hosting, internal resources can sometimes be the best and most cost-effective choice for your event. When evaluating internal resources for speaking positions, make sure to follow the same criteria you would for external speakers.

You can also consider partner resources such as client speakers or sponsors who have experts in-house. The benefit of using internal or partner speakers is that cost is usually not a factor. Plus, they will know your industry the best, making them able to customize their speech to your audience more appropriately.

Research and Online Resources

Leveraging online resources can help you narrow down the list of potential speakers and gain a better understanding of their expertise, credibility, and relevance to your event. Websites, blogs, social media accounts, and reviews of speakers, as well as their past speaking engagements, can provide a wealth of information to aid your decision-making process.

Working with Speaker Bureaus

Working with speaker bureaus can afford access to a broader selection of speakers and beneficial insights based on their expertise. Speaker bureaus can help locate the most suitable keynote speaker for your event, and some speakers may include the bureau commission in their fees.

Keynote speaker practicing on stage before session.

Preparing Your Keynote Speaker for Success

Once you've found the ideal keynote speaker for your event, it's crucial to prepare them for success. This includes providing a thorough briefing, collaborative planning, and technical and logistical support.

By ensuring your keynote speaker is well-prepared, you significantly increase the chances of a successful and memorable event for all attendees.

Comprehensive Briefing

A comprehensive briefing is essential for preparing the keynote speaker for success, as it facilitates the speaker's comprehension of the audience, allowing them to customize their message. It also gives them an overview of the theme or messaging of your event, which they can then leverage for their presentation.

A comprehensive briefing for a keynote speaker should encompass every aspect of the event, such as the conference hosts, event objectives, event history, theme, audience demographics, other speakers and topics, and desired outcomes. Providing a thorough briefing ensures the speaker understands the context of the event and can tailor their message accordingly.

Collaborative Planning

Collaborative planning between the event organizer and the keynote speaker gives both parties an invested interest in the content of the keynote. It also helps the speaker feel more prepared and confident by guaranteeing that the speaker's message is in line with the event's objectives and audience expectations.

Technical and Logistical Support

When onsite, make sure to walk through technical and logistical support. Set up practice sessions, run through slides, and test out A/V. Make sure the speaker is comfortable with the space and their presentation, and walk through any changes you might need to make. This is a critical portion of your speaker preparation and should be given ample time.

A keynote speaker delivering a speech to a large audience

Evaluating Speaker Performance and ROI

Assessing the performance of your keynote speaker and the return on investment (ROI) can help you improve future events and make more informed decisions about speaker selection.

You can do this by obtaining audience feedback and analyzing event metrics such as cost versus revenue, attendee turnout, performance of ads or social media posts about your speaker, etc.

Audience Feedback

Audience feedback is important for evaluating speaker performance and ROI, as it offers valuable insights into how the speaker was perceived and whether this made the overall conference successful.

Audience feedback can be collected through surveys or interviews. We recommend conducting interviews directly after the session, throughout the conference, and after the conference, to compare initial reactions to long-term recall. We also recommend sending out a survey after the event to collect qualitative measurements that you can compare year over year.

Event Metrics

Event metrics refer to measurements employed to assess the success of an event, including attendance, engagement, and sales. These metrics provide quantifiable data on the efficacy of a speaker and the overall success of an event, which can be utilized to make informed choices for future events and allocate resources more efficiently.

Make sure to track these metrics throughout your promotional and registration phases to keep an eye on how well your promotions featuring the speaker are doing. Also make sure to assess these metrics post-conference and compare to previous years.


Selecting the right keynote speaker for your event is an essential step in ensuring its success.

By understanding the impact of a conference keynote speaker, identifying the characteristics of an exceptional speaker, employing effective strategies to find the right speaker, and preparing them for success, you can elevate your event and create a memorable experience for all attendees. Remember to evaluate speaker performance and ROI to continually improve and make informed decisions for your future events. Armed with this knowledge, you're well on your way to hosting an unforgettable conference.

Need help brainstorming the perfect keynote session for your conference? Let's chat about how GoGather can help you get the most out of your keynotes.

woman giving a presentation at an event with title 'make your next event shine with GoGather'

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a keynote speaker at a conference?

A keynote speaker is an essential part of any conference, setting the tone and providing insight into the overarching themes. They serve as a focal point for the event, delivering a presentation that captivates and motivates their audience.

Through their speech, keynote speakers seek to inform, inspire and motivate conference attendees.

What is the difference between a public speaker and a keynote speaker?

The key difference between a keynote speaker and a public speaker is that the keynote speaker presents an overarching idea or thesis of the event while the public speaker dives deeper into particular points. The keynote speaker is the one to set the overall tone for the event while the public speaker offers details and elaborates further on their topic.

For example, a keynote speaker might introduce the theme of the event and provide an overview of the topics that will be discussed. A public speaker might then go into more detail about a specific topic, such as the importance of diversity in the workplace.

What are typical keynote speaker fees?

Keynote speaker fees typically range from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the size and scope of the event, experience and expertise of the speaker, and other factors. Popular keynote speakers often command higher fees than less well-known or up-and-coming ones.


Katie Moser

Katie Moser is the Director of Marketing and Business Development at GoGather. She has an extensive background in creating content and branding for events, working with speakers, and managing agendas for conferences. When she's not updating blog posts and sending out social media posts, she helps clients identify areas of opportunity for their events from branding to communications. In her downtime, she enjoys spending time at one of the many beautiful San Diego beaches, exploring new breweries, or chilling at home with her cat.