What Is a Keynote Speech? Plus 5 Steps to Help You Write One.

Eleni Kelakos Peak Performance, presentation skills training, public speaking training, speech coaching

You’ve been asked to deliver a keynote speech at an upcoming event.  And while you may be flattered by the request, you have a lot of questions, like: “What is a keynote speech anyway? What makes it different that other presentations?  How long should a keynote speech be? And how do I write a keynote speech

Before I answer those questions, let me congratulate you for having been asked to deliver a keynote speech.  Because being invited to give a keynote speech means that have developed a perspective, a public persona, or a big idea that is interesting enough to be featured in the spotlight. Professionally speaking, you have arrived! 

Typically, keynote speakers are experts in their field.  Some professional keynote speakers, like me and many of my colleagues in the National Speakers Association, are even paid to deliver their keynote speeches. Whether you are paid or not, giving a keynote address is both an honor and a fantastic opportunity to share your expertise what an appreciative audience.

What Is A Keynote Speech?

The answer to “What is a keynote speech?” is inherent in the very language of the question:  The words key and note.  Essentially, a keynote speech is a speech in which you establish and develop a main (key) theme and set an overall tone (note) for the event. Often, the subject of a keynote address or keynote speech is intended to reinforce—and rally the audience around– the event’s chosen theme.  For example, if the theme of an event is performing at your peak as a leader, there is a good chance that the keynote speaker will be delivering a speech that underscores that theme.

Keynote speeches can be informational, inspiring, entertaining, and motivating. The best keynote speeches contain a bit of each those elements, expertly woven together.   

What Makes A Keynote Speech Different Than Other Presentations?

One of the best ways to understand what makes a keynote speech different that other speeches or presentation is to understand what it is not:  A keynote speech is not a speech or presentation in which you teach skills or concepts on a deep, experiential, nuts and bolts level.  It’s a speech in which you are doing most of the work.

If you are asking your audience to do individual or group work in spoken or written form through more than half of your speech,  what you are delivering is either a training program or a workshop, but not a keynote speech.  This is not to say that keynote speeches can’t have interactive elements; many of the best do, but in doses small and simple enough to allow the members audience to ingest the lessons while maintaining a focus on the speaker. Overall, keynote speeches tease out their key theme at a much higher level of focus than more involved, granular, and usually more lengthy workshops, breakout sessions, or training programs (like these).

How Long Should A Keynote Speech Be?

A keynote speech is typically thirty to sixty minutes in length. 

Generally speaking, the shorter the keynote speech, the better.  This is especially true when delivering a keynote speech after lunch or dinner, when people are winding down over a meal (or even a cocktail or two) and have a shorter attention span.  Whatever time slot you’ve been given as a keynote speaker, it’s your job to stay within its parameters—even if the event is running late, and you have to shave ten minutes off your keynote speech.

How Do You Write A Keynote Speech?

The question “How do I write a keynote speech” is often the reason thought-leaders, speakers, and business leaders contact me for support in writing one.  Because, if you’ve never put a keynote speech together before, it can be daunting.  As I always tell my online group keynote coaching or individual keynote coaching clients, organizing and crafting a keynote speech is a creative process. This means your keynote speech will often dictate what it needs to be as you’re writing it. You must be willing to nudge it into being, and be patient as it unfolds.

If you’re wondering “So, how do you write a keynote speech?” I suggest you start by asking yourself the following five questions:

  1. Who are the people the audience you are speaking to? The more you know about your audience, the more you can create a keynote speech that is relevant and of service to them.
  2. What pain, problem or challenge are you there to shine a light on or solve on behalf of your audience?
  3. Based on your answers to the first two questions, what is your big idea, the “key note” you are there to expand upon in your keynote speech?
  4. What are the three main points, lessons, or takeaways you want make (and flesh out with stories, data, and other sticky evidence) that are in support of your big idea, and will make up the body of your keynote speech?
  5. What can you choose to do to begin and end your keynote speech in a way that is maximally memorable and engaging?

If you are struggling to put together your keynote speech, don’t despair. You don’t have to go it alone. There are professional keynote presentation coaches who can help you turn your big idea into a magical, moving, memorable speech. 

Fill Your Keynote Speech With Who You Are

Whether you write keynote speech by yourself, or with the help of a trusted keynote presentation coach, remember this: The greatest resources you’ve got to draw upon are your unique experiences, expertise, and stories.  Fill your keynote speech with who you are and what you know. Be human and relatable, so your audience can connect more deeply with you.

And when the time comes for you to step up to the podium and give your keynote speech remember:

Your words matter.
Use your words responsibly.
Use your words with intention.
Use your words to change your world.  

Need support putting together your signature keynote speech?
Check out my Build a Brilliant Keynote Online Group Course.

Would you rather work with me one-on-one? Explore my keynote presentation coaching options.