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How to Find the Best Conference Keynote Speaker for Your Event

Published by Holly Ransom: Globally renowned keynote speaker and event host

So, you’ve planned an exceptional conference, and every detail is meticulously organised. But how do you ensure it will leave a lasting impression on your attendees? The secret lies in selecting the perfect conference keynote speaker – a captivating individual capable of setting the stage, engaging the audience, and making your event truly unforgettable.

How do I know? I have been hosting and speaking at conferences all over the world for the past 15 years, for companies from Microsoft to Coca-Cola, and have gained a deep understanding of the types of speakers that make for a successful event.

In this blog post, I’ll explore the attributes that define an exceptional conference keynote speaker, share insights on finding the ideal match, and provide tips for ensuring their success on your stage.

Let’s dive in!

Key Takeaways

  • Find the perfect conference keynote speaker to create an engaging and inspiring event in 2024.

  • Choose a speaker with subject matter expertise, storytelling ability & power to captivate their audience.

  • Showcase diverse voices by inviting emerging leaders, industry pioneers & inspirational figures for a memorable experience!

The Impact of a Conference Keynote Speaker

The right speaker can make or break your event. They possess the power to set the mood, engage the audience, and create lasting impressions that attendees will remember long after the conference is over. But what makes a great keynote speaker, and how can you ensure you choose the ideal candidate for your event?

Some things to consider..

Choosing a Master of Ceremonies

So, what does being a master of ceremonies entail? A master of ceremonies (also known as emcee, MC, event host) is a charismatic and skilled individual who takes the reins of an event, ensuring its smooth progression whilst keeping the audience captivated.

The role of an MC is versatile and can range from introducing speakers or performers, making announcements, and facilitating transitions between different segments of the event. The MC sets the tone, establishes a connection with the audience, and adds a touch of enthusiasm and professionalism to the proceedings.

When choosing an MC, consider their ability to communicate effectively, engage the audience, and adapt to the specific nature of the event. Do they have a good sense of humour? How’s their tone? It would be a good idea to get your hands on footage of the potential MC on stage. They should obviously possess excellent public speaking skills, while holding a strong stage presence and a keen sense of timing.

Another very important factor to consider is finding the right MC is making sure they have the skills to be across the event’s theme, audience, and purpose, so they can help tie it all together and tailor their performance accordingly. We like to call this the “red thread” of your event, and it’s one of my very favourite parts of hosting events.

Setting the Stage

The tone and theme of your event largely depends not only on the master of ceremonies, but also the opening keynote speaker. They captivate the audience, drawing them into the world of the conference and establishing a sense of anticipation for what’s to come. Think of Barack Obama’s iconic keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention that introduced him to the world as a rising star in politics, or Oprah Winfrey, whose address at Stanford University in 2008 was a powerful catalyst for self-reflection and empowerment.

These individuals have set the stage for their respective events and conferences, igniting discussions, forging connections, and inspiring collaborations that ripple through the entire gathering.

One of the most impactful opening speakers I have ever encountered was Erin Brockovich whose passion about each and every individual being able to be the change they wanted to see in their community left the whole audience feeling like they could walk through fire by the end of it!

Choosing the right opening keynote speaker facilitates an environment that promotes attendee engagement with the content and each other, paving the way for a successful event.

The Power of Closing Remarks

The influence of a keynote speaker is not confined to the opening of your event. Closing keynote speakers are pivotal in underscoring key messages and imprinting a lasting impression on attendees. Their speeches should convey an uplifting and positive outlook on the future of the industry or community, providing attendees with a sense of hope and inspiration as they leave the conference.

Selecting a closing keynote speaker who connects with your audience guarantees that the conference’s lessons, insights, and connections will have a lasting impact on attendees, even after they resume their daily lives.

Traits of Exceptional Conference Keynote Speakers

Holly Ransom delivering a keynote presentation on leadership.
Holly Ransom delivering a keynote presentation on leadership.

What differentiates exceptional conference keynote speakers from the others? These individuals possess traits such as subject matter expertise, storytelling ability, and the talent to capture the attention of the audience. Identifying speakers with these qualities helps guarantee an engaging, educational, and memorable event for all attendees.

We will probe further into these traits in the ensuing sections, offering tips for finding the ideal speaker for your event. Understanding these qualities and their contribution to a successful keynote equips you better in choosing a speaker who will enthral your audience and leave a profound impact.

Subject Matter Expertise

The depth of a speaker’s knowledge and their experience within their field are crucial aspects that enhance their ability to resonate with and educate your audience. Experts in specific subjects have an abundance of wisdom and proficiency that they can impart to attendees, offering unique viewpoints, perspectives, and practical advice.

Here are some of my top picks for subject matter experts:

  • Rita Clifton, an esteemed authority on branding

  • Chris Voss, FBI Hostage Negotiator

  • Seth Godin, a maven in the field of Marketing

  • Amy Webb, a visionary in Futurism

  • Angela Ahrendts, an expert in Retail

  • Dan Carter, a former captain of the All Blacks rugby team

  • Blake Mycoskie, the brains behind TOMS

  • Robert Kiyosaki, a specialist in financial management

  • Suze Orman, a guru in personal finance

  • Simon Sinek, a much sought-after speaker on leadership and an industry expert

  • Vivienne Ming, a leading authority in AI

  • Steve Pemberton, an advocate for Human Rights

  • Maria Ressa, a journalist and joint recipient of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize

These remarkable individuals have made significant contributions to their respective fields, and their expertise can serve as a powerful catalyst for learning and growth among your audience.

Storytelling Ability

The power of storytelling cannot be underestimated when it comes to engaging and captivating an audience. A speaker who can weave a compelling narrative around complex ideas can make their message more relatable, memorable, and impactful.

Entry ticket into the professional speaking game is being able to tell a good story, the key for you to assess who has the right style and type of story to resonate with your audience. You’re looking either for someone who’s lived experience and expertise is right up your audience’s alley or someone who can adapt their case studies and stories for your crowd.

Before choosing a keynote speaker, take the time to watch their past speeches online. Pay attention to how they craft and deliver stories and how well they gauge audience reactions.

Engaging the Audience

Establishing a connection with the audience is a necessary skill for a successful conference keynote speaker. By employing techniques such as humour, interaction, and empathy, a speaker can establish a rapport with their audience and create an engaging atmosphere.

Speakers should research their audience before the presentation, pose questions during the presentation, and modify their content based on audience feedback to keep the audience engaged throughout the presentation. I’ve delivered more than 2000 presentations in my time as a speaker and I can say, hand on heart, that I’ve never delivered the same presentation twice. Why? Because no two audiences are the same. Tailoring according to conference theme, audience dynamics, desired tone and other important elements for conference organisers is essential to making sure you can delivery on the brief. By adapting their message and delivery to the specific needs and interests of their audience, a speaker can create a truly unique and memorable experience.

Tips for Finding the Perfect Conference Keynote Speaker

Man researching conference speakers
Man researching conference speakers

Having understood the traits of an exceptional conference keynote speaker, how can you find the best fit for your event?

Follow these tips to be on the right track in finding the best conference speakers who will captivate your audience, share valuable insights, and create a lasting impression at your conference. One way to ensure success is by selecting a conference speaker with a proven track record.

Conduct Thorough Research

One of the most effective ways to find potential keynote speakers is through thorough research. Conduct online searches of past and upcoming events, consult speaking bureaus, and ask for word of mouth recommendations from trusted colleagues, friends, and family.

When researching speaking bureaus, be sure to find those that specialise in keynote speakers and have an excellent reputation. I’ve compiled a list of top speaking bureaus to help you in your search! By leveraging these resources, you’ll be better equipped to identify speakers who possess the qualities and expertise necessary to make your event a success.

Assess Presentation Style

Identifying potential candidates calls for an evaluation of their presentation style. Watch full speeches rather than just highlight reels to gain a comprehensive understanding of their delivery, storytelling capabilities, and audience engagement.

A thorough assessment of a speaker’s presentation style helps ascertain that they will captivate your audience and deliver a message in line with your event’s goals and interests.

Align with Event Goals and Audience Interests

Lastly, it’s important to opt for a speaker whose message and approach align with your event objectives and audience interests. By crafting a program and agenda tailored to the audience’s needs, you can create an engaging and impactful experience for all attendees.

To ensure a successful collaboration between the event organiser and the chosen speaker, provide them with all necessary information about the event, such as:

  • Event theme/topic

  • Objectives

  • Desired tone

  • Audience demographics

  • Ideal outcomes

I find it useful to also share what you know has worked for your audience before. When you think back to previously high-rating keynotes, are there any insights you can identify that can help your speaker get as close to the bullseye for you? The more information you can provide the more you enable the speaker to tailor their presentation specifically for your event and audience, maximising its impact and relevance.

Preparing Your Keynote Speaker for Success

Conference planner holding a briefing call with their keynote speaker
Conference planner holding a briefing call with their keynote speaker

After you’ve chosen the ideal keynote speaker for your event, steps to ensure their success are essential.

Following these guidelines equips you better to foster a smooth and successful collaboration between your event managers and chosen speaker, contributing ultimately to a memorable conference experience.

Provide a Comprehensive Briefing

To guarantee that your keynote speaker is fully prepared for the event, provide them with all the necessary information. My best practice is to hold a briefing call with all relevant parties approximately two weeks prior to the event. We cover things such as…

  • Conference hosts

  • Event objectives

  • Theme

  • Audience demographics

  • Other speakers and topics

  • Desired outcomes

  • Speaker requirements

  • Technical support

  • Travel logistics

This will enable your speaker to tailor their presentation to the specific needs of your event and audience, ensuring a seamless and impactful experience. This will also cover all bases in the logistics of the event which will reduce stress come conference time!

By sharing this information with your speaker, you’ll be better equipped to create a successful collaboration that benefits both the event organiser and the speaker, contributing to an engaging and memorable conference experience.

Technically Prepared

Conference organisers and event planners should make sure that the venue has the necessary technical equipment and that it is functioning properly. What will your speaker need? As a speaker, I always make sure to request a lapel mic, HDMI cord and remote clicker for my presentation – and we establish this in preliminary documentation/ contracts and our briefing call ahead of the event.

Make sure you provide the speaker with a comprehensive technical briefing to ensure that they are confident with the setup.

Showcasing Diverse Voices: Conference Keynote Speakers to Watch in 2024

Holly Ransom and emerging leader, Malala
Holly Ransom and Malala

From emerging leaders with fresh perspectives to industry pioneers who continue to drive progress, these speakers offer a wealth of knowledge and inspiration for your attendees.

Keep an eye on these remarkable individuals as you search for the perfect keynote speaker for your event, and consider how their unique voices can contribute to an engaging and memorable conference experience.

Emerging Voices and Rising Leaders

Up-and-coming thought leaders and activists bring fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to the table, making them excellent candidates for conference keynote speakers:

  • Malala Yousafzai (as seen above) – female education activist and 2014 Nobel Peace Prize laureate (who I had the privilege of working with this year!)

  • Erica Dhawan, a renowned thought leader and expert in 21st-century teamwork, collaboration, and innovation.

  • Angus Hervey, economist, journalist and co-founder of Future Crunch newsletter

As you search for the perfect keynote speaker, consider incorporating these rising stars into your lineup to provide a fresh and engaging experience for your audience.

Industry Pioneers

Holly Ransom interviewing Michelle Obama, industry pioneer and advocate for education, health & social equality.
Holly Ransom interviewing Michelle Obama, industry pioneer and advocate for education, health & social equality.

Established experts who have made significant contributions to their respective fields and continue to drive progress can also make exceptional conference keynote speakers, as well as being a great choice for a guest speaker.

Individuals like Billie Jean King, a former World No. 1 professional tennis player and a trailblazer in her sport who fought for gender equality and social justice, and Michelle Obama (seen above), former First Lady of the United States and advocate for education, health and social equality, have made a tremendous impact on society and can provide valuable insights for your audience.

By incorporating industry pioneers, guest speakers, and professional speakers into your lineup, you can ensure that your attendees will have the opportunity to learn from the best and brightest minds, gaining invaluable knowledge and inspiration to apply to their own lives and careers.

Inspirational Figures

In conclusion, it’s worth considering motivational speakers who can share personal tales of triumph over hardships and the journey to success. Inspirational individuals like John Calipari, the Head Coach of the University of Kentucky, and Nick Vujicic, the founder of Life Without Limbs, can inspire attendees to set their sights high and remain resilient in the face of difficulties.

Another fascinating individual is Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing a couple of years ago. He is a Super Bowl-winning NFL player who took a hiatus from the NFL to work as a medical doctor on the pandemic’s frontlines. His selfless act earned him numerous accolades. Pam Melroy is another noteworthy figure to consider. An astronaut, test pilot, and senior government official, Melroy is a trailblazer and a role model who has made significant contributions to space exploration. She served as pilot on two space shuttle missions and commanded a third, making her one of only two women to command a space shuttle.

By spotlighting these powerful and inspiring stories, you can create a truly memorable experience for your audience, encouraging them to strive for greatness and overcome their own obstacles.


Selecting the perfect keynote speaker for your event will have the most significant impact on the success of your event. By understanding the traits that make an exceptional conference keynote speaker, conducting thorough research, and ensuring a smooth collaboration between the event organiser and the speaker, you can create an engaging and memorable experience for your attendees. Keep an eye on emerging leaders, industry pioneers, and inspirational figures as you search for the perfect speaker, and watch your conference thrive as a result.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a keynote speaker at a conference?

A keynote speaker is a headline speaker at an event or conference, responsible for establishing the tone and tenor of the gathering. They are usually experts in their respective fields who deliver a compelling and impactful speech to inspire or motivate the attendees.

Do conference keynote speakers get paid?

Yes, keynote speakers usually get paid for their talks, depending on their level of experience and the geographical area they are speaking in. Rates range anywhere from $5K to $500K, depending on the calibre of speaker you’re after.

How do I find a keynote speaker for a conference?

Researching online platforms such as National Speakers Association, SpeakerHub, academic journals, news sites, bestseller lists and LinkedIn profiles is a great way to find the perfect keynote speaker for your conference. Don’t forget to check out past work of potential speakers before booking them! You can also explore our list of the top 10 speakers for 2023 to discover some of the most impactful and inspiring speakers for your event.

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Holly is an exceptional speaker, and facilitator. She is extremely intelligent and articulate yet manages to remain relatable and human. Working with Holly was an absolute pleasure, and I could not recommend her work highly enough.

Matt Kershaw – Global Head of Talent & Capability, Domino’s

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Holly Ransom, globally renowned leadership speaker delivering a keynote address on stage

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