Keynote speeches are the heartbeat of any event, whether you're the event organiser delivering it or selecting a speaker to do so. They offer a chance to inspire and shape the event's narrative, leaving a lasting impact on delegates. The keynote's theme is typically aligned with the overarching theme of the event so crafting an engaging keynote speech is essential to connect with attendees and ensure the success of an event.
This guide will offer invaluable insights and practical tips for crafting, delivering, and perfecting a keynote speech from leading industry experts. Whether you're a seasoned pro or new to the art of keynote presentations, this guide will equip you with the knowledge and techniques needed to engage and inspire an audience.
What is a Keynote Speech?
A keynote speech is often the opening or closing address at an event and is designed to convey a central message, set the tone, and captivate the audience. In contrast to shorter presentations, keynote speeches provide an excellent opportunity to delve deeper into a subject matter and demonstrate the extent of the speaker’s expertise.
The purpose of a keynote speech is to convey a central message, set the event tone and engage audiences.
A keynote speech typically takes place during the opening or closing of a conference.
Keynote speeches are usually delivered by a notable expert, celebrity or prominent figure within the field.
How Long is a Keynote Speech?
A keynote speech should typically be between 30 - 60 minutes long, with the ideal duration falling around 45 minutes. This time frame allows for a focused, impactful presentation without overwhelming the audience.
Dedicate at least 60 minutes within the schedule for the keynote presentation.
Event organisers should coordinate with keynote speakers to ensure their presentation fits the allotted time.
You should always allow extra time within the schedule to accommodate audience engagement, questions, and potential overruns, as it's easier to fill extra time than to rush through a keynote speech.
What Makes a Successful Keynote Speech?
A good keynote speech is characterised by its ability to inspire, educate, and engage the audience. It should have a clear message, captivating delivery, relatable stories, and a strong connection with the audience's needs and interests. Outstanding keynote speeches do more than just provide information; they inspire the audience to take action.
Here are the top three things to consider for a successful keynote speech:
Preparation time - Preparation time is paramount for keynote success, as it allows for content refinement and effective delivery. Keynote speeches often require weeks to months of preparation to ensure a well-structured and impactful presentation.
Audience research - In-depth audience research enables the speaker to tailor their content to meet the audience's expectations, making the speech more relatable and engaging.
Clear purpose - A clear purpose, goals, and intentions provide a roadmap for the speech, ensuring that the message is focused, concise, and aligned with the desired outcomes, making the keynote more impactful and memorable.
How to Write a Keynote Speech - in 5 Easy Steps
When writing a keynote speech, structure the speech in three sections: an engaging opening to capture the audience's attention, a substantive body with key messages and supporting content, and a compelling conclusion that summarises the main points and leaves a lasting impression.
To contribute to this guide, the team at ICC Belfast have enlisted the help of event industry experts who have created five easy steps on how to write an effective keynote speech:
1. Develop a Throughline
A throughline is the central theme or narrative thread that runs consistently through a keynote speech. It serves to connect various elements of the presentation, providing coherence and helping the audience follow the topic by reinforcing the core message and making the speech more impactful and memorable.
More than 900 businesspeople from across Northern Ireland and beyond are set to attend the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry President’s Banquet 2023 in ICC Belfast. The evening will be a celebration of global business leaders players, commemorating the membership organisation’s 240th anniversary in the company of Ireland Captain Johnny Sexton, who is making his first appearance of this kind since returning from the Rugby World Cup
in France. Those lucky enough to have secured seats will hear Johnny in conversation with broadcaster, Holly Hamilton with the central theme focusing on leadership and what it takes to be the best.
from NI Chamber shares her top tips for developing a throughline through a keynote speech:
Define the core message:
When you identify the main message or theme you want to convey in your keynote speech, everything else falls into place. Decide on this from the outset and a structure will be set for your overall theme.
Ensure that your core message is clear, concise, and relevant to your audience's needs and interests.
Weave consistency throughout your speech:
Thread the core message consistently throughout your speech and this will provide focus both to you and attendees.
Connecting anecdotes, examples, and bringing the content back to your central theme will always maintain a cohesive narrative and reinforce your throughline.
2. Brainstorm Ideas
Brainstorming ideas is crucial because it allows for the exploration of diverse perspectives and angles, helping to uncover unique themes and subtopic ideas. It enables a comprehensive understanding of the topic's full scope, facilitating the development of a rich and engaging keynote presentation that resonates with the audience.
David has become one of the most dynamic, engaging, and sought-after keynote speakers with a client list that features some of the world’s most successful organisations. His top tips when it comes to brainstorming ideas for a keynote speech:
Begin with mind mapping:
I always start with a mind map because this creates a central theme or topic in the centre of a blank page. Mind maps allow you to branch out with related subtopics and ideas in a non-linear fashion and mean you can always connect them back to the central theme.
I always like to expand each subtopic on the mind map with details, anecdotes, and supporting content and then refine later when I’m putting the final touches to my keynote speech.
Organise a keynote brainstorming sessions:
No man is an island so collaborate with a team or trusted individuals to generate a wide range of ideas. The Virtual Delegate was an excellent example of coming together with like-minded people, brainstorming an idea and creating something innovative that had never been done before.
Brainstorming sessions will encourage open discussion and idea-sharing, and this creativity with diverse perspectives allows you to identify keynote themes and angles.
3. Choose Key Talking Points
Refining ideas and selecting the strongest three topics as key talking points is vital for maintaining focus and clarity in your keynote speech. It ensures that the audience isn't overwhelmed with information and can absorb the most impactful content, making your message more memorable and engaging.
In 2023, ICC Belfast hosted a gathering of senior leaders from across Northern Ireland, where they renewed their dedication to driving economic growth in the city. The event featured an interactive session with renowned international speaker, author, coach, and educator, Andy Fell. The ‘What Winners Do’ session, which was delivered by Andy, focused on the importance of collaboration in advancing the shared objective of enhancing Belfast's reputation as destination for business events.
Andy shares his top tips for choosing key talking points:
Consider your audience relevance:
As the keynote speaker you need to deliver something that is relevant and engaging and what I like to do is evaluate the potential topics and base my speech on the target audience's needs and interests.
I also like to prioritise topics so that they address specific pain points or provide valuable insights that will engage and resonate with the audience.
Carry out an impact assessment:
Assess the potential impact of each topic on the audience. Consider which topics are likely to leave a lasting impression and always make your message memorable.
Remember to remove weaker topics that lack depth, resonance, or relevance, ensuring your speech is focused and compelling.
4. Decide on a Keynote Structure
Speech structure is crucial for maintaining a seamless flow and ensuring appropriate timing during a keynote presentation. A well organised structure helps the speaker transition smoothly between sections, making it easier to stay on schedule and engage the audience effectively.
As a member of Visit Belfast’s executive leadership team, Rachael McGuickin leads a multi-award winning team where she is currently Director of Business Development, Sustainability and Transformation. Rachael is responsible for promoting Belfast internationally as a leading business events, cruise and group tour destination and often delivers keynote speeches in order to attract inclusive and sustainable growth for the ‘World’s Best Conference and Events Destination’ 2023.
Rachael’s top tips when deciding on a keynote speech structure:
Use a three-act structure:
I will always divide my keynote speech into three acts: introduction, body, and conclusion.
The introduction captures attention, the body delivers key messages, and the conclusion summarises and leaves a lasting impression.
Never underestimate the introduction, you have less than five minutes to grab and keep the audience’s attention or you lose them. I always use a story, an unusual fact or statement to try and keep the focus of the audience in the introduction section.
Outline with signposts:
Create an outline with clear signposts as this will guide the audience (and you!) through your speech.
Use transition phrases, visuals, and summaries to indicate the start and end of each section as it brings structured to your speech and enables well-paced delivery.
Always over-estimate on time:
It will always take you longer than you think!
It is so easy to take away from a great keynote by speaking for too long and your content will lose impact.
It is a privilege to speak to an audience – never overstay your welcome.
5. Draft and Redraft
Creating a first draft allows you to capture your initial ideas and thoughts without the pressure of perfection, providing a foundation for your keynote speech. The refinement through editing enhances clarity, coherence, and impact, ensuring that your message is effectively conveyed and resonates with the audience.
Begin drafting your speech by freely expressing your ideas and key points without worrying about perfection.
The initial draft is all about getting your thoughts on paper and structuring the speech.
Follow an iterative editing process:
Review your draft multiple times as this will refine your content, structure, and flow.
Pay attention to clarity, coherence, and engaging elements such as storytelling and audience engagement.
How to Start a Keynote Speech
Start a keynote speech with an engaging introduction. You could open with a captivating anecdote, a thought-provoking question, or a relevant quote. Capturing attention from the beginning is crucial, as it sets the tone, piques the audience's interest, and draws them into the speech, increasing the likelihood of them staying engaged throughout.
Here are some ideas for starting a keynote speech:
Interesting fact - Begin your keynote with a surprising statistic or intriguing piece of information related to your topic. For instance, ‘Did you know that in the next five years, our world will generate more data than in the entire history of humanity?’
Humorous statement - Lighten the mood by starting with a joke or anecdote that relates to your topic. For example, ‘They say the best way to survive a business meeting is with humour, so let's start with a joke.’
Engaging story - Capture your audience's imagination by opening with a personal or relatable story that connects to your message. For instance, ‘Let me take you back 15 years in a small café in Ireland, where a chance encounter changed the course of my life.’
How to End a Keynote Speech
It's important to finish a keynote speech with a strong conclusion that leaves a lasting impact. You can wrap up by summarising key points, offering a call to action, or inspiring the audience. Ending on a high note ensures that your message resonates and motivates the audience to act or remember the core message.
Here are some ideas for ending a keynote speech:
Summarise key points - Conclude your keynote by summarising the key takeaways of your speech, reinforcing the central message. For example, ‘In summary, we've explored the importance of collaboration, innovation, and resilience in today's ever-changing world.’
Call to action - Inspire your audience to take action by providing a clear and compelling call to action. For instance, ‘Now, I challenge each of you to take the first step toward implementing these principles in your own lives and workplaces.’
Tips for Presenting an Engaging Keynote Speech
ICC Belfast's top tips for presenting an engaging keynote speech cover four key areas:
Maximise on storytelling -
Storytelling resonates with audiences as it adds relatability and emotion to your message, making it more memorable and engaging.
Utilise language - Employ various linguistic techniques, such as humour, metaphors, alliteration, and repetition, to keep the audience's attention and bring your concepts to life.
Use more than words -
Beyond content, consider the tone of voice, cadence, body language, and eye contact to enhance your keynote. Visual aids can also complement your message effectively.
Recover from mistakes - Learn how to recover gracefully from any errors during your presentation through practice and preparation, ensuring a smoother delivery.
Presenting a Keynote at ICC Belfast
ICC Belfast provides expert support for keynote presentations during conference events:
Flexible event spaces - ICC Belfast offers a range of versatile event spaces, from intimate seminar rooms to the impressive Main Auditorium, capable of accommodating up to 2,000 delegates. This diversity ensures that you can choose the perfect setting for your keynote presentation, tailored to your audience size and preferences.
Award-winning production services - With state-of-the-art technology and award-winning production services, ICC Belfast enables you to deliver impactful keynote presentations. High-quality sound and lighting, advanced AV equipment, and professional technical support ensure a seamless and engaging experience for both speakers and audiences.
Flexible configurations - The venue's flexible space configurations and theatre-style seating options allow for optimal audience engagement, clear sightlines, and audiovisual setup to ensure your message reaches every attendee.