The keynote or keynote speaker is often the culmination of everything you hope a professional event will be – which leads to some seriously high expectations from attendees. At the same time, it’s harder to impress keynote audiences than ever before. Going bigger and bigger isn’t a sustainable answer: a good keynote instead pays attention to value, relevance, and substance. Here are a few tips on appealing to the current professional world.

1. Speaker Interaction Needs to Be a More Frequent Requirement

Attendees prefer more value-driven, experiential keynotes these days. While a major speaker can always bring the “wow” factor, an hour-long speech is sure to remove it: The keynote needs to be as interactive as possible. Remember, everyone has a mobile phone they can use to browse social media and ignore the keynote completely if it is not actively meeting their needs and expectations. Fortunately, there is a variety of solutions for keeping engagement high, including keynote apps, a more robust series of announcements or speakers, and greater interaction from keynote speakers. Try to set aside a significant amount of time for a Q&A or demonstrations.

2. Customization and Relevance Remain Vital

There is no “one size fits all” keynote event, especially these days. Try to avoid keynote speakers with canned speeches and presentations that are the same everywhere: This may work for concerts, but not for corporate events – attendees are quick to smell a phony or generalized speech. Customize the keynote specifically for this time, this audience, and the primary topic of your event. Avoid repeats!

3. Streaming Should Correlate With Importance

Streaming keynotes are very popular these days: They allow influential and in-demand speakers to reach your event, even if they may be on the other side of the world. That’s an exciting opportunity, but it needs to be approached carefully. Only stream a speaker or event for your keynote if its importance overshadows the downsides of streaming. Streaming requires significant technical work, the right equipment, and patience from all sides. It’s not always reliable, and it simply doesn’t have the engagement of a live person on the stage, talking directly to people. In other words, the guest or event you are streaming needs to be so interesting that it’s worth the price for both you and your attendees.


Emotion is easy – the real value lies in unique, fascinating perspectives.

Emotion is easy – the real value lies in unique, fascinating perspectives.


4. Emphasize Substance Over Pep

Pep can be lead to strong engagement, but it’s a little empty where content is concerned. Remember again, today’s attendees prefer value over show: They would rather that the keynote explore interesting or complex topics in ways that give them information and perspective that they could not have found anywhere else. Anyone can watch a TED talk online and find some pep. Give your keynote substance and expertise that cannot be found anywhere else.

5. Keep Your Keynote Distinct from Your Other Presentations

In other words, don’t do the same thing over and over again, especially when it comes to presentation style or subject matter. The audience is going to get bored much more quickly if everyone just sat through three panels and the keynote is also a panel. However, if the keynote is the only panel at the event, interest levels will be much higher. The same is true of the topic – make sure it’s not a subject that has already been covered elsewhere in the event.

6. Time and ROI Should Go Hand in Hand

Keynotes often last anywhere from 45 minutes to a couple of hours, depending on the style and purpose. You have a lot of flexibility here, but the time spent should always be worth it for the attendees. Time tends to follow a fairly predictable ROI curve: After a certain point, usually 45 minutes to an hour, interest starts to fall and fall quickly, until attendees feel it is no long worth their time to be there. You want to avoid that point! There’s leeway based on the nature of the presentation, the technology used, the start power of the speaker, and so on – but you never want to keep people in seats when they would rather be doing something else.

For more information on how to prepare your keynote, choose speakers, and much more, visit McVeigh Global Meetings and Events and see how we can help!