What Is a Keynote Speech & How to Deliver One With Impact?

Speaker highlighting the importance of relevance to the theme.

We’ve all heard about Keynote Speakers. They are all the rage given the pandemic and the hoards of webinars and conclaves and conferences that have come with it. They have also been a catalyst in spreading the assumption or myth that Keynote Speakers are celebrities or really famous people. However, that is not true! Sure, having a famous personality brings in the little extra “branded” tone to your event but it doesn’t really matter if your Keynote Speaker(s) have no substance or anything relevant to speak about.

Why is it called “Keynote” anyway?

If you are the curious type (like me) and usually loose track of time by going off on a tangent while researching about a topic, I’ve saved you some time:

Based on my research, a Keynote is the base note in Music which sets the tone for the track.

There you have it: The best way to explain what a Keynote Speech is!

A Keynote Speech, usually given at the beginning of the event, focuses on the central idea or theme for the event and elaborates on the same. It is given by someone noteworthy of presenting the same, like a professional or experienced scholar of the topic and sets the tone for the event.

Keynote Speeches could also have presentations and other visual aids. It is up to you and whatever your creative juices decide while preparing.

If you are interested in learning about presentations and how you can use it best in a speech, we’ve written an article just for that, check it out!: A Guide to the Techniques of Presentation

How to write a Keynote Speech?

Typewriter indicating writing a Keynote Speech

Here’s the million dollar question (only if you are paying me to ask it)

Usually writing a speech is confusing business. With the transitions, delivery, tones, pitch, visual aids, and I could keep going but I don’t want you to begin fanning your armpits… yet!


The main thing, without it you have no speech. (duh!)

So how do you begin going about your topic? Easy, first things first: write down any keywords or points that you know about the topic.

Pro Tip: Always keep your ideation document different from your drafts (layout/colour wise). It may be helpful to have everything in one place but soon, your mind will get adjusted to using it as a rough ideation workspace and when you actually have to sit down and write your speech, it won’t come naturally and lo and behold – the writer’s block.

Once you have that, discard all the knowledge and running thoughts you have about the topic and open your browser and books. It is research time!

Learn whatever you can about the topic. If you find articles which are helpful (like this one) keep them open and close the rest of the tabs. If you are using books, use bookmarks or tabs or even highlighters if you are allowed to/comfortable using to mark all the points you found interesting and helpful.

Read through them again, now is the point where you start filtering information to decide if the content you liked is Keynote Speech worthy or not.

How do you know if it is worthy?

Simple: Can it lift Mjollnir? (For those of you who did not understand the reference, I got you: Search for – Thor’s Hammer.)

On a more serious note: Look out for points which are informative and something you can build on but ensure that they aren’t too complex. Why? Because, the time it takes for you to explain one point will take away the opportunity to touch base on the various other topics or points you would/are planning to cover.

This brings us to our next point:

How long should a Keynote Speech be?

Clocks indicating the length of a Keynote Speech

If you have never given a Keynote Speech, or if you are reading this at 2:00 AM and have to deliver your speech today – Remember those speeches during webinars which you immediately slept after? My guess is, those speeches where the Keynote Speeches.

A Keynote Speech / Address can last anywhere between 15-60 minutes.

My Advice: Don’t let it cross the 30 minute mark. A Keynote Speech is expected to be a bit generic and revolve around the theme. If you keep talking about something generic and returning to the same point / theme, people tend to get bored, you unknowingly might become repetitive and overall, you might find someone else dozing off during your address.

PS: Different organisations have different plans of action, so it would be the safest to approach the organisers and find out how long they expect you to speak for and move ahead from there.

Content and Structure

You have researched your topic the best you can, you might have gone to the extent of the etymology as well, and filtered the clutter.

Now, what we need to do is, organise.

A great way to organise your content could be using this chart:

Introduction to the Main Theme

Introduction to your area of expertise

A few topics you find the most interesting / think that the demographic you are addressing to will find the most interesting*

Future prospects about the industry

Summary and Conclusion while rounding back to the main general topic.

*Targeting Demographic

Figuring out what your demographic would be interested in is a task! The easiest way to figure that out would be to divide them into three categories.

  1. Freshers
  2. Some Experience
  3. Experts.
How does this help?

Once you know what the majority of your audience’s demographic is like, you can tailor your content based on things they might be interested in.

For Freshers, you can add topics about future prospects and the career growth in the field.

For people who have spent some time in the industry but are still new, you can speak about the current trends, and how to navigate the various obstacles that may come with various deliverables.

If you are addressing a group of experts in the field, treat them like your equals and don’t dumb things down for them, some basic jargon can be allowed (usually it is a big no no in speeches) and it may even present you with the opportunity to segue into a joke about “back in our days.”

This is also a great opportunity to open the floor for discussions and take in points from the audience about the new and latest developments in your industry, because as experts, they would definitely have a well founded viewpoint and might even help you look at things from a new perspective – Who said you couldn’t grow and learn while giving a speech?

Opening a Keynote Speech

The beginning is where the audience decides if they want to listen to you. Creating an impression couldn’t be any easier!

You can start with one of the three Ss – Statement, Story or a Surprising Question.


Once Upon a Time, I used this phrase to begin my story in a speech and had the audience snoring by the next line!

The phrase “Once Upon a Time” may be classic, but remember it is a classic for bed time stories. Unless you are beginning a Fairy Tale or Folklore, steer clear of your temptations of using it.

Instead, begin with the setting of the story, fake or a real incident, it helps the audience picturise things better and relate and follow more closely.

To learn more about storytelling and how to use it in your speech, you can check our article on the same: 9 Storytelling Approaches for your Next Speech or Presentation


A statement, phrase or quote when used at the beginning of the speech, needs to be either controversial (who doesn’t love good tea?) or something powerful.

Make sure that if you use a quote or phrase it is in line or in some way related to your topic. Something which is completely different from the topic at hand would make it even more complex for you to get it back to the theme and what you want to talk about.

Surprising Question

When do you ask a question?

Did you answer this? Even if your answer was on the lines of: “How am I supposed to know that” It was still a response to the question.

This is what you can do with your audience as well. Anyone who hears a question, rhetorical or not, will answer it intuitively – be it a sarcastic answer, a rude one or an actual one. But there will be an answer and then there will an unconscious expectation of a response and there you have a hooked audience!

This was my take, if you want to explore deeper into figuring out your opening, check out our video on the same!

Tips for Writing and Delivery

Now that you know where you want to take your speech, here is a list of a few things which you can use to help you take your Keynote Address to the next level.

  1. Learn about your audience to tailor your speech to keep it relevant and relatable.
  2. Practice your speech, even if it is the 100th time you are giving one or talking about that specific topic.
  3. Embrace the nervousness but don’t let it be the better hugger.
  4. Be confident about your content. If you aren’t sure about a point, it is better to omit it rather than confuse the audience or provide them with poorly researched facts.
  5. Consider adding visual aids like a presentation or pictures to your speech.
  6. Connect with the audience, share your contact details and social media page with them via chat or on screen, and invite them to pick your brain.
    This way, you build your network and someone out there gets to learn and clarify doubts from an expert!
  7. Prepare. Preparation isn’t just practising your speech. It is checking your network connection (online), the stage and lighting and all the other tech support (offline), deciding what to wear, getting enough sleep and multiple other things like checking in with the organisers, etc.,.

Keynote Speech Examples

We’ve filtered through so many great speeches to bring you our top four, each cover a different aspect of a Keynote Speech and will help you gain a wider idea about what could work for your speech and what may be a possible new avenue you could take.

Oprah Winfrey – With Motivational Keynote Speeches being the most popular, the talk show host and entrepreneur spoke about following your passion and working on yourself. A great example of a good self-help and motivation Keynote Address.

Matt Damon – The actor spoke about this experiences in colleges and the financial difficulties he has faced. This speech is a great example of how you can connect to a younger audience and speak about a personal experience in a very engaging manner.

Sheryl Sanberg – A great example of mixing motivation with personal experiences and sensitive topics. This could help you with connecting various topics seamlessly and yet maintaining the umbrella topic/theme/genre.

Ken Robinson – To move into a more technical yet jargon free point of view on multiple topics and remaining objectively critical and motivational at the same time.

Keynote Speech Ideas

Lightbulbs indicating various ideas you can have for a Keynote Speech

Often times, even though the theme of the event may be set, it can be a bit to vague, or the organisers might just tell you to talk about yourself, or anything you want!

One way to help you choose the perfect topic for you is:

Following the 3 KPI method. (No, not that KPI)
KPI – Knowledge, Passion, Interest.

1. Knowledge

How much do you know about the topic? Is it something you can speak on without any or little preparation? Knowledge about the topic you’re speaking about builds your confidence, and it also shows the audience that you are a credible source of information! Another added benefit is that you will be able to explain really complex sections of the topic with ease and various examples – a great quality and it adds immense value to your speech since it makes it accessible to any demographic.

2. Passion

Why is being passionate about what you speak so important? Try out the below activity with someone.

1. Speak about a random story from the internet, it could be about a news article, social issue, facts, story, anything that is not your opinion or an opinion you particularly agree with.
2. Speak about any topic that you deeply care about, it could be the welfare of canines, politics, the impending doom of fast fashion, literally anything!

Ask your buddy to judge your delivery on both these occasions.
Did you suddenly speak louder, clearer, and more well.. passionately?

When you speak about a topic you are passionate about, you tend to create that atmosphere around you that says “This is soo cool” and since humans generally have a herd mentality, their brain goes “This sounds cool, tell me more!” and there you have it, a room full of people who want to listen to you just because you made it sound “cool”.

3. Interest

If you’re passionate and know enough about your topic, I think it is safe to assume that you are interested in it.
So, now enough about you, let’s think about your audience.
Earlier in this article we spoke about how to gauge the demographic of your audience and based on that what sections of the topic you should pay attention to.
The audience needs to find some value in your content to stick on till the second sentence. Work on building the quality of your speech by research and building your own knowledge. At the end of the day, you’ve learned something new and have a strong speech ready to provide your audience with a positive experience. Win-Win!!

If you would like to explore some more resources to gauge the best way to choose a topic, you can check out our video on the same:

To work on a speech with no real base is difficult, so we have gathered a few possible topics/themes you can cover in your Keynote Speech. These could also just be a simple, small section in your speech or you can base your speech completely on any of the following topics, the choice is yours!

  1. Technology and its affect/impact in your industry.
  2. Current Events – Eg: How the Pandemic has affected your industry.
  3. Leadership and Obstacles – The whole “Career in this Industry” package.
  4. Connecting your Niche to the theme.
  5. What you think about the future prospects of this industry and how to adapt to them.
  6. Multiple strategies and techniques which come in handy.
  7. Assess the Future and sharing your plans about a specific / general topic based on the industry / theme.


Being a Keynote Speaker is both an honour and an opportunity to learn. Remember to do your research and build your content the best you can. It is important to work on yourself and be patient with your process. If you are confident with your content, you could even do an improv on stage and still kill it!

Public Speaking is a skill that takes its own sweet time to develop and grow. Working on it is a constant process and can come in many forms! One step at a time and you won’t get exhausted or frustrated. Good luck!

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